Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dowry: The story of Gowry


Does dowry system still survive in India - well, as always with other such questions in India, yes and no.  Other questions being love marriage, casteism etc. Those will have to wait for another day. Here goes a story.

Disclaimer: As always, the usual disclaimers that are applicable to fictional works are applicable.  If you don't see them here and want to read them, I can send you a text file.
Prologue:  This is a short story and a work of fiction.

Gowry is a young Indian girl from a working middle class family.  She has a good education, an engineering degree to be specific and currently works for Infosys.  her parents want her to get married to a nice Indian guy - which essentially means an engineer or a doctor in the US.  They apply all the traditional methods of searching for suitable grooms - communication lines through their relatives, family friends etc. As with everyone, they also put up her profile on shaadi.com.  They specify the religion, caste, sub-caste etc. and wait.  A month or two passes and they begin to get queries through the many channels that they had activated.  Is the girl fair? Does she want to work after marriage?  Does she have sisters? brothers etc. etc.

The screening process has begun. Lo and behold, a lot of queries come from the much wanted US grooms too. Well, the real story is that these guys want someone who can take up a job in the US and with two years of project experience at Infy, Gowry is a catch.  Finally, one day Shiva Prasad, a groom working as a consultant for Cisco in the bay area likes her profile and things proceed beyond words between the families. As the story goes, Shiva can only be in India during the Christmas break and he is awfully busy as his dad has arranged for almost 5 girls for him to see and decide who his eventual wife will be.  Shiva comes down one day to Gowry's house and they look at each other for the first time in their life.  It is love at first sight.  As liberal traditions have set-in nowadays, the families decide to leave them alone in the porch to talk to each other for a while under the watchful eyes of grandparents and uncles near the door.  Few words are exchanged - about known software languages, place of work, movies, maybe music.  It seems like they developed a liking towards each other!  Well, Shiva's family gets back to their house.  A day later, Gowry' dad gets a call from Shiva askign if he could take Gowry out for lunch or maybe coffee.  After a few nasty brawls in the house, Gowry is allowed to go out to Hyderabad central -  a new hangout in the center of Hyderabad.  The small spark of wanting that had struck between them ignites in the following 2 hours and they decide they will proceed to the next step.  Gowry and Shiva come back home and tell their parents that they are interested in the match.

Well, all seems so nice until now!  Gowry's dad receives a call from Shiva's dad saying they need to talk further as the kids have liked each other.  Gowry's dad gets to their place with his uncle and a brother and after a couple of hours of discussion, comes back a reasonably happy man.  Shiva's dad had asked 5 lakh rupees as dowry for his son (he had a competing offer from another family), and a couple of lakhs towards marriage gifts. Gowry's dad had been planning for this all through his life and was well prepared with that kind of money.  he had also purchased a flat in Gowry's name and given Hyderabad's real estate market, the value of that fixed asset had grown quite handsomely.  he had no qualms with the proposal and had agreed willingly.

He comes back and reports this issue.  Gowry  is enraged.  Through her childhood she had read the works of social reformers and was against dowry principle.  She argued that it was not a matter of whether they could afford the guy - it was a matter of principle!  She decided to call Shiva and confront him on this issue. Call she did, but, Shiva basically said, he did not know this was happening and that if left to him he would never let it happen. But, his dad was adamant on the dowry.  he told her he liked her a lot and genuinely loved her and wanted to be with her.  Gowry didn't know what to do. She like Shiva as well.  But, she hated him for not standing up to his beliefs.  It seemed as if he had conveniently put the blame on his parents.  But, she told herself, he earned 80K in the US, 5 lakhs in rupees wouldn't really matter to him.  Maybe, he does not really want it, but is just going by his parents word.  It was a matter of principle against getting the right husband for her!  the decision was simple!  She chose to keep her mouth mum and get married to Shiva.

A long story - short, I hope it is clear why the answer to that question is a yes and a no!

BTW, Shiva and Gowry are happily married and live in the bay area in the US.  They have two kids.  The elder one attends grade school.

Shiva's dad has bought a plot of land in Shiva and Gowry's name with the dowry money.  The plot is worth more than 20 lakhs now.  Beside the plot of land, there is a small slum and a woman died there in a hut yesterday.  Her husband had beat her to death because her father could not afford to buy his son-in-law a new motorbike.  The motorbike was the promised dowry in her marriage.

Epilogue: It seems that if the girl's family can afford it then taking (and giving) dowry is not an evil thing. If we accept this argument, we also accept inequality of men and women in India's society.  The affordability argument erodes the equality principle so badly that it causes pain and suffering to many who cannot make the affordability argument in th first place.

On per capita consumption

Here's an interesting read on the differences between countries in their per capita consumption rates.  there are some very interesting points and indeed, relevant ones for all those who despise the rise of China, India and other developing countries. Being an immigrant myself, it might seem partial when I side with th developing world's argument, but there is truth to the argument that there is a lot of wastage in the developed world - specifically the US.  The difference factor 32, does not merely come into play through the natural consumption habits of the Americans.  Tell me, seriously - does a 4 family household need 3 cars? If US' answer to that question is an emphatic yes, then it does not deserve to complain about the high prices.  Because, then as a country US need to compete with China and India for that oil on the global market.  And compete severely, as India and China aim for 3 cars for their 4 family households. A top of the hat rough calculation will tell us that will result in 600 million households and 1.8 billion cars.  Compare that number with the 300 million odd cars in the US right now.  Well, we aren't getting to utopia I am sure with that kind of numbers.

If US' answer to that question is a emphatic no, then we will all probably get somewhere!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sue them first

For once, I side with Prez Bush.  He is most likely to veto  a bill that might allow americans to sue Iran, Iraq and Libya for their suffering due to acts of terrorim perpetrated by these states.  

Justified or not, the US is in a war against many terrorist groups in many nations.  It is an honorable thing to do for world peace.  However, there is bound to be collateral damage and innocent bystanders are being killed by the hundreds if not thousands in the cross fire between US troops and the terrorists.  It is of course very convenient to call this collateral damage in the interest of global peace.  However, will these victims be allowed to sue the US for financial damage caused to property and life? Yes, point well taken that the US army does help in the reconstruction effort (not to forget the millions given away in private contracts), but can lives be brought back?

Is it not justice delivered when an innocent civilian Iraqi victimÅ› family is allowed to sue the US army - the same way a innocent american victimÅ› family is allowed to sue Iran or Libya?  I don see a difference.  In the eyes of the law everyone should be equal.