The Kerala Women's Commission formulated a set of recommendations in 2012 that were presented to the state government with an aim to curb the unnecessary expenses that go towards marriage proceedings. Kerala weddings, which were traditionally simple temple weddings, have, quite pointlessly, snowballed into an avoidable series of before and after wedding events. For a country that is obsessed with weddings, a substantial faction of the educated sections of society still abides by stringent and redundant caste-based matrimonial selection. A majority of the population tends to remain within the constraints of same-caste marriages. That said, weddings these days tend to feature plenty of borrowed ceremonies and customs from other cultures that might not be particularly relevant. This cross-cultural give and take of ceremonies has led to lavish and unnecessary celebrations, all of which is nothing more than an attempt to show off one's social status and impress people around them.
"It's fine for those who can afford these weddings and spend lavishly. But in due course of time, this standard gets accepted as a custom, and those who cannot afford [these ceremonies] feel pressurised to follow suit. This is the current state of marriages in Kerala," says Premna Shankar, a project-head at Kerala Women's Commission (KWC) who heads the team that formulated these recommendations.
The recommendations are rather interesting. They define minute details and put a limit on every single requirement, beginning from the guest list. There is a cap of 200 people from each side for the guest list, while the cost of an invitation card should not be more than Rs 25. As for food, the amount should not exceed Rs 150 per head. They have also proposed that multiple functions should be avoided and, for the wedding, the venue should not cost more than Rs 25,000. Traditional Kerala brides have always looked elegant adorned in a plain white sari with a traditional golden border and minimal gold ornaments. But in the recent past, the attire of brides has become the easiest way to flaunt affluence by loading them in gold and making them look like mannequins from a jewellery store with little regard for aesthetics. To control this practice, the KCW has recommended that the bride should not wear more than 120 grams of gold and they've also spelled out the amount to be spent on wedding dresses for both the bride and the groom. "We want all expenses and accounts of the wedding to be submitted to the government and whoever exceeds these caps should be fined 25% of the total cost of the marriage," says Shankar.
"We received a series of complaints about marriage expenses going out of hand, which led us to conduct a study, only to find that these complaints were true," she explains. The commission doesn't often receive any dowry complaints or anything related to pre-marital financial pressures. In fact, the bride's family invariably manages to gather funds and caters to all demands for the wedding. The disturbing facts only start to emerge and reach the commission much after the wedding, when the families continue to demand and extort. This often graduates to domestic violence and marital discord. "A couple of years after marriage, affected parties walk up to us and admit how difficult it was to make arrangements for the wedding," she says.
They define minute details and have capped every single requirement, beginning from the guest list. There is a cap of 200 people from each side for the guest list, while the cost of an invitation card should not be more than Rs 25. As for food, the amount should not exceed Rs 150 per head.
The government is obviously not too keen on acting upon these recommendations directly, because it wouldn't be feasible for them to interfere in personal matters and, even worse, enact a law to that effect. Instead, the authorities have guided the commission to undertake awareness drives and hold seminars to educate the society. "Enacting a law, we understand, is not a solution, but a beginning had to be made. We realise we can't be imposing rules on people. If we are looking to make a difference, we will have to work towards changing mindsets, which is a gradual process," says Shankar.
In the last two years, the commission has conducted various workshops and seminars with school students and college-goers. "There is no point negotiating with the older generation because they have seen things in a particular way. So we are addressing the younger crowd, hoping to gain their support. If we succeed, they will likely voice their opinions against these pointless expenditures and stand up against lavish weddings," says Shankar.
Dropcap OnShankar admits they expected extreme criticism when the recommendations came out in the public domain. Instead, they received an overwhelmingly positive response. People seem to be in favour of simple weddings. Despite that, it's an ordeal to reach a consensus about the finer details. The team at KWC has been making constant efforts to curtail these costs through talks and documentaries that reflect on the overall inconvenience of organising a grand affair. As the project head, Shankar doesn't think implementing a law will solve much, a fact she corroborates by drawing a direct parallel to the Dowry Prohibition Act, which, despite being in effect, does little to curb the dowry exchanges across the country.
But not all efforts have gone in vain. They have been able to reach out to some and convince them against this evil of exorbitant weddings. And whenever a family decides to keep things simple, the commission makes it a point to highlight the event and publicise it to send across a message. One such case was of a couple who recently got married in a temple for a nominal amount of Rs 500, spent on the priest, buying garlands and a tea-party for close family.
It looks less likely that such a law will actually ever be passed and, even if it does, executing it will be a herculean task owing to its effect on personal choices. But on the flip side, the commission has initiated a change. And, they hope, if the current generation understands and views these pompous ceremonies as superfluous, the society might look to simplifying marriages with a bigger focus on the essence than on its superficiality.