In the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, an interesting Private Member’s bill has been proposed. The Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016, is reportedly likely to be taken up at the next session of parliament. It seeks to limit how much is spent on weddings in the country by capping the budget, the number of guests, and the dishes served on the menu. Further, weddings that exceed a budget of approximately $7,500 are required to contribute at least 10 percent of their cost to a welfare scheme to aid the weddings of girls from poorer families.
Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan who proposed this bill argued that “weddings are more about showing off your wealth and as a result, poor families are under tremendous social pressure to spend more.” Lending credence to the trope of the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’, the industry in India is a lavish one with extravagance attached to rituals, customized across regions and communities. Weddings also typically tend to be gendered, and several communities place a disproportionate burden on the bride’s family – with some requiring the bride’s side to fund the entire wedding expense. This doubly oppresses poorer families with female children or girls who are perceived as being of marriageable age.
Aspects like this expectation of lavish wedding spending, combined with the fact that the girls are expected to move to the husband’s home after the ceremony, contribute to a widespread social preference of male children over female in India. This manifests itself in the form of warped sex ratios, female infanticide, etc. The bill thus emerges from an attempt to curb a symptom of this much larger problem.
Much opposition to the idea of this bill, however, does not directly tackle this argument. A prominent argument against this move is that it is undemocratic for the state to intervene and decide how individuals must spend their money; it is perceived as both aggressive and difficult to implement given the size of the threshold and the scale of the weddings. However, this does not play out well when placed against how burdensome weddings can be for people from lower economic classes.
Some have suggested that this bill will not pass. First, Private Members’ bills have a very low chance of actually being debated and passed in parliament. Secondly, the MPs themselves are known for conducting lavish weddings for their children and their families, citing status. The latter reason has also resulted in some groups calling out the hypocrisy of the proposer of the bill, who reportedly had an opulent wedding herself. However neither of these reasons detract from the need for such a bill, if it does indeed have merits.
Much closer to the point are arguments made that it is unlikely that the accumulated welfare budget, in the aftermath of this bill, will be put to good use. However that isn’t necessarily because, as some have suggested, it is unlikely to be well implemented. The problem is that the bill appears to be a temporary bandagefor a very deep wound. By partially — or sometimes entirely — subsidizing the weddings of some poorer families, the bill would not take away the social expectation that demands that the bride’s family bear the burden of wedding expenditures. It does not tackle practices like dowries, which are veiled as lavish wedding gifts. It does not erode the need for poorer or even some middle class families to want to throw a wedding that is far beyond their means. And by allowing those who wish to have a larger wedding to pay a fine that allows them to go ahead, it certainly does not water down the perception that a big wedding is an ideal. The bill legitimizes all the above instead.