Every year in Pakistan, thousands of Pakistani parents fret the impending weddings of their daughters, all for one primary reason: dowry. Our culture is such that parents are burdened with the concept of dowry and trying to keep face. While parents experience these hardships, children, particularly daughters, become emotionally affected, sometimes resulting in devastating tragedies. The latest story comes from south Punjab, where four sisters committed suicide by jumping into a canal after an argument with their father, a destitute farmer, over the issue of dowry. The frustration felt by the daughters, who were between the ages of 31 and 45, is that which many Pakistanis can relate to — especially since marriage is viewed as the ultimate goal for one’s children, frequently given more importance than education. Here, the father did not have the financial means for dowry, leaving his daughters unmarried well into their forties, whereas parents begin looking for suitors when their daughters are just teenagers.
The way it is practised in Pakistan, the concept of dowry has become akin to paying off the husband’s family to accept one’s daughter into their home, hinting that a daughter is a burden on a family. Somehow, the positive meaning of marriage and love, and dowry as a means to help the new couple financially, is lost in this tradition. Of course, those who continue to propagate such traditions are to blame for the concept’s long existence in society.
The only way to eradicate the tradition is to help people realise that an institution which should be about love and understanding is, instead, laden with materialism and monetary amounts listed on contracts. As a society, we must rethink the demeaning concept of dowry. The government should take serious measures to impose limits on the dowry parents give their children and do their best to strictly impose these limits; else such tragedies will continue to occur.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2013.