The KP Assembly passed the “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dowry, Bridal Gifts and Marriage Functions Restriction Bill” on Thursday. Introduced by two female legislators on the private members day, the assembly carried the bill without much discussion with the result that it comes across as a statement of good intentions, but in certain respects unrealistic, even irrelevant. As per the new law, there will be total ban on dowry articles either given to the bride by parents, another family member or any other person. The aggregate value of the presents is not to exceed Rs 10,000. Needless to say, dowry is a social curse that reduces marriage to the status of a business transaction. More often than not, the amount of goods and cash a woman is expected to bring to her new home puts families under huge financial burden. The ban can only be welcomed. Nonetheless, the Rs 10,000 restriction would be unviable considering that even an ordinary wedding dress acceptable to a middle class bride costs a lot more than that.
Also, the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is quite different from the rest of the country. The woman is not expected to bring much dowry; in fact, that burden is placed on the other family in a different form. As per a custom known as Walwar, a jirga decides the amount of money a would-be-groom is to pay to the bride’s parents. Although defenders of the custom insist it does not amount to selling of a woman and that it helps her command respect among the in-laws, it is the same argument those seeking and giving dowry make. If in the latter case, a woman’s worth is measured by the amount of dowry she brings, likewise, Walwar determines her value in monetary terms rather than individual traits or achievements. Unfortunately, the new law has neglected to address this disgraceful aspect of the marriage customs.
As it is, wedding meals have become an opportunity for some to make a vulgar display of wealth, which puts pressure on the less fortunate to try and spend much more than they can afford. In many cases, people incur loans for the occasion, which makes marriage an onerous financial burden. The new law aims to prevent wasteful expenditure on food, bringing relief to average families. Menus are to comprise only rice, a gravy dish and dessert. But then again, under an unnecessary restriction the expenses on the wedding day and valima incurred by either party for each ceremony are not to exceed Rs 75,000. That seems impracticable given the price of food items, as well as the catering and marriage hall charges. One dish rule, already under successful implementation in Punjab, would have been sufficient to discourage lavish spending on wedding meals.