Blog Monday, June 08, 2015 - 05:30
  When I was a higher secondary school student in Kerala, I underwent a brief phase of paranoia that I would never be able to get married. The genuine fear stemmed from the declaration by some friends in class that it was a blot on the groom’s status to marry a bride who was not wearing at least 100 sovereigns of gold. I am not sure why the number discussed was always 100, but it forced me to make a list of relatives who would "gift" me gold, if my father could not manage it. I did get married, and sans the 100 sovereigns. But it took me years to understand that the extravagance for a marriage ceremony is just that: an extravagance. A friend’s father had organised a wedding that created ripples in the neighbourhood for days for the stunning decorations, the bride’s flamboyant attire and lip-smacking food. A few weeks later, the bankrupt father quietly vacated town, leaving behind a sea of unpaid debts. What was more disturbing was that the friend was blissfully unaware of all this and perhaps still is. Young people, even after becoming earning members of the family, seldom realise that their wedding is their responsibility too. The wedding spectacle has often taken its toll on Kerala, and surely in other states too. Suicides, bankruptcy and even cancellation of weddings are a harsh reality. From families in the lower income groups to those in the upper strata of society, everyone scrambles to follow the norm of organising a wedding that “makes your neighbour envious”, as they say. Recently, the Kerala Women’s Commission gave another push to its proposed guidelines that include some drastic measures to cut down on wedding expenditure, and wants the state government to draft a law. The commission wants only 200 guests in a wedding and expenses should not exceed Rs 6 lakhs. The suggestions are many and quite frankly, some of them are impractical and stupefying. An illustration  Such a move may be well-intentioned, but it is also inappropriate, and may possibly even be challenged in court. When a wedding does not involve any violation of the law, it remains a private affair, unlike say, the government passing a law to regulate housing rent in large cities in public interest. Even if the government does introduce a cap on wedding expenditure, regulations will inevitably lead to people circumventing them. It could also have the unintended consequence of branding those who abide by it as “people who cannot afford a decent wedding” and therefore cause more harm than good. More importantly, why should the government regulate personal expenses? As economist Milton Friedman said, "One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results." The gluttony for gold and the social pressure for elaborate weddings are so intense that the government has tried to intervene many times in the past but with little result. I started this article with my thoughts as a teenager because I believe that that is exactly where the solution lies. Unconventional and simple weddings are being organised because of a changed mindset. Young people, both girls and boys, need to be told and taught, that though a marriage is perhaps the most important milestone in people’s lives, it does not have to consume their family’s lifetime savings. If a generation of young people is made to understand the critical difference between arranging a “good” wedding and an unnecessarily extravagant wedding, and that wearing more gold is no guarantee to a better life or simply that convention can and should be challenged, there will be a sea of difference. The problem lies in getting people to stop glorifying extravagance, and instead value simplicity. Even practicality for that matter – the money that is spent on many weddings could actually help get the couple start out on a life together, perhaps even help them buy a house. The intention is not to discourage celebration but to take a critical look at the celebrations and perhaps tone down the pomp.