Social Awareness Needed to Curb Lavish WeddingsCongress MP Ranjeet Ranjan has introduced a Private Members Bill in the Lok Sabha that seeks to put a leash on extravagant weddings and other functions by limiting the number of guests that can be invited and the number of dishes that can be served. The MP said that she was concerned about the show of wealth by the rich and wanted those spending more than Rs 5 lakhs in weddings to contribute 10% of the total spend towards marriages of poor girls.
By Sunil Garodia
While the idea behind the bill is noble, it is nothing new as such executive fiats were issued in many states in the 1960s in the wake of famines and the situation arising out of the Chinese aggression. Then, the concern was different as India was a food-deficit country and wasting food when the poor could not get one square meal a day was considered criminal. Hence many states issued fiats that restricted the number of guests to anywhere between 25 to 100 and mandated that only a number of dishes be served at such functions. But those who wished to ignore the fiat just bribed the inspectors and procured rations from the black market. Instead of curbing the practice, it spawned additional corruption. The UPA government had also thought of coming out with a similar law back in 2011, but it was later shelved.
But now, the situation is completely changed. There are no shortages in India. If the poor do not get food, it is either because of lack of money or since the prevalent corruption does not let welfare schemes reach them. In any case, in an open economy, a number of individual rights will be trampled upon if such a law is enacted. Why should jewelers, caterers and event managers lose business if customers are willing to pay them? What will happen to large banquet halls that can accommodate 500, even 1000 guests? Why should a person who has thousands of relatives and business contacts be made to pick and choose whom to invite? Already, people are asking on Twitter how the government can restrict them from spending their own tax-paid money on a once in a lifetime ceremony.
Further, long guest lists and lavish dinner spreads are but a small part of weddings or other functions. The major amount is spent in clothes (with the bride trousseau costing upwards of Rs 1 lakh and the groom sherwani costing upwards of Rs 50000, at the most down market rates), jewelry (starting at Rs 3 lakhs and going into crores), events (mehndi, sangeet, bachelors/bachelorette parties, varmalas and cocktails), logistics (airfare), hospitality (five star hotel stay), photography (now costing more than Rs 5 lakh with drone-aided video capture), booze and honeymooning abroad. If film or television stars, stand-up comics or other celebrities are invited to sangeets, the bill runs into lakhs. Further, with the trend of destination weddings taking the fun offshore, how is an Indian law going to curb fancy weddings abroad? It will only result in local vendors losing business and spawn corruption, like in the past.
A law that restricts or penalizes is not the answer to lavish weddings or other functions. Instead, social awareness and education is the need of the hour. When my mother-in-law had expired, I attended her shradh function on the 12th day in Dibrugarh in Assam. To my pleasant surprise, the food menu for the solemn occasion was frugal compared to similar occasions in Kolkata, from where I hail. On enquiry, I found that the Marwari community had held a panchayat long time back and issued a social diktat whereby no one could serve more than one sweet and one main course during shradhs. A similar diktat is needed for prohibiting alcoholic drinks, without which no occasion is complete in Assam, as elsewhere, these days. One has also heard that for all their evils, some khap panchayats in Haryana and western UP have also restricted such lavish events in their areas. Others have asked community members to contribute during weddings of girls from poor families. Such transformation comes only through social initiatives. Big businessmen, politicians and other so-called leaders of society have to take the lead in keeping things simple. Laws will only end up in increasing corruption, court cases and might trample upon individual rights.