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Honey, They Just Shrunk The Wedding !


Honey, they just shrunk the wedding

August 11, 2007

Indians are being urged to spend less on lavish ceremonies, but few are listening, writes Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi.

IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that Indians love a big wedding. No one can put on a more lavish spectacle, with food mountains, lager lakes and many megawatts of razzamatazz.

The sums spent on weddings in India are close to the gross domestic product of small African nations. Weddings are an important display of wealth and social status. They last for more than a week, with countless dinners, receptions and parties attended by hundreds of people at five-star hotels.
Even the poor, anxious not to lose face, bankrupt themselves to put on decent shows.

Some Indians are trying to turn the tide. The Sikh clergy has issued a code of conduct urging Sikhs - a minority - to eschew ostentation. Sikh priests said weddings should be simple, vegetarian, non-alcoholic, and over and done with in a few hours. To Indians, that sounds more like a funeral.

The priests' exhortations, however, are based on the fear that couples who spend a fortune on their weddings are largely the same people who abort female foetuses.

The code is voluntary but the priests hope Sikhs will listen. "It's not just a total waste of money. These massive weddings encourage dowry-giving and female foeticide, terrible social evils," said Paramjit Singh Sarna, a priest in New Delhi.

Punjab, the Sikhs' home state, has an appalling sex ratio - 793 females for every 1000 males. Couples routinely abort female foetuses after ultrasound tests, even though such tests are illegal.

Opposition to extravagant weddings is building in other parts of the country. In Kerala, politicians are discussing a limit on wedding expenses. The idea has arisen because of the rising number of poor families who borrow money from moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates then sink into debt.

In Kashmir, meanwhile, a group of young engineers, doctors and other professionals have formed a group to arrange no-frills weddings.
"Everyone wants his wedding to be more lavish than the other person's," said Abdul Butt, one of 1500 members. "Where will it stop? The rich can manage but the poor are being ruined by this social pressure."

Kashmiri feasts are famous for being sumptuous. It is a matter of honour for the host to serve at least 30 different meat dishes. Two years ago, the authorities revived an old law requiring couples to submit their plans - the menu and number of guests - to the Food and Supplies Department. They were to be allowed 75 guests for the bride, 50 for the groom and only five dishes that could not exceed 45 kilograms of rice and 45 kilograms of meat. No one has paid the slightest heed.

The fetish for big, fat weddings extends to Indians living overseas. For her wedding in France in 2004, Vanisha Mittal, the daughter of the British-based steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, celebrated with Bollywood shows and five days of events in palaces such as Versailles.

Last year a New York-based hotelier, Vikram Chatwal, married his inamorata in India with festivities that stretched over seven nights, three cities, and 25 parties. Thousands of flowers were flown in from the Netherlands and three jets ferried the guests to India's most opulent hotels and palaces.

And politicians are no help, in the sense of setting an example. One of India's most controversial politicians and "champion" of the poor, Laloo Prasad Yadav, invited thousands to his daughter's wedding. Held in India's poorest state, Bihar, the kilometre-long wedding buffet was prepared by 100 cooks flown in from New Delhi. More than 50 doctors were present, presumably to treat heartburn.

"I don't think anyone will listen to Sikh priests or this Kashmir group," said a New Delhi graphic designer, Nidhi Gupta, who is getting married soon.

"Everyone knows weddings are over the top but no one wants to be the first to change things."

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