Guradighat, about 18km from Madhya Pradesh’s capital Bhopal, almost appears to be showing off its new-found prosperity and reveling in it. But the story of this village is not about its wealth but the wisdom of its villagers, most of whom are simple farmers.
A couple of months ago, Guradighat took a revolutionary decision — to shun lavish marriages which had become a status symbol here and left many families neck-deep in debt.
Lavish marriages are common in many societies across the country giving rise to the phrase, ‘big fat Indian wedding’ – an affair costing crores of rupees even among the middle class.
Residents of Guradighat say the trend of costly weddings started around five- six years ago and saw families splurge a crore for marital unions.
“Till recently, even a small farmer would spend 10 to 15 lakh on a marriage and the families would run into backbreaking debts. We then decided to cut down on unnecessary or showy expenditure,” says Virma Maran, a local teacher and the head of village development committee which initiated the social move.
The village, dominated by the Meena community, agreed to cut marriage expenditure by half to one-thirds, depending upon family’s economic condition and to do away with “unnecessary and immoral” traditions like inviting professional dancers, organising orchestra or music by DJs and even alcohol consumption during the ceremonies.
Kesri Singh Meena, a marginal far mer who does not even own agriculture land, ran up depts of almost 3 lakh after the marriage of his third daughter, recently. “I have another daughter to marry off and was worried stiff. This decision is a big relief,” Meena says.
In a typical Meena marriage, the expenses start right from the engagement through the premarriage ceremony to the main marriage ceremony. In between, there is also the other ceremonies arranged by the relatives.
“Farmers sold off parts of their land for each marriage in the family. Those who don’t have land take loan from family, friends or even moneylenders. The cycle is vicious and we want to break it,” says Akash Maran, a college student.
The scenario is even worse in urban areas.
BM Kaushik, a retired state government employee from Sagar, says he was forced to take a loan of 15 lakh when the in-laws of his second daughter insisted on a “respectable wedding”.
The problem cuts through states and communities. In Kerala, Malayalee weddings were once known for their simplicity. But now the Bollywood charm of ‘band, baaja, barat’ has gripped them too.
Caparisoned ele phants, Kathakali performers, percussionists and fireworks, it is no less than a festival. Often, event management groups are roped in. In one of the recent weddings in Kochi, the price of a single invitation card was around 2000 and more than 5,000 such cards were distributed for the event.
Though this is happening in affluent and neo-rich families many middle and lower middleclass families are also falling prey to this pomp. In north Kerala’s Malabar region celebrations start a couple of days before the D-Day.
Many turn bankrupt as they try to imitate the posh weddings that are deemed to be status symbols and at times family heads even commit suicide.
Recently, the Catholic church even made a fervent plea to believers to cut down on wedding extravaganza but it has failed to yield desired results.
“In a growing consumerist society, imitation is mounting menacingly. We need awareness drives to contain this,” said PS Sreekala, an activist and teacher of Kerala University.
Back in Madhya Pradesh, villages near Guradighat are also planning similar initiatives.
“We would hold a meeting from nearby settlements and decide on a course of action,” says Lakhan Singh Meena, community association head and resident of Semri Kalan.
One of the persons inspired by Guradighat’s initiative is state social justice minister Gopal Bhargav, who married off his son and daughter at a state-organised mass marriage recently.
“Some questioned my decision but I remained insistent and my children agreed. I want to give the message of healthy societal trends,” Bhargav says.
(With inputs from Ramesh Babu in Kerala)