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Sikhs & Christians see biggest rise in dowry payment, Kerala is the worst state, study says

Upper caste Indians are the highest dowry payers, blog on World Bank site says, using data from 40,000 marriages that took place between 1960 and 2008 in rural India.

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New Delhi: The Sikh and Christian communities in the country have seen a substantial rise in inflation in the dowry they paid over the past few decades, and so have upper castes across all religions, according to a blog based on a study of 40,000 marriages in rural India since 1960.

Kerala was the worst performer among Indian states when it came to the increase in dowry paid by the brides, said the two-part blog, published on the World Bank site on 30 June.

The blog used the Delhi-based think-tank National Council of Applied Economic Research’s 2006 Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS), which covered 17 major states that have about 96 per cent of the country’s population.

It used the metric of average net dowry — difference between the value of gifts given by the bride’s family to the groom or his family and the value of gifts given by the groom’s family to the bride’s family — to study dowry patterns across Indian states.

The blog tracked 40,000 marriages that took place between 1960 and 2008 to arrive at the conclusions. It is authored by World Bank economist S. Anukriti, Nishith Prakash, associate professor of economics at the University of Connecticut, Storrs in the US, and economist Sungoh Kwon.

Showing the stark disparity in economic burden on the bride and groom’s family, the blog pointed out that dowry was paid in 95 per cent of the marriages that took place during this period.

It also noted that while on an average, a groom’s family spends about Rs 5,000 on gifts to the bride’s family, gifts from the bride’s family cost seven times more, that is, about Rs 32,000, implying an average real net dowry of Rs 27,000. These numbers are in real terms after removing the impact of inflation.

The blog found that average net dowry has been “remarkably stable over time” with some inflation before 1975 and after 2000. However, there are substantial variations across states.

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Situation in Indian states

Kerala, a state which does well on many social indicators, is the worst offender when it comes to dowry.

“Kerala exhibits stark and persistent dowry inflation since the 1970s and has the highest average dowry in recent years,” the blog said, adding that similar inflationary trends are seen across Haryana, Punjab, and Gujarat.

The religious composition of Kerala’s population — 26 per cent Muslims, 18 per cent Christians, and 55 per cent Hindus — may explain the reason for the high dowry inflation.

Similarly, the inflationary trend in Punjab — a majority Sikh state — is explained by the rise in Sikh dowry.

However, in the states of Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, the average dowry decreased over the years.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

States like Haryana, Gujarat and Punjab saw a sharp spike in dowries in the period after 2000, the data showed.

In contrast, states like Odisha and West Bengal, where dowry payouts were high in the period before 1980, have seen a gradual fall over the years.

How different religions and castes fare

Dowry is prevalent in all major religious groups in India with Hindus, the majority community, showing the same trend as seen on the national level.

However, the blog found that dowry is not just a Hindu phenomenon in India. Payment of dowries by Christians and Sikhs has seen a sharp increase over the years, leading to higher average dowries when compared to Hindus and Muslims.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

It also noted that dowry is positively correlated with higher caste status. Upper caste marriages have the highest dowries, followed by other backward classes, scheduled castes, and scheduled tribes.

Different savings patterns between parents of boys and girls

The prospect of higher future dowry increases current savings of households, the blog noted.

Parents of first born girls have higher savings compared to families of first born boys, saving Rs 1,613 more per capita each year. The increased savings are mainly banked with financial institutions rather than stored as jewellery, the blog said.

“These patterns are consistent with greater access to financial institutions and instruments in rural India and the less liquid nature of jewellery relative to savings in bank accounts in recent years,” it added.

It also contested the view that dowry was a predominant cause for households to prefer sons over daughters. “Data shows that if parents have at least one son, their preferences are gender-neutral, casting doubt on the role of dowry in driving son preference,” it said.

(edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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