Banning big fat weddings

Sapna K Sangra
I am a relieved parent today and am hopeful, by the time, it’s time for my kids to tie knot, things would even get better. Yes, I am talking about the coming of Government order directing ban on the big fat weddings in the state into effect today. There was undoubtedly a dire need for such an order as showbiz and unscrupulous display of wealth in the state was increasing with each passing day. The idea of having relatives and a few friends over while solemnizing marriages was left far behind long back. Sorry for my straight forwardness, but there are times when we come back from the wedding receptions without even meeting the newly weds or even the hosts for that matter and then plan another trip to their place to greet them personally. I mean, I have always wondered at the social relevance of such crowded gatherings. To me, this overt display of wealth and consumption is perhaps the life style of those lacking cultural capital and possessing new acquired economic capital.
Looking at the kind of display in vogue these days, the fundamental question that hits us is from where the wealth that is on display in the form of the number of invitees, elaborated menus, decorations and attire is coming from? Why have people stopped raising an eyebrow about such weddings? Which class is particularly indulging in such an extravaganza?  What in reality is the source of their wealth and more importantly as to how this is impacting the other sections of society?
Middle class generally begins from a scratch. Starting from one’s own settlement as the first generation, building a house to raising children, educating them, investing into their professional education and then spending lavishly on their weddings and still having solid bank accounts…that is like asking for too much in a lifetime for the majority.  How can that be possible from the known source of income even if both the partners are earning? No one really likes to settle down for a little less than a ‘royal wedding’. One can clearly see the dirty nexus between corruption in the state and the exorbitant display of wealth. It won’t be out of place to mention that J&K falls in the category of the five most corrupt states in India.
To me as a sociologist, pertinent question is not about the minority that can afford but the majority that is impacted by being unable to afford. Going by the figures, every fifth citizen of our state is falling under Below Poverty Line. The Economic Survey 2011-2012 revealed that 21.63 percent population of J&K is falling under BPL category which includes 26.14 percent rural population and 7.96 percent urban. In Jammu division, district Reasi, Ramban, Kishtwar and Poonch have registered highest incidence of poverty while as in Kashmir division Kupwara, Bandipora, Kargil and Budgam districts have been observed to be the poorest districts. What takes place in the urban does not leave the rural unaffected. There has been mushrooming of banquet halls in the suburbans putting pressure on the-not-so-wealthy a population to part with their meager savings at the time of marriages. The rural indebtedness and borrowing is caused primarily by the feats and ceremonies on a scale quite beyond the normal income. By not questioning such exorbitant spending, we have allowed this system to get institutionalized in our society. As societies become more and more progressive, there occurs a change in their value system, beliefs, ideas and attitudes and people begin investing more meaningfully than just on the flashy life styles.  Contrary to this, J&K has moved backwards. By allowing the trend to continue, we have eroded our own road to progress in becoming a rational society that invests more into meaningful ventures than the wasteful acts.
So, critics may look at it differently but I would call this ban as a great achievement of the PDP-BJP coalition Government in Jammu and Kashmir. The J&K Government’s decision to ban big fat weddings comes at a time when a Bill (Marriages Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure Bill, 2016) has been introduced in the Lok Sabha to put a limit on the number of guests to be invited and dishes to be served in weddings to check the “show of wealth”. The Bill introduced by the Congress MP from Bihar Ranjeet Ranjan, wife of MP Pappu Yadav, wants those spending above Rs 5 lakh to contribute towards marriages of poor girls.
In an order issued by Secretary to J&K Government, Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs it was stated that the department had number of complaints and representations from people regarding injudicious use of essential commodities and extravagant expenditures being made in both public and private functions by most of the people in the State. It stated that taking into consideration the complaints of people; it was decided by the Government to ban big fat weddings in the State.
According to the official order issued, the number of guests to be invited for the marriage of daughter (Barat) and marriage of son should be restricted to a maximum of 500 and 400 people respectively. Only 100 people should be invited to attend like engagements and other small functions. Further, the number of vegetable and non-vegetable dishes to be cooked in marriage and other functions should be restricted to a maximum of seven each besides two stalls of sweets or fruits.
“It should be ensured that there is no wastage of any food items uncooked or cooked during the wedding functions. If there are some surplus food items (cooked), it should not be thrown into dustbins but provided to deserving people and old age homes after properly preserving and packing,” reads the order. It further states that there shall be complete ban on sending dry fruits and sweet packets, etc with invitation cards by any person to relatives, friends, guests, invitees, etc. The Government has also ordered ban on use of amplifiers, loudspeakers and firecrackers during the private and official functions. It will save the general public from the inconvenience of noise pollution and air pollution caused by the various gadgets.
The yearning for acquiring high social status and prestige amongst the newly emerged rich class through the conspicuous consumption can hopefully be tackled with these new rules if implemented in letter and spirit. In 2004 too, the then PDP-Congress coalition Government had ordered the “guest control” in marriage functions but the order was revoked within few months. How I wish the fate of this order be different!
(The writer teaches Sociology at the University of Jammu and is the State Chairperson of SPIC MACAY).