Indians obsessed with spending so much on weddings!
Across Indian regions, communities and classes, one national past time is always our favourite – spending on weddings. The entire industries have emerged out of spending on specific aspects of a wedding, like bridle attire, makeup, varieties of cuisines or ‘wedding filming’ etc. In fact, despite a global pandemic, the wedding industry generated a business of Rs.3 lakh crores between November to December in 2021.
Where does this obsession with spending on weddings come from?
Post-independence, up until the 60s, state austerity and rationing controls were the order of the day. The state introduced measures to curb excessive consumption on weddings. The influence of Gandhian ideals and Nehruvian socialism was strong too. In fact, there was even social embarrassment around using weddings to display wealth. Both our attitudes and our access to conspicuous consumption changed in the 1980s and 90s.
With the liberalisation of the Indian economy, foreign goods flooded the markets, and purchasing these goods became fashionable. At the same time, mainstream Hindi cinema or Bollywood masala movies reframed narratives around Indian tradition to make excessive spending seem almost like a sacred part of Indian wedding. Since the 2000s, the growth of a new urban youth culture and the explosion of social media have laid emphasis on a new kind of wedding spending, which frames it as a personal choice – a combination of modernity and tradition which is someone’s expression of their personality.
But, it isn’t merely that! At a basic level, it’s natural for peopleto spend on the big events of their life, to publicly celebrate an occasion of personal job. Marriage ranks high among these events, because social traditions around the world has entailed marking the occasion of a weddingby celebrating with extended families and well-wishers. However, while in other parts of the world, the institution of marriage is on a decline, in India, it still forms an integral part of our lives.
Between 80-90% percent of marriages are fixed by Indian families, making weddings more of a family affair, which extended communities are heavily invested in. So, if it’s such an important public celebration –
What’s wrong with spending on weddings?
Weddings are by nature an expensive ordeal. If you’re sponsoring a party for all your family and friends, well, that’s going to cost you some money. There’s going to be the cost of the space, food for the 200-500 odd people you invite to your wedding. But, this isn’t the wedding I’m writing about, rather, the wedding which is most common nowadays – the wedding of excess! The wedding which begins with a lavish invitation, an engagement party in the finest resort or hotel in town, an all-night bachelors party at a high-class pub in the city, with unlimited booze and food. A high-production Bollywood style movie with the bride and the groom as the stars shown to all the guests, an overnight marriage ceremony, a high class venue for the wedding, professional videographers, photographers with professional cameras, designer clothes, shoes, jewellery, expensive decoration, exotic flowers, guests, lots of guests. And VOILA!You haven’t even met ¼ of these guests in your life before, ½ of them being mild acquaintances you wouldn’t even spend a dime on in a regular day. Only a handful of a 200 guests actually mean something to you, you care about them, and they care about you.
Weddings are the worst example of conspicuous consumption, because the social pressure to spend on them is the highest. In such circumstances, people aren’t making the choice to spend on weddings in a void. Luxury celebrity weddings, industrialist weddings, elite destination weddings and ‘tasteful’ middle class weddings – all add to the pressure to spend, making a big fat Indian wedding seem aspirational.
Typically, a wedding like this costs somewhere between 20lakhs – 50lakhs or even beyond. That’s a ton of money to splurge – may be a large fraction of the family’s fortune, and even can be the entire lifetime savings of the family. In some cases, people also take personal loans to meet the expenses incurred in weddings. 80% of Indians take a loan to meet marriage costs.
Research done by a national NGO shows that over 60% of Indian families turn to money lenders to borrow funds for the weddings. Many poor Indians end up falling into bonded labour to pay off these debts. Families are harassed and ostracised if they fail to ‘spend well’ on weddings. The prospect of having to spend beyond their means has even driven many to suicide. When the social pressure to spend on one event has such a far-reaching fallout, it’s definitely time to reframe how we think of weddings and its spending.
Why do people shell out so much money in weddings?
The answer is simple. It’s a once in a life-time opportunity to show off your opulence to the entire society. I found a quote online by a lady who works as house maid, “You see, if you have nothing, you have to spend at least Rs.20,000 to Rs.50,000 to show people you are not badly off. If you have Rs.20,000 then you have to spend at least Rs.1-2 lakhs.”
This thinking – If we don’t spend, what will people think of me, but if I spend, I’ll be a king, has stifled and gagged people off their breath. “My daughter’s wedding should be the best wedding in town. So that everybody remembers me and respects me. Doesn’t matter if I have to take a personal loan for it” – society.
I think, it’s been deeply ingrained in our minds to spend excessively on weddings. So deeply ingrained that we think it’s completely normal for us to do what we do like throwing trash on streets. In fact, it seems absurd to not splurge in a wedding, like breaking some kind of a fundamental law of the society. And it’s hard to break out of that thinking pattern, more so when every other human around you is behaving the exact way. We are social species, and if we do something that is majorly different from the herd, it causes anxiety, stress.
Does everyone enjoy spending their hard-earned money in weddings?
Hell No. A lot of people do it out of peer pressure, because they are scared. They are scared thinking – what will people say when I throw a cheap-ass wedding!?It’s hard not to spend a fortune on weddings. This statement sounds so strange and non-sensical, but is such a powerful one. We have built this institution, system, where our minds are forcing us to spend our fortunes recklessly on one night – just blow away all our hard-earned money on meaningless fetishes.
Just imagine what all we could have done with that money! Buy a nice house – spend the rest of our lives in that house, spend on education, healthcare, keep that money in the bank in case an emergency strikes, go for a wonderful trip all around the world etcetera. But, we are compelled tospend our money on the random strangers, feeding them all these different kinds of cuisines and make way for them to find faults in it later.
So, I empathise and not criticise. I feel for the ones who go on this spending spree during weddings so that they can be perceived as ‘normal’ functioning members of the society. Because the sad truth is, deep down somewhere, we are all aware of how abnormal this colossal waste of money is.
How do we change this reckless system?
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So, start by spending less in your wedding, and if everybody starts following this gradually, it will no longer be the norm to spend excessively on a wedding.
Today, in small nooks and crannies, young Indians are opposing the norm of the big fat Indian wedding by opting for simple ceremonies or minimal court marriages instead. There are even examples of people, instead of a ceremony, donating their wedding funds to fight child hunger. But it’s not just about how people are choosing to get married. It’s also about how we engage with wedding culture in general. So, may be instead of liking the photo of that celebrity wearing a Rs.20 lakhs worth wedding lehenga or endorsing a multi-event, multi-ritual, multi-themed wedding, it’s time that we value simplicity in celebrations, and not judge a wedding by the amount of money that is spent in, but by the amount happiness it creates for the people involved.