Indian weddings are known to be some of the most glitzy, glamourous, and extravagant affairs you can see anywhere across the world. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa spent over US$23 million and hosted over 150,000 guests at her foster son Sudhakaran’s wedding reception. This holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest wedding banquet.
And then there is the Mittal-Bhatia Wedding where Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal spent about US$60 million on his daughter’s wedding. Who can forget the double wedding of Subrata Roy’s sons in Lucknow, which reported an expenditure of about US$90 million and was attended by the who’s who of India. Well, the days for such extravagance and show may soon be over.
The Marriages Bill, 2016
Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan (constituency – Supaul, Bihar) has introduced a bill that may, if passed, curb the wasteful expenses and even limit the number of guests and dishes at weddings across the country. The Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016, is likely to be taken up as a private member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha in the upcoming session when the legislators reconvene on 9 March.
According to the bill, if a family spends over Rs 5 lakh on a wedding, it will be incumbent upon the family to make a contribution of at least 10 percent of the amount (total expenditure) towards a social cause. The social cause, too, has been defined by the bill and the family will need to contribute towards the marriage of girls from poor families.
From Extravagance To Simple Solemnisation
“Great importance should be assigned to the solemnisation of marriage between two individuals. But unfortunately, these days a tendency of celebrating marriages with pomp and show, and spending lavishly is growing in the country,” said Ms. Ranjan. In India, wedding expenses and dowry have often placed poor families under extreme social pressure to spend large amounts of wealth. Wedding expenses are often borne by the bride’s family and have also known to leave the families bankrupt at times. The bill intends to curb such pomp and show.
The bill, if passed, will also make it mandatory for such weddings to be registered within a period of 60 days from the ceremony. If passed, this law will make it necessary for those who plan a wedding expenditure of over Rs 5 lakh to declare the intended expenditure and deposit 10 percent of this amount into a government managed fund. This “welfare fund…shall be established by the appropriate government to assist the poor and Below Poverty Line families for the marriage of their daughters”, says the draft bill.
While the aim of The Marriages Bill may be to curb the unnecessary expenditure incurred by many Indians but it does leave out a number of grey areas open for debate. Here are some unanswered questions –
- Hindu weddings in India are often spread out across various functions such as sangeet, mehendi, the pheras or panigrahana, and finally, reception. Will the limitation on expenses and number of guests extend to all these or are the curbs limited to the main wedding ceremony alone?
- Will this bill, if passed, extend to wedding ceremonies of all religions? In the absence of a Uniform Civil Code, different religions deal with their marriage registration norms differently. How will this law reconcile all these differences to remain effective?
- How will this law be enforced? Unless we come up with a comprehensive system to record the expenditure incurred in weddings across the country, passing such a law may only give rise to more black money and unrecorded transaction.
- Who will be responsible for setting up the fund that will collect the (10 percent) contribution? How will these funds be utilised? How will the authorities (who manage the fund) ensure that it is spent on the marriage of girls from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families?
- The specific limitation on number of guests, food items, etc. is also not known yet.
The bill is faintly reminiscent of the Guest Control Order (Essential Commodities Act) of the 1960s. The order, set up in the wake of the Chinese aggression and a devastating famine, restricted the number of guests that could be invited at any given event.