My Big Fat Indian Wedding: the growth of an industry with many dark spots
This year India’s wedding season promises to be more lavish than ever after many couples postponed their nuptials due to the pandemic. According to some estimates, weddings are the fourth-largest industry in the country. But dowries are a sore point with more than 8,000 women dying as a result.
Milan (AsiaNews) – Many middle-class Indian couples who postponed their wedding during the COVID-19 pandemic have decided that now is the time to tie the knot.
India's wedding season, which begins this month, looks more lavish than ever. Indian nuptial celebrations can last several days, with regional variations, and they certainly don’t come cheap.
Annual expenses for weddings can reach up to US$ 130 billion, this according to Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders, which represents small and medium-sized businesses.
Such a figure makes the wedding industry the fourth largest in the country after energy, banking, and insurance.
Khandelwal told The Economist that he expects 2.5 million weddings in November and December, the two most popular months because they are dry and fall immediately after the Hindu holiday of Diwali. By comparison, about four million weddings take place between April and July.
Despite a sharp increase in costs, the industry could grow by 200 per cent this year, notes Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and CEO of Ferns N Petals, a gift provider company,
On average, India celebrates 10 million weddings a year and the industry is growing at a rate of about 25-30 per cent. The factors that have contributed to this rise are urbanisation, greater purchasing power by the middle class, and a very young population.
Organising weddings involves a lot of different sectors, from jewellery and couture to food catering.
Weddings are one of the reasons India needs to import so much gold: 1,050 tonnes last year worth US$ 46 billion.
A girl receives her first jewels a few weeks after her birth, but by the time she is a bride, she’ll be covered with precious jewels from head to toe.
The business actually begins even before the bride and groom meet. Traditionally, parents play matchmakers by placing an ad in a Sunday newspaper hoping that someone interested in their son’s or daughter’s detailed description might come forward.
Nowadays many turn to online dating sites. The largest, matrimony.com, which is publicly traded, has a market value of US$ 160 million. Last year it reported annual revenues of US$ 57 million, 850,000 subscribers, and 100,000 successful matches.
More than 90 per cent of marriages are still arranged in India. And although dowry payments were declared illegal in 1961, nothing has changed over the decades.
According to a World Bank study that analysed 400,000 marriages that took place between 1960 and 2008 in rural areas, brides’ families continue to pay seven times more than grooms’ families.
This is true for every religious group, including Christians and Sikhs, and therefore indicates how deeply rooted the tradition is in Indian culture.
India is also the first country in the world for dowry-related bride killings. A slight drop was reported in recent years – from 8,005 killings between 2012 and 2016 to 7,093 between 2017 and 2021.
About 40-50 per cent of femicides committed between 1999 and 2016 were over dowries. New grooms expect expensive gifts and if these are not forthcoming, they can threaten and blackmail their bride's family or even push their wife to suicide. Every day about 20 Indian women die for this reason.
There is another important aspect. According to 2014 data, only 5.8 per cent of marriages take place between people of different castes. While 55 per cent of Millennials say they are in favour of interfaith marriage, 70 per cent of Indian parents are absolutely against their children marrying someone from a lower caste.
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