What Should We Gift Our Daughters?

We believe that our daughters are our biggest wealth. That’s why Kerala is farahead of other states in India when it comes to child sex ratio (1084 girls: 964boys*), female literacy rate (92%*) and awareness on women’s rights. We have agreat culture of nurturing the girl child and making sure she’s brought up well.We even boast of being ‘forward thinking’ and allow them to pursue the careerthey want. However, when it comes to their marriage, everything changes. Allof a sudden, we’re no longer the forward-thinking, evolved clan. We willingly, collectively and happily concur to the system of dowry, as if it’s something ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’. It’s baffling to see parents start accumulating money and gold from the day the girl-child is born, just to make sure there’s enough to ‘gift’ when she’s married off. What’s intriguing is that dowry, which masquerades as ‘gifts’ in form of gold, property, money and vehicles, transcends religions. People from all faiths actively support this social evil that totally demeans the value of a woman and the institution of marriage. Thus the girlchild, who we love so much, also becomes a huge, huge financial burden - especially for the middle class who vie to compete with their relatives and neighbours to conduct a better wedding, swathed in more gold.

Majority of the marriages in Kerala are arranged, which means the responsibility to find the ‘right’ boy lies entirely with the parents. They search, they see, they talk, they decide and they fix the wedding. The only thing the bride and the groom needs to do is meet formally, have a brief chat and say if they are OK with the proposal. And yes, the “OK” depends heavily on the ‘weight of the gifts’. This is probably the biggest reason why the girl child has a far more stressed childhood compared to that of a boy child. She’s constantly seeing other girls being sent off with cartloads of wealth, leaving her wondering what she actually means to her parents – a treasure like what they claim she is or a burden like they silently make her out to be.

When matches are made based on compatibility between families rather compatibility between the couple, problems are not far behind. Love, understanding and companionship goes behind the scenes and what plays out are egos, power games, lack of ommunication and strife. And when both individuals are educated and financially independent, fights lead to rifts and bonds are severed, without a second thought. This is where our state tops yet again – Kerala has the highest divorce rate in India – 130 cases per day, which means five cases every hour. These include cases that have been filed for physical and emotional abuse, the reason for which, most of the time, is demand for more dowries. So what happens to our precious daughters? Plagued by stress, anxiety and depression, they become unhealthy and lose confidence in life. And all because of this so-called “gift”.

What can we do to protect our daughters from this social malady and ensure they live a good life? Gift them self-confidence. Gift them the freedom and strength to decide what they want in life and what they want to do with their life. Gift them the ability to understand and love. Gift them the courage to address their problems and figure out the right solution. Gift them right advice at the right time. Gift them all the support they need. Because these are way, way more precious than all the gold, diamonds and precious things you can gift her.

*2011 Census conducted by the Govt. of India

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