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The Great Indian Dowry

I assume you all know the definition of Dowry. But still, I will give you the Wikipedia definition for it: A dowry is a transfer of parental property, gifts, property or money upon the marriage of a daughter (bride).


Bride price/bride wealth/bride token: Daughters were working in the parent’s home before marriage looking after the agricultural land as agriculture was the main source of income for a family. But after marriage, the daughter will no longer be working for the family and to compensate this, the groom’s family used to give money or gift in order to compensate the loss. This was usually seen among lower caste people.

The Babylonian Empire (1800 BC)

All the Babylonian way of living was studied on the Hammurabi code of laws. Its s script written by Babylonian people about their way of living. The marriage in Babylonian was typically different. When the daughter reaches their age for marriage, their father takes them to the market to basically sell them. Men select their good wives from this market and in return provide money to the bride’s family as bride wealth. A typical case arises at the end where no men wishes to buy. In this case, the parents of bride forcefully sell their daughters by giving a part of their wealth. Here a system of dowry arises. This view can be seen as a complete sale perspective deflating all the respect the women need in a society. But the dowry going to the groom had strict laws. How much dowry is going to groom, what happens in case of death, divorce, how is the dowry splitted- all these were mentioned in Hammurabi code.

As we can see, the Greek empire and the Roman empire are more or less had the same structure and bride’s wealth or bride’s price was practised which sounds logically correct compared to dowry.


Arrian of Nicomedia: a Greek historian, in 3rd century BC said there wasn’t any system of dowry in India at his time in his book: Indika (Mauryan India) in Megasthenes ( 3rd century Greek historian, diplomat and Indian ethnographer) and Arrian. The quote follows, “They (these ancient Indian people) make their marriages accordance with this principle, for in selecting a bride they care nothing whether she has a dowry and a handsome fortune, but look only to her beauty and other advantages of the outward person”.

Iranian AL Biruni (1035 AD) in his book chaptered Matrimony in India says more of less the same. The quote follows, “The implements of the wedding rejoicings are brought forward. No gift (dower or dowry) is settled between them. The man gives only a present to the wife, as he thinks fit, and a marriage gift in advance, which he has no right to claim back, but the (proposed) wife may give it back to him of her own will (if she does not want to marry)”.

British Colonial rule: The system wasn’t practised in India until the British colonial rule started. In 1793, Lord Cornwallis started permanent settlement of Bengal to ease tax collection and administration. This enabled private ownership of land which was unknown in India till then thus creating landlords. This became hereditary as the children of landlords became the inheritance of the land. The British imposed a rule prohibiting women to won any land at all. This is was the beginning of dowry system in India. By this, after marriage, the land was written in the groom’s name. This created greed among the grooms to won more and more. Thus, gifts became demands and voluntary became obligation. Marriage was now seen as a social bonding for business. The business-like mindset created greed in the social space. This gave birth to the modern-day practice of dowry.

FUNFACT: Portugal had gifted Bombay to the British crown as part of the dowry of Queen Catherine of Braganza in 1661.


The study looked at nearly 40,000 marriages that happened between 1960 and 2008 in 17 Indian states that compromises 96% of the country population. Here, experts calculated “Net dowry” to study the gap between that was paid by the bride’s family to the groom and vice versa.

According to study, the groom’s family spend $67 (INR 5000) on gifts to bride’s family. However, the bride’s family spends nearly $429 (INR 32,000) and other monetary payments to the groom’s family, thus making the net dowry nearly $361$ (INR 27,000). Researchers found that the prospect of paying higher dowry increases household savings, which are primarily financed through increased paternal labour supply.

Some states such as Kerala, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat saw inflation in dowry. In fact, the most educated state Kerala registered the highest average increase in recent years. On the other hand, states like Orrisa, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and west Bengal saw a decrease in average dowry.