In the past few months, Indian marriages have witnessed a sea change. Like everything else, the coronavirus pandemic compelled the wedding industry to rethink ideas to comply with the ‘new normal’. What we saw next were couples getting married on video call while the rest celebrated with a limited number of guests and minimal preparations.
The alternative nature of Indian weddings has proved one thing at least — the traditional “big fat wedding” may have been customary in our society but the practice is not something we could be necessarily defined by. Weddings can still be held and people can equally enjoy the celebration even without the daunting show of excess.
Hammad Rahman, CEO of a matrimonial website Nikah Forever, thought this to be the opportune moment to start the #NoToBigFatWedding campaign to caution people about not spending too much money on a wedding. For the past one year, the matrimonial firm made sure to weave in the message about sustainable and minimal marriage in their official interactions with clients. Besides, they are running the campaign on their social media pages. “We are very happy with the kind of response we have received. We have got more than 1.25 lakh signatures till now, “Rahman told indianexpress.com.
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“We all want to be the show-stoppers where the wedding plans and costs touch the infinite limits of the sky…It is very disheartening to see how marriages have turned into a business. Not many stories are shared on social media concerning anxiety and depression…just to prove extravagant weddings are the better weddings,” reads the Nikah Forever campaign page.
The Big Fat Indian Wedding Market Survey 2018 by matrimony.com showed that 20.6 per cent of females were ready to spend Rs 10-20 lakh, with wedding expenses being traditionally heavier on the bride’s side. Again, North India indicated the highest propensity (18.6 per cent) to spend in the same bracket, followed by South India (12 per cent), West (11.1 per cent) and East (10.9 per cent).
According to another 2019 survey by IndiaLends, nearly 20 per cent of loan applications received from young Indian aged 20-30 in 2018-19 were for funding their marriage.
It is not about what one desires; more often than not, it is the ‘need’ to put up a show to indicate one’s social status. Anushree Warade, a 25-year-old MBA student from Mumbai, said, “We tend to judge one’s social and financial status from how much one spends on a marriage, to know if they match the standard.”
Talking about how weddings are a status symbol, Rahman contemplated that this kind of approach stems from a sense of competition within society. “Middle-class families suffer a lot — we get calls from people whose monthly income may be between Rs 30,000-40,000, for whom arranging a grand wedding is obviously a challenge.” And the expenditure on weddings has only increased in the past few years, he added. Weddings today cannot just be pompous; globalisation, along with Bollywood, have penetrated into the industry, fuelling people’s aspirations. So now, weddings have to be equally trendy and fashionable, be it pre-wedding photoshoots, hiring planners for themed functions, destination weddings or opting for the best of designer clothes, probably popularised by a film actor. “Ironically, everybody will forget about the wedding in a few years,” Rahman stated.
The matrimony.com survey also revealed that 31.84 per cent of females intended to spend Rs 2-5 lakh on food while 7.87 per cent said they would spend more than Rs 5 lakh. What one fails to take into account is the massive wastage — not just of food and drinks but clothes, electricity, decorative items, invitation cards, among other resources–that is seen in most weddings.
With increasing awareness, however, we have seen couples ditch over-the-top celebrations for eco-friendly weddings in the past couple of years; there have been reports of couples setting an example by organising minimal functions or using recycled products at their wedding.
Traditional marriage does not mean it has to be extravagant, believes Samir Alam, who recently attended his best friend’s wedding with just about 10 people in attendance. “You can easily host a function with only people who are close and actually matter to you, with simple food and clothes. Otherwise, it is just an ostentatious display of wealth,” the 27-year-old from Gurgaon said.
Warade agreed, adding she would rather spend the money in opening her own cafe. “This is where I get into conflict with my parents, who suggest that I save up money for a few years and then spend it on the wedding,” she said, stating her future plan for a court marriage. “I do not see a point in spending so much in a day. Nowadays, most of us are thinking about how to invest money judiciously. I would rather have a small, intimate gathering with close family members. Instead of spending all the money on a wedding, wouldn’t it be more practical to save it up for one’s future?” she opined.
Akram Tariq Khan, 26, Delhi, on the other hand, acknowledges the peer pressure when it comes to hosting extravagant weddings. Khan, who has two sisters, recalled how his family spent about Rs 20-25 lakh on both their weddings, resulting in financial crisis. “When you tell the prospective spouse’s family that you want a simple wedding, chances are they might interpret it negatively–they may think we are trying to demean them or are not financially capable of arranging a grand wedding. We tried the same but it was not taken in a positive light,” he said.
Khan is currently searching for a prospective wife on matrimonial sites and is certain that he wants to have a simple wedding. “I make it a point to convey the message–it is easier to do so, being the groom’s side–that I would like to have a simple wedding. Men still get the leverage to make their point, but you kind of lose that leverage being a female,” he said.
But many youngsters today, who hope to revolutionise the idea of the Indian wedding, are often opposed by their parents. Khan’s case is no exception. “My parents are mostly wary of how relatives would perceive it. How I try to convince them is by telling them that even if they go for a big, pompous wedding, there will always be people who would complain about one thing or the other. And when we are spending on something, we are also creating pressure on the other side because they are expected to match the standards,” he said.
While Khan, Warade and Alam advocate for a simple, minimal wedding, not every friend of theirs subscribe to the idea. Warade, for instance, talked about how some of her friends have been planning decor and clothes for their wedding for years. Alam added, “Most of our friends feel things should change. But of course there were a few people who do not find it to be problematic.”
It is these people that Rahman and his team hope to influence. He said, “We are especially targeting the youth. Earlier, it was solely the parents who were making marriage-related decisions. Today the younger generation has become the decision-makers. Plus, it is fairly easy for us to reach out to them.” For this purpose, the team has also collaborated with several influencers on social media. “Marriages are a necessity. But treating it as a business has made it into a luxury not affordable by all. Marriages need to be simpler, merrier, and more inclusive,” he signed off.