Siddhartha Yadav: Buying the “doc” groom

After all the formalities, the potential bride’s father asks, “How much?” The father of the groom-to-be lets out a crooked smile and says “Two million rupees”. The bride’s father is tensed. He tries to negotiate. The bargaining goes on and finally a price is agreed between the two and the wedding is fixed.

This is how most of the people tie the knot in my community, the lowlands of Nepal. Although called as the “dowry” or the gift that the bride’s family offers to the groom’s during the marriage, this is usually not a willingly offered gift but a sum of money negotiated in advance.  Many marriages are solely reliant on the amount of these dowries. And guess who are at the forefront for taking these dowries? Doctors!

A recently graduated ‘doctor’ groom can ask for somewhere between 1 million to 5 million Nepalese rupees, roughly equivalent to 8,000 Pounds to 40,000 pounds. This equals to five to twenty-five years of salary of a government employed doctor.

And this is not just about a few doctors. Most of the male doctors from my community ask for dowry. Marriages without pre-negotiated dowry are so rare in my community that when something like that happens, it is called “adarsha vivaha”, meaning “ideal marriage”, and becomes a hot topic for discussion in everyday gatherings.

Taking dowry is illegal and a punishable offence in Nepal. But that has hardly made the “doc” groom from shy away from this practice. Some of the grooms say that they asked for the dowry under family pressure. I believe that most doctors are ‘adult’ enough to make decisions for themselves. If not, I would doubt their ability to take decisions in a clinical setting as well.

The social and public health impact of this practice has largely been neglected. If there is one practice that I would like to put my finger on for impeding education of women in the lowlands of Nepal, it would be this one. Parents are reluctant to invest in the education of their daughters because they have to pay for their dowry.

There is a strong preference for the male child because of the associated economic gain. Recently, there have been a lot of disturbing reports about abortions based on gender preference. There have been instances when a bride has been harassed, beaten, or even burnt to death because her father did not pay the promised amount.

It baffles me how doctors can be at the forefront of such a practice which is not only illegal but also has negative social implications. During our training in medical school we are given a lot of sense about the ethical and moral aspects of our actions and upholding the dignity of the medical profession. Sometimes, these apply not only to a clinical setting but also to our everyday life outside of work. Can asking for dowry by a doctor be classified as an unethical conduct? My moral sense is tempted to say yes. But, I leave that discussion and decision for higher authorities on medical ethics for now.

Some of you reading this blog might be wondering how the bride-to-be can put up with all of this and go with somebody who asks for money to marry her. I am sure she must find it demeaning as well. But most marriages here are arranged by parents and women have very little say in it.

As for now, I would like to request my fellow male doctors from the lowlands, who are getting married and expecting a hefty sum in dowry, to think seriously about this issue and act in a dignified way.

Siddhartha Yadav is a former BMJ Clegg Scholar.

  • Matiram Pun

    Hi Sid,

    Yes it is such a intriguing as well as disturbing issue but as well know it is spreading like a smoldering fire and we pretend we don’t see it OR sometimes it has gone like social accepted norms!

    Are we hiding just like dumping dusts under the carpet? Otherwise, why is it increasing? Then there is about educated, respected and revered class of society involved.

    There are some schemes like funding for the postgraduate education, USMLE and so on! Isn’t it a form material bargaining or price tag? It won’t be exagerated if we call a form of slavery.

    This is where we all need to stand in chain and stop it.

    Thanks for the issue here!

    Best wishes,

  • surako

    It is a gr8 pleasure that a doctor belonging to terai background came up himself and expressed his dissatisfaction over this social crime-Dowry system,the so called Tilak system. The fact you pointed out how this dowry and illiteracy among lowland girls are closely related was very much impressive and realistic too.
    The society and the system looks very ugly when even an educated man proudly says that”Now, girl’s party are offering me 30 lacs for the marriage if I complete my doctrate or engineering..Let the day come when my graduation completes”..Shame on them!!!
    If an educated person like you criticize this system in public gatherings, and criticise those educated men who enjoy this system due to greed and lose their ethics and morality, I think the day is not far when this system is totally eradicated.
    Keep posting on such social issues as well. My well wishes 2 U.

  • mohan bhusal

    Thanx, Dr.Siddhartha yadav for bringing such a grievous issue into concern. Developing countries like Nepal and India are the pioneers of these issues(gender inequalities and dowry system). The gravity of situation is very intense from my personal experience as well.It is said that eduacation enlightens people but,even the so called most educated people of this part of world ” doctors” have not been able to be aloof from such a heinous act i.e “marriage for money”. Marriage for money is a human right violation, as far as i know. Not only doctors but educated people from other professions equally bear the responsibility. The root cause i think is lack of education to the females as rightly said by Dr.yadav. Female are still deprived of making decision about their marriage.Until and unless the parents attitude about gender discrimination,issues about women empowerment through education and securing of basic human rights are taken seriously, this problem will remain the same or even more for the next few decades.I also agree with yadav’s idea of considering it as an Ethical misconduct because doctors are supposed to be highly bound by ethical norms compared to other groups. Doctors can act as a role models for solving this issue if they are really true to their heart and abide by their profession. above all, it should be a joint effort of everyone.

  • Good for you to raise this example of great injustice Dr. Yadav.but without wishing to dicourage individual reformers in Nepal or elswhere, I think ,the solution lies in education of female population .

    A law against demanding dowry and parading wealth at wedding ceremonies was passed in Pakistan some years ago but ossified cultural practices still go on under the guise of “gifts and hospitality ” from relatives and friends.

    Mind you pre-nuptial agreements in some Western countries are the other side of the coin ; there is no cure for it.

    Greed is a universal phenomenon.