The Dowry System In India

Written by :   Zac Poonen Categories :   Youth Woman Man
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It is unfortunately, normal among Christians of all denominations in India, for a boy's father to ask for a dowry from the girl's father before a marriage is finalised. This has reduced marriage to a business deal. Among unbelievers, such a practice is understandable because, being spiritually blind, they allow covetousness to rule their lives. But what shall we say when most believers also indulge in this practice - even those who claim to be Spirit-filled? Surely the Devil has blinded them too.

Many a marriage arrangement has failed because the parents of the girl could not meet the exorbitant demand for dowry made by the parents of the boy. Many girls in our land have been emotionally disturbed and brought to frustration because of this - and some have even committed suicide. Every day in India, some wife somewhere burns herself to death because of her husband harassing her to get more dowry from her father.

God will severely judge all those who make marriage a matter of striking a financial deal. This judgment will begin at the house of God, among those who claim to be born again. It is because many believers have not spoken out against the evil practice of dowry that it is still so widely prevalent in Christendom in India today. It is a sad thing indeed when those who should be standing upright for God in a warped and crooked world, become warped and crooked themselves. No Christian who wants to please God should ever ask for, or receive a dowry.

Some brothers hide under the excuse that it is their parents who ask for dowry and not they themselves. But if they have any convictions at all, why don't they speak up and tell their parents that they don't want any dowry? The reason must be that they too secretly desire the money. If they are convinced that the dowry system is wrong, they should speak up for the truth. It is surprising that many brothers who are strong-willed when it comes to other matters, act like spineless jelly-fish when it comes to expressing their convictions on dowry to their parents!

Some brothers say that it is only reasonable that their parents who have spent so much money on their education should now receive some money as dowry from the girl's parents. But the girl's parents have also spent money on educating her! Why doesn't the boy give money to her father for giving him an educated girl??

Others justify their asking for dowry by saying that their parents will need money to give as dowry for their sisters when the latter get married. But we can be certain that God will not let anyone down, who seeks to honour Him in this matter. If you honour Him, He will honour you and give good husbands to your sisters (or daughters) without your having to pay any dowry (1 Sam. 2:30). If you say you don't have faith for that, then I have nothing more to say to you, for I am writing now only for wholehearted Christians. The commandments of Jesus are meant only for wholehearted Christians.

Others may ask, "What is wrong in receiving money which the father of a girl gives gladly to her as a gift?" There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But before any brother uses this as an excuse for his covetousness, let him answer these three questions first:

(a) Was money any factor at all (even if the least important) in deciding the marriage?

(b) Did you or your representative (whether father or relatives) ever ask for the money, (or try to find out how much money the girl's parents had) before or after the marriage had been settled?

(c) Did you secretly hope that money would be given by the girl's parents (either to the girl or to you)?

If the answer is "Yes" to any of these questions, then you have certainly fallen a prey to covetousness, however well it may have been covered up by different excuses.

It is in such situations that the contradiction between a believer's preaching and his practice becomes evident to all. No wonder infidels are prompted to say, "Whatever Christians may preach, when it comes to money, they have the same religion as everyone else".

In some places, I have heard that the dowry system is the reverse of what is found in most parts of India. There the boy has to give a dowry to the girl's father in order to marry her. But whichever dowry system it be, the practice is an abomination to God.

Many may resent such a strong denunciation of the dowry system. But we must remember that the system is a product of man's covetousness, which the Bible calls idolatry (Col. 3:5). One has only to read the severe denunciation of idolatry in the Old Testament to realize how God detests it. The prophets of old were fiery in their preaching against it. They did not mince words when speaking against that which God hated.

We have preached against and stood against dowry consistently in CFC ever since the Lord established our church in 1975.

Personally, I have practised exactly what I have written above, in my own life. I refused to allow any discussion of dowry at the time of my wedding. I took the same stand against dowry when my four sons were getting married. In addition, I never sought to find out whether the parents of the girls (whom my sons were marrying) were rich or whether the girls themselves had good educational qualifications that would enable them to work and earn money. Unfortunately, these are the matters that most believers today are keen on finding out when getting their sons married. I was only keen to find out if the girls themselves loved the Lord and were disciples of the Lord Jesus. And I thank God that He honoured my desire by giving each of my four sons God-fearing wives who would help them in their ministry for the Lord and also help them to raise God-fearing children.

Whenever I conduct a wedding, I always take a signed declaration from both the bride and the bridegroom stating that no dowry has been exchanged between them or their parents. I do this so that both parties see the seriousness of this evil. If any dowry was given or received, then I refuse to conduct the wedding. If they deceive me they are answerable to God.

To expect dowry, or to accept dowry are both just as bad as asking for dowry. Those who accept or expect a dowry are both covetous. Such "Christians" should be honest and call themselves "heathen". They are certainly NOT followers of Jesus Christ.

Can you picture your asking Jesus to negotiate with a girl's father about the amount of dowry he should pay you before you agree to give your son in marriage to his daughter? You know very well that Jesus would never be willing to negotiate in such a matter. That itself should show you that expecting or receiving a dowry is wrong.

Receiving dowry or giving dowry or helping someone receive a dowry are all offences according to the law in India. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 states:

"If anyone gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he/she shall be punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years and with fine not less than Rs.15,000 or the amount of value of dowry, whichever is more."

Leaders of churches should be the foremost to obey the country's laws and to honour God in this matter. Any church-leader who is unwilling to take a stand against this evil dowry system has no right to remain in leadership in any church. Some leaders may secretly take a dowry without anyone knowing it. But God will deal with such hypocrites in His own time.

At a wedding, money may be given for the actual expenses of the wedding and the reception. But even this should ideally be equally shared by both parties. Thus both the boy and the girl are given equal dignity before God. But we cannot make a rule in this matter, because some are able to afford an expensive wedding and reception, while others are not.

It is perfectly in order for a bride's parents to give money to their daughter. But this is best done by putting the money in a bank account in her name. This is not a rule but only a guideline so that believers can preserve their testimony and not be accused of having received a dowry after the wedding.

There is another equally great evil in India - and that is the way daughters are treated by their parents when it comes to an inheritance. Many parents do not give an equal share of their wealth and assets to their daughters as they do to their sons. If it is evil to give or ask for dowry, it is an equally great evil for a parent not to give their daughters an equal share of their wealth as they give their sons. In God's eyes, sons and daughters have equal rights to their parents' assets. Any father who shows partiality to his sons over his daughters is an ungodly father, unfit to be called a Christian. Whether the father writes this in his will to be distributed after his death or whether he gives it to his children earlier is immaterial. But he must treat his daughters exactly like he treats his sons. And a daughter has every right to ask to be treated equally. Jesus taught that it is proper for children to ask their fathers for good gifts (Matt.7:9-11).

If Jesus were in India today, He would denounce the dowry system ruthlessly. Unfortunately, church-leaders who claim to represent Him, do not denounce this practice - because they love money themselves, or are eager not to offend the rich, or hope to get a commission themselves in the process!

Even a non-Christian film-actor in India has spoken out against dowry recently. Aamir Khan writes:

"I am totally opposed to dowry. It is not only a retrograde practice but also an illegal one. Think about it - can a relationship, built on the foundation of money and greed, be meaningful or beautiful? We should make our daughter so accomplished and independent that she is capable of crafting her own future and becoming the master of her own happiness. Then she won't need a greedy, useless groom to complete her life. Let her marry a person who respects her. Let her marry a man who she believes is worthy of her; whom she is happy to spend the rest of her life with."
[ http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/article3439626.ece ]

Such non-Christian film-stars are now putting to shame so-called "Spirit-filled, tongue-speaking" believers, in this matter! Those film-stars will rise up in the day of judgment and condemn all hypocritical believers.

This is one reason why the Lord has placed CFC and related churches (and I hope, some other churches too) as lighthouses in India, to stand for the truth and to proclaim His will in this matter. The Bible commands us to speak up for the rights of the needy (Prov.31:8, 9). We must stand totally against this evil dowry system that has destroyed the lives of so many helpless girls in our land. We must also urge all parents to give an equal share of their wealth to their daughters as they give to their sons.

Daniel took a stand for the Lord in Babylon in a very small matter - not eating certain foods that God had forbidden in Leviticus 11. That was a very small commandment - but it was a small commandment given by a great God. Because Daniel honoured God, God honoured him. God is testing us now in little matters, to see whether we qualify to be a voice for Him.

May the Lord preserve us as a prophetic voice for Him in our land.