"How can I marry my daughter off without giving her gold jewellery?” asks Zainab, a housewife, who is preparing for her daughter’s wedding. “Her in-laws and others will say that I don’t love her enough. For years, I have cut corners from household expenses to save enough to give a gold set in her dowry.”
Zainab is typical of many mothers who claim the reason for giving gold to their daughters about to wed and move into another home is a symbol of familial love. But underneath it all, the reasons are actually rooted in darker themes.
Why is a girl’s dowry considered incomplete without a gold jewellery set or two? For centuries, the high liquidity value of gold has been considered a security for daughters, in case hard times come by. It is also not uncommon for parents to arrange loans to buy gold for their daughters’ dowry, often to meet the in-laws’ demands. Such grasping in-laws can sometimes even call off the wedding if they find out that not much gold jewellery is being given to the bride.
“Mostly among the lower classes, it is considered a must to give gold for dowries,” says Binte Zehra Rizvi, who teaches English at the department of visual studies at Karachi University. “They think it is important to give at least a pair of gold earrings to satisfy the in-laws.”
With gold becoming as expensive as it is now (115,300 rupees per 10g of 24k and 105,691 per 10g of 22k at the time of filing this story), can people afford to buy gold jewellery? And why is it so neccessary in the modern day is a big question.
“Gold has cultural relevance in Pakistan,” says Sara Hasan, a homemaker. “Those who invested in gold are reaping financial benefits. Affordability is, of course, an important factor and there is a striking and an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. While for some it is difficult to afford even a pair of earrings, others wear wedding dresses that are worth a few ounces of gold.”
Soaring gold prices are putting it out of the reach of most people. But changing social mores are also impacting how people perceive gold as a guarantor of financial security, particularly for young women
“Yeh tau reet riwaj hai [this is tradition],” says Shehryar, a salesman at a jewellery shop in Clifton, “and people will continue to give gold to brides even though presently our business is about 20-30 percent less.”
“People now only buy one gold set or opt for two lighter ones,” says Tariq, a salesperson at another jewellery shop. “Some people get their own [older] heavy gold sets modified according to new trends, or they sell them to buy newer, lighter jewellery.”
Until a couple of decades ago, well-off parents gave heavy gold jewellery, heavily embellished dresses, bedroom furniture, kitchen appliances and crockery in dowry, with a motorcycle, if not car, to the groom. Presently, however, gold isn’t a must in dowries, as priorities, affordability and choices have changed. Those who can afford it, still give a house or a plot, some give cash, furniture or appliances. But girls getting married and moving abroad usually ask their parents to give them cash, so they can independently furnish/ decorate their house, while some couples prefer honeymoon tickets.
With gold becoming beyond the reach of most people, there are other alternatives for ensuring security for a rainy day. “Saving certificates should replace gold as security for brides,” says Ghazala Noorani, an artist. “These generate regular profit and can be encashed when needed. Though the profit is not huge, something is better than nothing.”
Today’s educated and career-oriented woman’s interest in gold is also dwindling. “Girls want their own identity,” says Farahnaz Zahidi, a journalist. “They would rather wear silver or gold-plated jewellery for practical purposes, such as small studs, or a ring or two, but not heavy gold sets that will just sit in the [bank] locker. The millennials have grown up in an era where travel has become a priority. Many girls prefer to travel and gain life experiences.”
After completing his MBA, Qamar landed a job at a multinational firm and he and his fiancée Rana decided to get married with the blessings of their families. They opted for a simple wedding and Rana asked her parents for cash instead of heavy jewellery. Putting some funds together, they made the down payment for a flat of their own and soon moved in. “Instead of paying monthly rent, we are paying installments for our flat, which is better than having heavy jewellery lying in the locker,” adds Rana, a housemaker.
The law and order in large cities, especially Karachi, also does not allow anyone in their right mind to venture out wearing even a gold bangle, so people feel safer wearing imitation jewellery. More brides are choosing to wear imitation gold-plated or chrome-plated silver jewellery because it is inexpensive and readily available. A variety of gold-plated kundan jewellery and heavy (real-looking) imitation jewellery is also available for bridal wear, athough it is not considered appropriate for dowry and, of course, cannot be used as security.
Often close relatives lovingly lend their jewellery to the bride for the wedding and it is returned to the owner after the big day. Going a step ahead, some jewellers also offer the facility to rent out jewellery. After depositing the full cost of the chosen jewellery, the gold set can be taken home. Upon returning the jewellery after use, the rent (1,000 rupees to 3,000 rupees per day) is deducted and the deposit returned to the customer.
For those insistent on purchasing, gold jewellery can also be bought on installments. Select and reserve a gold jewellery set and pay its full price in mutually agreed installments. Once all the installments have been paid, you can take your gold set home. Only the original price is charged as per current gold rates, without any mark-up.
“It was feasible to give gold as security when girls’ education and empowerment was not a priority,” says Zahidi. “More and more people have started to educate their daughters and are allowing them to have professions or careers for a secure future that no one can steal from them.”
The best security parents can give their daughters is education, support, the freedom to choose, and keeping their homes and hearts open for the daughters in case of any unfortunate circumstances. No amount of gold can guarantee that kind of security.
The writer is a freelance journalist and tweets @naqviriz
Published in Dawn, EOS, October 31st, 2021