The Power of Ritual in Marriage: A Daughter’s Wedding in North-west India
The sources of data for this paper are varied. Data was collected through unstructured interviews and observations during the intermittent visits to towns and cities in Rajasthan ranging over a few weeks to a few months between 1980 and 2008. Participation and observation during scores of wedding rituals and ceremonies have
provided ethnographic data during this period. Insights from earlier fi eldwork in the early and mid-1980s and more recently with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Bundelkhand have been of cumulative worth. Unstructured interviews in Delhi over the past two decades have embellished data on rural as well as urban north-west India. Empirical data have also been extracted from mass media, both print and audio-visual, including wedding and related advertisements, television soaps and news coverage of celebrity wedding events and Bollywood fi lms in tracing the transformation in the wedding ritual for over a decade and a half. The essay draws on the Indian census data on sex ratios (female to male ratio) for the age group of zero to six years in the last two decades of the twentieth century. As this ratio is worse in the north-west compared with other parts of India, the essay limits itself to upper castes and particularly the other intermediary castes who form the middle classes2 from cities and towns, and those who aspire to belong to the middle classes in north-western India and are actively limiting their family size and are known for curtailing the births of daughters. It is not the aim of this essay to labour the increasing intensity of discrimination against daughters practised through female selective abortions in this section of the Indian society. Thus, the essay restricts itself to the upwardly mobile among the intermediary and lower castes. These socially and ritually lowercaste groups (i.e., the intermediary and lower castes, especially those who have practised agriculture, animal husbandry and artisanship as their traditional occupations) have been taking after the upper castes and claim to have been practicing dowry3. In other words, they are becoming gentrifi ed through the practice of dowry. Dowry is also believed to be a means of intra-caste hypergamy, a sign of the people with social status and means. The upwardlymobile among these caste groups are increasingly emulating rituals indicating status difference between the families of wifegivers and wife-receivers, as an unintended gender consequence of Sanskritisation4.