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Seeking a Third Way: The Dilemma of Dowry and 'Walwar'

Unfortunately, our misfortune lies in the fact that even today, women struggle to find a third way and are unable to recognize the flaws in the existing approaches.
by TNN Editor - 06 Jul, 2023 1578

Nausheen Fatima

Twenty years ago, I visited the hostel of Kohat Degree College with a friend for a study session. After dinner, we joined two girls in another room who were engaged in an argument. One girl hailed from Kohat City, while the other was from Hangu.

The dispute began with one girl boasting about her mother buying an extensive set of utensils for her dowry. She confidently mentioned her plans for marriage after exams and how her future husband would take her abroad. The other girl's 'Ami' (mom) seemed to have everything arranged already. Her mother had purchased a large trousseau box for her at birth, and she had been gathering valuable items for her ever since. Her family was focused on ensuring a prestigious image for their daughter's in-laws.

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The girl from Hangu, my friend, questioned the need to spend so much on dowry if the ultimate goal was going abroad. She argued that in-laws only desire material possessions, not the daughter herself. In their community, parents offer their daughters monetary gifts to their in-laws. They also provide twelve tola gold and furniture. The girl's family even receives a considerable amount of money in addition to other gifts, establishing their daughter's worth.

At the time, I was a simple girl, contemplating which path would lead to honor and love: the first girl's approach or the second girl's perspective. In my understanding, taking an extravagant dowry would surely earn respect from the in-laws. It seemed logical that people would value you more when significant expenses were made for your sake.

However, my train of thought was interrupted by a loud, piercing voice accusing one of selling their daughters. On the other side, a response came, asserting that those individuals were tired of their daughters, which is why they sent them off with so much luggage.

Both sides vehemently defended their respective traditions, believing they were in the right. I couldn't comprehend who initiated these practices, why they were established, and their purpose. Eventually, we all went our separate ways, losing touch for many years, each immersed in our own lives and eventual marriages.

Nearly twenty-three years later, I recently visited the degree college to pick up my niece after her final exam. To my surprise, I encountered my old friends—the same two girls from before. It had been such a long time since we last met. We reminisced briefly and eventually delved into our old conversations. I shared that I had divorced my husband (Khula). As they recounted their stories, it became apparent that neither the dowry nor the "walwar" (the bride price) received the respect they deserved.

Unfortunately, even after all these years, both of my friends staunchly clung to their customs. One of them referred to herself exactly as she had years ago, claiming her mother had prepared everything in the world for her daughter. Times have changed, and now girls buy clothes from their favorite brands. The other friend boasted that although there are numerous girls, everyone desires her daughter, claiming they would fulfill all expectations.

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Witnessing the same situation after so many years was disheartening. The patriarchal system has perpetuated the practice of commodifying and trading women under various names, and even education has failed to eradicate these beliefs.

The third path, the alternative that religion should offer, remains elusive to them. Only glimpses of this alternative can be seen in Western societies. Unfortunately, our misfortune lies in the fact that even today, women struggle to find a third way and are unable to recognize the flaws in these existing approaches.

Will we ever discover a third way?

Nausheen Fatima is a social activist and a blogger.