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The Paradox of the Big Fat Indian Wedding

A Recipe for a 50 Billion Dollar Industry

Ingredients:

• The ‘Once in a lifetime’ tag
• Immense sentimental value
• Societal pressure
• Conspicuous consumption
• Age-old traditions
• Bollywood’s influence

Directions:

1. Take the most important institution in Indian society: marriage.
2. Add some social obligation, sacramental value and loads of emotional weight.
3. Pour in the involvement of the extended family and a conspicuous amount of consumption.
4. Add a dash of Bollywood’s influence through elaborate celebrity weddings.
5. Mix it all together with a betrothed couple, thousands of dollars, tonnes of extravagances and voila! You’ve just made yourself a Big Fat Indian Wedding.

According to a 2012 report in CBS News, a staggering 1 Crore of such weddings take place in India every year, and that number has increased in the last ten years. After a nationwide lockdown for the past two years, couples are eager to have the grand wedding they've always dreamt of and celebrate with their kith and kin. . Vikaas Gutgutia, founder and managing director of Ferns N Petals Pvt. Ltd says, “Big fat weddings are returning with a bang this year, with the overall market likely to see a growth of 200%.” Indians tend to splurge on weddings regardless of their income or existing debt because a wedding in India is not a celebration of the coming together of two people but rather two families. Even a small-scale Indian wedding has about 200 guests. An Indian wedding typically costs somewhere between 10-40 lakh rupees. Business Standard states India's per capita income to be Rs 91,481 in 2021-22. If we were to do the maths and compare the per capita income of our country with the cost of planning a wedding, an average Indian easily spends more than ten times their yearly income on their wedding day. The wedding industry is growing at a rate of 25-30% annually. Breaking down the industry as services, the wedding industry includes wedding planners, caterers, florists, designers, photographers, musicians, choreographers, make-up artists, labourers who create the elaborate set-up and many supporting businesses, including the hospitality, jewellery, entertainment and tourism industry as well. These are large groups of people who are employed by the wedding industry alone. Furthermore, a new form of revenue for the government is now ‘wedding tourism’. Destination weddings have become extremely popular in recent years.

More and more people are looking to tie the knot in different cities in search of celebrity-inspired weddings. Foreigners seeking to learn more about Indian culture are willing to pay couples to attend their weddings. According to a CNBC article, two Australian travel bloggers paid around $200 for a two-day invitation to attend an Indian wedding through a start-up called Join My Wedding. But what led to the emergence of such a profitable industry? How is it that the same country suffering from crippling poverty is willing to spend a fortune on one event with such alacrity? Well, it all boils down to societal expectations. The Economic Reforms of 1991 and policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation are what led to the emergence of extravagant Indian weddings opposing the socialist beliefs and Gandhian values. Back then, wedding ceremonies would usually be held at the home of the bride, attended by only the family members of the bride and the groom. It was comparatively inexpensive and most of the money was spent on the food and gifts given to the groom's family. Cut to the release of movies such as ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ and ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’. The public started to idealise and demand grand weddings with elaborate dance sequences and designer wedding trousseau. Weddings shifted from homes to banquet halls, to hotels and eventually to different cities and even countries! Globalisation has also played a huge role in furthering the lavish experience. Planning bachelor and bachelorette parties alongside hiring wedding planners act as additional costs to the already expensive affair.

Now, weddings not only are a celebration of marriage but also act as a status symbol and a display of wealth. Indians spend a majority of their savings on weddings. An Al Jazeera article states over 60% of Indian families turn to moneylenders to take loans for their weddings. Families who fail to spend adequately on weddings are shamed. This additional pressure and sentimental value attached to weddings are why banks give out ‘Marriage Loans’ so that families can live up to society’s expectations and organise the wedding of their dreams. The inability to bear such high costs or repay loans from external financers has caused people to resort to self-harm and even attempt suicide. The economic burden of a daughter's marriage has been identified as a major cause of gender discrimination and domestic violence. A research paper states: “Natal family does not give money or other items is the main reason (of domestic violence) in Andhra Pradesh ”. (Sahoo, Harihar, and Manas Ranjan Pradhan. "Domestic violence in India: An empirical analysis.") Indians, especially in the rural areas, view their sons as an asset who will support them in their old age and carry their lineage forward. On the other hand, daughters are considered a liability whose marriage is a solution to quickly get rid of the said liability. They prefer to invest in their son's education and would rather save up for the daughter's dowry and wedding than educate her and equip her with skills to improve her future. Many urban families also have a marriage fund ready for their daughters but no proper funding for their education.

Sociologist Patricia Uberoi writes that in South Asia, weddings are “the most visible site of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste”. Ironically, the same country home to 224.3 million undernourished people (UN Report 2021) wastes majority of the food prepared at a wedding venue. The problem has gotten so dire that in the last 30 years, 10 different private member bills have been introduced in the Parliament that seek to prohibit extravagant expenditure on weddings but none of them has been successfully passed. Such is the paradox of the Big Fat Indian Wedding. While it is a big contributor to the economic growth of the country as a whole, it might just be doing the common man more harm than good.

Prisha Changothia

References:

Bloch, F., Rao, V., & Desai, S. (2004). Wedding Celebrations as Conspicuous Consumption: Signalling Social Status in Rural India. The Journal of Human Resources, 39(3), 675. https://doi.org/10.2307/3558992

403 Forbidden. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/inside-the-big-fat-indian-wedding-conservatism-competition-and-
BRnetworks-117011400505_1.html Value Metamorphosis: Investigating the impact of

COVID-19 on Indian weddings as a system. (n.d.). OCAD University Open Research Repository. Lal, N. (2021, January 31). The financial burden of weddings on India’s poorest families. Business and Economy | Al Jazeera. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/1/31/the-financial-burden-of-weddings-on-indias-poorest-families Jaffrelot, C., & van der Veer, P. (Eds.) (2008).

Patterns of middle class consumption in India and China. SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, https://doi.org/10.4135/9788178299976 Bloomberg - Are you a robot? (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.bloomberg.com/tosv2.html?vid=&uuid=b1ecde38-4c61-11ed-ba9f-734767415351

&url=L25ld3MvYXJ0aWNsZXMvMjAyMS0xMi0xNS93ZWRkaW5nLXJ1c2gtc2VuZHMtaW5kaWEtcy1nb2xkLWltcG9ydHMtc3VyZ2luZy10by1zaXgteWVhci1oaWdo Glickstein, Sarah, "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Receipts" (2014). Volume 22 - 2014. Paper

13.https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Speak-Now-or-Forever-Hold-Your-Receipts-Glickstein/7b7d34a3fb0fca571df87230b369954db093877a Domestic Violence in India: An Empirical Analysis. (n.d.). International Institute for Population Sciences,.

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