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Slimming the Big Fat Indian Wedding

Slimming the Big Fat Indian Wedding
A typical Indian wedding ceremony
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A new Bill that seeks to control the wastage of expenditure and food at Indian weddings is likely to come up in the upcoming Lok Sabha session

~By Usha Rani Das

From marigolds being replaced by orchids, folk songs by latest Bollywood remixes, Indian cuisine by Thai and Italian and traditional mandap giving way to themes like beach and cruise weddings, the Indian wedding industry has spawned a new industry worth Rs 100,000 crore. In the top 15 cities of the country, people usually spend between Rs 2 lakhs and Rs 2 crore on three to five days of celebrations. Lavish weddings with their inflated budgets have also made it more than a reflection of love. It has now become an event to flaunt your social status.

Member of Parliament Ranjeet Ranjan who introduced the Bill putting a cap on wedding expenses
Member of Parliament Ranjeet Ranjan who introduced the Bill putting a cap on wedding expenses

The big fat Indian wedding will now see a slim-down version thanks to a new Bill which wants those spending above Rs 5 lakh to spend 10 percent of their expenditure on marriages of girls from poor families. The bill states: “If any family intends to spend more than Rs 5 lakh towards expenditure on marriage, such family shall declare the amount proposed to be spent in advance to the appropriate government and contribute 10 percent of such amount in a welfare fund which shall be established by the appropriate government to assist the poor and below poverty line families for the marriage of their daughters.” The Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016, might be taken up as a private member’s bill in the upcoming Lok Sabha session.

Member of Parliament Ranjeet Ranjan, wife of Pappu Yadav who introduced the Bill told India Legal: “More than being a celebration, marriages have become all about social status. Poor families are harassed to spend humongous amount on their daughter’s marriage which often leaves them in huge debts. The groom’s family pressurises the bride’s family to organise a lavish wedding to maintain the groom’s status. From a seven course meal, huge guests list to the brand of the sari to be worn by the bride, their demands know no bounds. This Bill is for the lower middle class and poor families.”

It also seeks to fix the limit of guests and number of dishes to be served for solemnisation of marriage or for the reception held thereafter as it may deem necessary or expedient to prevent the wastage of food items. “We want to prevent wastage of food and wastage of expenditure. At an average wedding a seven course meal is served. Guests mostly indulge in starters and out the rest. Hence tonnes of food is wasted at every wedding,” said Ranjeet.

A survey by a team of 10 professors from the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore shows that annually, Bangalore alone wastes 943 tonnes of quality food during weddings. At an average cost of Rs 40 per meal, the total food wastage in the city is estimated at Rs 339 crore, the study said. 

Hence, Ranjeet has proposed a standard menu with maximum 15-20 food items including drinks and mouth fresheners. As for guests, maximum 200-300 guests per wedding would be the ideal limit. The Bill also says that after this proposed legislation comes into force all marriages shall be registered within 60 days of the solemnisation.

The Indian wedding market

No. of Indian marriages in a year: 1,00,00,000

Indian wedding market: Rs 100,000 to Rs 110,000 crore

Gold and diamond jewellery market:  Rs 60,000 crore

Wedding apparel market: Rs 10,000 crore

Durable goods market: Rs 30,000 crore

Hotel and other wedding related market: Rs 5,000 crore

Pandal and venue decoration market: Rs 10,000 crore

Wedding in Goa: Between Rs 1 crore to Rs 1.5 crore

Wedding in Jaipur:  Rs 1 to Rs 2 crore

Wedding in metropolitan cities:  Between Rs 25 lakh to Rs 70 lakh

Invitation card market:  Rs 10,000 crore annually

Bridal mehendi market: Rs 5000 crore

Item-wise expenses

Dinner:  Between Rs 700 to Rs 1000 per person

Pandal decoration: Rs 10,000

Bridal designer saree/lehnga cost: Between Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000

Designer shervani: Between Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000

Wedding invite: Between Rs 500 to Rs 1500 per card

Bridal make up: Between Rs 5000 to Rs 50,000

Bridal mehndi: Between Rs 1000 to Rs 5000

A few days after the Bill was introduced, Jammu & Kashmir led the way by putting restrictions on the number of guests to be invited and specified the number of dishes that can be served at both public and private gatherings, mostly weddings. The department of food, civil engineering and consumer affairs said in a notification: “Whereas, it has been observed/reported that large quantities of food items, besides beverages, fruits, sweets etc are not only being served during these functions but most of it gets wasted and is thrown into dustbins.”

While families will be allowed to invite only 500 people for their daughter’s wedding, the number has been restricted to 400 if one’s son is getting married. And only 100 people can be invited for smaller ceremonies like engagements. The wedding menu is also likely to be restricted and non-vegetarian dishes cannot exceed more than seven with only two servings of fruits and sweets.

An average person in India is believed to spend almost 30 percent of his life savings on wedding ceremonies. In a high-end wedding, it is not rare that a bride wears pieces of jewellery costing between Rs 6-26 lakhs each, with an overall budget of about Rs 1.2 crore spent on jewellery alone.

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There are those who believe the Bill would somehow regulate the unorganised sector. Suchayan Mandal, who got married in 2016 in Kolkata, said: “For the rich it is about splurging and for the middle class it is about affordability. A standardised rate is required for all the vendors involved—banquet owners, florists, decorators, caterers, music band, make-up artists, photographers—who ask for exorbitant rates. A middle class wedding in Kolkata easily produces a budget of Rs 30-40 lakh.”

Yet, it has also raised questions on the adverse effects it would have on the wedding industry which employs millions. The industry is clocking 25-30 percent growth, and there are 300,000 vendors across the country, which together employ three million people during the peak season. Also, some of the vendors depend heavily on the wedding season for their income, like florists, wedding card vendors and wedding event planners. Ranjeet has also proposed digital wedding cards to curb expenditure. If it goes through, the Bill would put an end to the wedding card market in India which is worth Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 crore with 10 million marriages performed annually. Delhi and Maharashtra alone have more than 500 card printers.

But Ranjan dismissed the claims: “I am being asked these questions by wedding event planners. But I am not saying to stop weddings; just to cut down the extravagant budget. And small changes like using indigenous and local things will help cut down expenses. Use marigolds instead of orchids; use local dias instead of expensive lamps etc.”

An average 30 to 40 grams of gold is bought for every marriage across the country, the total consumption is between 300 to 400 tonnes annually.

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Indian weddings have become a display of wealth now. We all witnessed the Rs 500 crore wedding of Congress politician Subbirami Reddy’s grandson which had wedding cards that could be read on an LCD. According to a 2015 survey done by retail news platform over 10-12 million weddings take place every year, and most of them cost between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 5 crores which makes it a multi-billion dollar industry.  An average person in India is believed to spend almost 30 percent of his life savings on wedding ceremonies. In a high-end wedding, it is not rare that a bride wears pieces of jewellery costing between Rs 6-26 lakhs each, with an overall budget of about Rs 1.2 crore spent on jewellery alone. A typical trousseau spend, even for the middle class, is a minimum of Rs 2 lakhs, going up to Rs 20 lakh amongst the upper-middle class. An average 30 to 40 grams of gold is bought for every marriage across the country; the total consumption of gold, just for weddings is between 300 to 400 tonnes annually. The annual market of wedding dhol, bands, buggies with elephants, horses and camels, lights, is also an important part of Indian weddings, which is estimated to be worth Rs 5,000 crore annually. The proposed bill is not a marriage made in heaven.  It may have some valid proposals, but the decimation of an entire industry which provides employment to millions, will have to be carefully and wisely debated.

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