- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

First of four parts.

“Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden.” — Punjabi saying

PAONTA SAHIB, India — By early afternoon, wedding festivities were well under way for Gagandeep Singh, 29, and Taranjeet Kaur, 26, in this touristy town in the Himalayan foothills of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

Mr. Singh, the groom, works at an American Express office near New Delhi. He is seated cross-legged in a large, gracious white Sikh temple overlooking the Nagar River. His ceremonial finery includes a dagger and ornate turban.

Beside him is his bride, her hands heavily hennaed with designs befitting a newly married woman. She is dressed in a magenta-colored gown and spends much of the ceremony gazing down at the floor. Nestled beside her like a flock of bright birds are female relatives dressed in brilliant jewel-colored tunics known as salwar kameez.

In front of the couple are Sikh priests. They alternately pray, sprinkle holy water on the crowd and instruct the couple to circle around a low-lying altar as a trio of musicians tap out rhythms on tabla drums and a harmonium.

Later, back at the wedding hall, the bride’s father, Amarjit Singh, reveals he has given a refrigerator, TV, washing machine, clothes and a DVD player to the family of the groom.

“This is not dowry,” he protests, “these are just gifts the father likes to give for his daughter.”

Miss Kaur is his only daughter and later that evening, she sits in her family’s living room as guest after guest shoves stacks of rupees into her purse. Eventually, a car pulls up containing the groom’s family. Wailing and clutching her parents for the last time, she slowly marches toward the waiting car that will bear her 30 miles southward to Yamunanagar, the city where her new husband’s family lives.

“Indian brides handle these partings with great theatrics, often wailing uncontrollably,” observed American journalist Elisabeth Bumiller in her 1990 book on the trials of Indian women, “May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons.”

“I decided this was the only rational response, given what was in store for many of them,” she said.

More boys than girls

India is facing a shortage of women like Miss Kaur.

Story Continues →