Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
The dowry system is not a common thing among all strata of society in South India. It differs from region to region, from community to community.
I belong to the Nair community in Kerala. Typically, our folk prefer to marry from around our district (Ernakulam) or from the northern districts (Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Kannur, Malappuram, etc.). There are very heavy restrictions when it comes to an arranged marriage within our community. Things like family name, sub-caste, etc. play a vital role in the selection process. This makes the preferable choices very less. Of course, love marriages are another story, but we’ll not go there.
In our circle, dowry is a strictly taboo word. Offering or demanding dowry is a blotch on the family that does it. And if they do, they can be assured that the news of their ‘dishonorable conduct’ (as it is seen) would travel like wildfire among the families of similar societal standing, thereby effectively ensuring that they will not be able to find a suitable alliance in any of the similar families. It is, in short, a sure-shot way to earn a ‘bad name’.
As far as I know, there is no unequal divide of property among the children in our community. The boys get just as much as the girls do. It was not so earlier. The girls used to get 80% of the family property and the boys would get the rest of the property equally divided among them, and after their death, the property would be inherited by their sisters’ children. That system was legally modified circa the 1960s or 70s, and now the property is equally divided. The rights of the girl in her family does not diminish post marriage as we follow a matrilineal form of society, where the bloodline moves through the women and not through the men.
Almost all girls in our families are well-educated and most are employed. Even if they are not employed, if the groom’s family demands a dowry, it is interpreted that the guy expects his wife’s money to look after her and their children. This is seen as an ultimate low-point for the man, that he is not financially sound enough to be able to provide for his wife and children, and yet he has come forth proposing marriage. Such people are viewed as gold-diggers and are promptly shooed away.
Somebody I know once remarked that parents giving a huge dowry is like buying a very expensive toy for their daughter to play with for the rest of her life. LOL! I haven’t heard a worse form of objectification of men ever! And the funny part is that these men sit and allow themselves to be valued and put a price on! Reminds me of the infamous slave trade markets of yore…where the slaves were put on a high stage and his agent would sell him to the highest bidder. Ugh!
Edit: I am aware that the dowry system is practiced among Nairs in other areas of Kerala. This is one of the reasons why marriages with them are not encouraged/popular/common. Different ideologies.