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No more lavish weddings in Indian state as authorities impose curbs

MUMBAI — A modern Indian wedding might include a days-long celebration, ornate invitations, elephants covered in finery, and a bride adorned in gold. But in an effort to curb such extravagant spending, lawmakers in one Indian state have imposed new regulations to limit wedding celebrations to an intimate 400 or 500 guests.

No more lavish weddings in Indian state as authorities impose curbs

A wedding in the city of Srinagar in India's Jammu and Kashmir state. Photo: AFP

MUMBAI — A modern Indian wedding might include a days-long celebration, ornate invitations, elephants covered in finery, and a bride adorned in gold. But in an effort to curb such extravagant spending, lawmakers in one Indian state have imposed new regulations to limit wedding celebrations to an intimate 400 or 500 guests.

Lavish multimillion-dollar weddings thrown by India’s super-rich have enraged the country's poor, who are struggling with profound changes to the economy, including a cash crisis.

On Monday (Feb 20), Jammu and Kashmir state issued an order that one official said was aimed at closing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Under the new regulations, weddings will be capped at 400 to 500 guests, and organisers can serve just 14 dishes – seven vegetarian and seven non-vegetarian options.

Engagement parties would be capped at 100 guests, and penalties could be imposed on violators.

“During the last 20 months, we have been receiving complaints from the public that rich people are spending huge amounts during the marriages,” said Mr Chowdhary Zulfkar Ali, the state minister for the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs.

“Poor people were forced to spend the money on the marriage ceremonies of their daughters and sons.”

Though it would appear difficult to enforce the order, which will take effect on April 1, Mr Ali said the government would issue penalties for non-compliance.

“Marriages can be stopped; the banquet hall can be seized,” he said.

“They can be penalised and they can be imprisoned even if anybody violates the government order.”

The urge to mark weddings as lavish affairs is partly cultural, said Professor Sonalde Desai, a sociologist at the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi who studies changes in Indian families, including marriage practices.

“For the bride's family, there is the expectation that if they don’t pay for a really lavish wedding, their daughter will not be treated well in their marital homes,” she said.

But rising incomes have raised the ante of what lavish means in India, and the poor often take out loans to pay for weddings.

Jammu and Kashmir’s action is not the first official effort to rein in wedding spending.

Ms Ranjeet Ranjan, a Member of Parliament from impoverished Bihar state, has proposed a bill that would curb wedding expenditures nationally.

She hopes that the bill will be introduced in Parliament next month. It would set a limit on wedding expenses of 500,000 rupees (S$10,600), a pittance for even a typical middle-class wedding.

Under Ms Ranjan's proposal, families who spend more than that amount would have to contribute one-tenth of the wedding's costs to a fund that would go toward paying for the weddings of poor families.

Similar bills have been introduced in Parliament in the past, but none have passed. When Jammu and Kashmir tried in 2004 to restrict the number of wedding guests, the order was stayed by the state's high court within days of its enactment, according to local news media.

“There is undue pressure from society to have a lavish wedding, even when you can’t afford it,” Ms Ranjan said.

“I have seen people spend a lifetime's worth of money in two days.” NEW YORK TIMES

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