The age-old South Asian tradition of dowry started out as a way to help the bride stand on her own two feet even after marriage, but it has gradually turned into a social evil. Unable to fulfill demands for dowry that go beyond their parents’ capacity, brides have been tortured, harassed, and even burnt to death or driven to suicide by the groom’s family. Today, Pakistan reports the highest number of dowry deaths at 2.45 per 100,000 women in the world.
To raise awareness about the ills of jahez (dowry), Pakistani designer Ali Xeeshan recently collaborated with United Nations Women Pakistan. Xeeshan created a fashion campaign that sheds light on the “epochal and alarming issue of families fretting over saving money for their daughters’ dowry (Jahez) instead of their education that is far more important,” the designer wrote in an Instagram post.
The video for the campaign shows a young woman decked in bridal finery pulling a cart that her parents have stacked with gifts. She sobs as she pulls the weight of her dowry along with the groom who’s also sitting on the cart.
Centred around his collection Numaish (Urdu for “exhibition”), the campaign forms part of UN Women Pakistan’s “Jahez Khori Band Karo” campaign (Stop dowry-mongering), which calls on people to stop asking for and giving dowry.
The initiative has found the support of many, who took to social media to share how the campaign resonated with them.
However, many people also pointed out what they thought was hypocrisy by the designer, who according to them is himself contributing to the expensive wedding culture that often leaves a big financial dent on the bride’s family. South Asian wedding culture is often blamed for being more about luxurious pretences than celebrating and in a bid to outdo others in putting up a lavish front, the bride’s family often ends up spending ridiculous amounts of money on everything, including the bridal trousseau. People were quick to point out that the lehenga (traditional South Asian bridal attire) used in the campaign probably cost a fortune, since prices for pieces of his bridal couture are known to run into thousands of dollars.
While the campaign invited criticism for being tone-deaf and trying to sell Xeeshan’s collection in the name of a social cause, it also found support from people who were in favour of keeping the focus on the cause itself.
The #StopJahezKhori campaign by UN Women has garnered the support of many prominent celebrities in the country where the act of demanding dowry is a punishable offence, but the concerned law is rarely ever implemented. The word “jahezkhori” was coined by UN Women specifically for the campaign, combining “jahez” and “khori”, similar to the Urdu word “bhattakhori” or “someone who extorts money from people”.
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