The Punjab Assembly deserves to be commended for the passage of the Punjab Marriage Functions Act, 2016, aimed at discouraging abstentious display of affluence at such occasions. Some of its provisions such as that only one-dish (a meat curry along with rice, bread, salad and one dessert, hot or cold drinks) can be served at wedding functions and that all such events must end by 10pm has already been in force in the province. They are generally observed too since Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif introduced one-dish rule in a previous stint back in the 1990s, and later the time limit was imposed in the wake of power crisis. Nevertheless, people got around the food restriction by using the ‘mehndi’ ceremony to serve sumptuous meals, also making showy displays of wealth in other forms.
It is good to note therefore that the new law is much more comprehensive. The one-dish and 10pm rules are to apply to wedding functions as well as ‘related ceremonies.’ Other fresh measures include ban on illuminations in streets, parks, adjoining areas of a wedding house as well as hotels or wedding halls where such functions are held. Also prohibited is the use of firecrackers, celebratory firing and, of course, display of dowry – the last custom though is prevalent now only in some rural areas. Unfortunately, there is a general tendency in this culture to follow the dictum if you have got it, flaunt it! That comes across as vulgar in a country where half of the population lives under the poverty line and many others struggle to stay above it. More to the point, extravagant weddings put pressure on those in the middle class to try and come up to the prevailing standards, spending lot more than they can afford. Marriages for them become a burdensome affair rather than a time to rejoice.
Can a law ease this pressure, especially considering that the penalties for various violations carry a fine from a minimum Rs 50,000 to a maximum of Rs 2 million, and imprisonment up to one month, which is bailable? The answer is yes, considering that after the one-dish and 10pm rules were enforced in Punjab, as noted earlier, at least in big cities vast majorities of the people, including the rich and the powerful, have been abiding by them. Which shows it is the moral strength of the law rather than the fear of nominal monetary penalties (for the rich) the previous law carried that has worked. It goes without saying that the good example set by Punjab should be followed by other provinces as well. They must also enact similar laws to remove the unnecessary financial burdens on families. People ought to be encouraged to enjoy weddings as celebratory occasions instead of worrying about financial problems they bring to most middle class families.
Source: Business Recorder