KARACHI — Khushboo Rafiq is the first person in her family not to pay a dowry, or bride price, to her husband Usman's family.
Khushboo works for an organization that advocates women's rights. It was very important to her that her wedding represents the ideals and convictions on which she spends her professional efforts."
We used the wedding invitation to tell guests they should not bring any gifts," she says. "We also made it very clear that no dowry was being paid. We also are donating our wedding dress to a charity for another couple to use in the future."
She says that though the practice is illegal in the country, most of her friends' families pay dowries to their prospective husbands.
"My cousin's marriage cost them $1,000 in dowry," she says. "But I categorically refused to follow obsolete traditions like a huge dowry, expensive jewelry and a lavish feast. My friends said it would be a miracle if my in-laws accepted my demands. But they did."
Though it is common practice, giving a dowry exceeding $50 is an offense under Pakistan's Dowry and Bridal Gifts Act, passed in 1976.
Other legalities imposed on weddings are also often ignored. For example, according to custom, there should only be one dish served at the wedding feast. Though breaking the law can lead to six months in jail, doing otherwise is deeply ingrained in the Pakistani culture.
Zakia Sultana, the bride's mother, says many of the guests are amazed that their family has decided to follow the law. "This wedding is the topic of discussion at today’s gathering," she says. "I faced opposition from my family and friends, who said a marriage cannot be performed without a dowry. Later, they agreed. Things are starting to change, and people will follow this example."
Because of the traditional dowry system, many middle-class young women don't get married because their parents cannot afford it. Thousands of others face emotional and physical torture at the hands of their in-laws, often because they are dissatisfied with the dowry. Many women are kicked out of their homes and divorced by their husbands.
Hina Mujeeb is employed at the same organization as the bride, and is working to end the practice. "The custom of dowry is brutal," Mujeeb says. "Some parents have to sell their houses or get loans to arrange the dowry. To change the mindset, we have formed this group. We will not accept or pay a dowry. That's the way we want to create change.”
Zahid Ghani, the groom's brother, agrees. "There are some people who are not happy with today's wedding," he says. "But this has not stopped us. Asking for the dowry is just like bargaining in the market for goods. My wife's parents have already raised their daughters and paid for her education. I can't ask for more."