Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan's proposal to cap wedding expenses might be aimed at clamping down on the Big Fat Indian Wedding, but despite what your Facebook feed might suggest, such lavish weddings are relatively rare. What's true, however, is that the poor are forced to spend well beyond their means on weddings.
Ranjan's Private Member Bill seeks to cap the number of guests invited, the number of dishes served and the total expense at Rs 5 lakh. Such concerns over lavish weddings have periodically surfaced; in 2012, a Planning Commission-appointed panel tasked with coming up with suggestions to reduce harassment recommended an income-linked cap on wedding expenses. The UPA government had briefly considered curbs on wedding expenses, and some states have experimented with such laws. In the 1950s and 60s, India implemented a Guest Control Order which capped the number of guests who could be invited to a wedding.
The India Human Development Survey (IHDS-2) 2011-12 was a nationally representative household sample survey conducted by the University of Maryland and the National Council for Applied Economic Research. The IHDS-2 found that just 14% of bride's families had spent (or expected to spend) more than Rs 5 lakh on wedding expenses. (Grooms' families spent far less than brides' families.)
Expenses rose for older and more educated women who tended to be from better-off families, and those in urban areas spent more.
Richer states spend more on weddings, with Kerala spending the most.
But while a relatively small number might spend over Rs 5 lakh on weddings, the burden is highest on the poorest. Each box in this chart indicates one quintile - one-fifth of the country divided by income, meaning that the bottom quintile is the poorest 20% of the country and the top quintile is the richest 20%. The top of the line indicates the average wedding expenses for that group. Only the top two quintiles spend an amount on weddings that is within the household's total annual income.
So the total amount they spend on weddings might be more modest than we imagine, but for the average Indian family, it's still worth more than a year's income.