For Bangladeshis, Pohela Boishakh does not only mark the beginning of a new year – it also comes with the hope and promise of a fresh start. It is no surprise, then, that Bede couple Mim and Shakib started their life together on this day this year.
But that is not why their wedding was an extraordinary event in their community. What set it apart is the fact that there was no exchange of dowry in this marriage – a first in this community.
This reporter had the fortune of being a part of the wedding that took place in Baidda Patti area, a Bede locality at Kamarpara in Abdullahpur, Dhaka.
All this was possible because of Bidyanondo Foundation, a voluntary organisation that works to improve the lives of underprivileged children, locals told the Dhaka Tribune.
The Bede are a gypsy people who traditionally live in and depend for their livelihood on rivers. However, this particular community left their old ways and settled down on land in Kamarpara 12 years ago, some of the elders in the community told the Dhaka Tribune.
Poverty has forced the Baidda Patti residents to be content with subdued celebrations for their weddings for years, said Shahjahan, sardar, or the chief, of the community.
“Mim and Shakib are lucky that they are getting a proper wedding ceremony,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “We do not have many options to earn our living. A day’s work gets up to Tk300-400 at best, which barely covers our food cost for the day. So, it is nearly impossible for us to have any celebrations.
“However, this wedding is an exception; we are not only hosting 100 guests in the ceremony, but the groom’s side is not taking any dowry from the bride’s family. This is the first dowry-free marriage ceremony in this community,” he said.
“No one gets married in our community without dowry. It just does not happen,” said Mehedi, Mim’s brother. “For Bede women, the dowry is usually Tk7,000-10,000. My wife’s family paid Tk10,000 in dowry when we got married.”
Dowry was a big issue for Mim’s and Shakib’s families – who are related – when they started to arrange the marriage, Mehedi said.
Mim’s family was unable to gather the money that Shakib’s family asked for dowry. The wedding was almost called off last month, but a group of volunteers from Bidyanondo Foundation intervened.
Learning of the situation when the volunteers went to the community to provide free healthcare, they spoke to Shakib’s mother Rina Chowdhury. The volunteers promised to bear all costs of the wedding on one condition – there would be no exchange of dowry.
Rina agreed, and as the Bede are a matriarchal community, Shakib accepted his mother’s decision.
Rina said: “We are all poor people here, but dowry has always been a part of our wedding traditions. My family paid dowry to my husband too. The dowry was meant to help my son expand his business. But later we decided not to take it.
“I do not regret this decision. I am happy for my son and hope that both he and his wife Mim will work and earn their living to build their life together.”
Mim said Bidyanondo volunteers kept their words and arranged for everything in the wedding.
“They bought all the clothes, jewellery, food and other things for us. They decorated our rooms and stages and cooked the wedding meal,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Shakib was excited about seeing so many people attending the wedding.
“It is true that the dowry would have helped me with my business. But then we would not see so many people coming to our wedding, giving us their blessings,” said the happy groom.
Kishore Kumar Das, the founder of Bidyanondo, migrated to Peru for a better life. He currently works at Google Apps in Peru and also runs a restaurant.
“I paid for Mim and Shakib’s wedding from my personal income,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “I founded this organisation to help underprivileged people to the best of my ability. So, we try our best to help them.”
He said around 700 people live in Baidda Patti.
“We could not feed the entire community, but we made arrangements to host 100 guests. A team of 10 Bidyanondo volunteers took care of the arrangement.”
Kishore hoped that this wedding would inspire more Bede men not to demand dowries, and said he would help with more weddings in the community if anyone asked for it.