Bunty Aur Babli, an escapist film with a theme of tradition verses modernity, was an enormous hit in India in 2005. Rakesh Trivedi, a small-town guy who feels he is a big fish in a small pond, sees his father’s life and knows he wants more. When his father gives him the ultimatum of a job interview or leaving the house, he packs his bags and heads for his dreams. Vimmi Saluja is also from a small town who feels that she cannot settle for the traditional Indian life she sees around her, especially the struggles that come with being an Indian woman. With dreams of becoming Miss India, she sneaks out and leaves home when her parents tell her they have an arranged marriage set up for her, and coincidently it is the same night Rakesh leaves home. The two meet and become friends, encouraging each other to achieve their dreams. But when their plans fall through they soon become Bunty and Babli, two con artists who realize they can make even more money scamming the wealthy and fall in love as they do it. The couple marries as they continue to con, but unknowingly to Bunty and Babli, an ACP officer, Dashrath Singh, is right behind their tails and pranks and will not stop until he puts them in jail. Bunty and Babli have a child which will lead them to hang up their prankster hats, and also to getting caught by Dashrath. After having the two in custody, though, Dashrath lets them go when he realizes their changed hearts and intentions. Years after the couple’s release, both are offered a government job that will utilize their conning skills, the cherry on top to this Indian day dream.
But what would their lives had been like if they never ran away from their small villages? My review will go in the direction of providing social commentary on the allusions to traditional Indian martial norms that Bunty and Bubli deter from, particularly dowry and some of its social consequences.
Dowry is the transfer of money and or goods from the bridal family to the family of the groom, a widely-used system dating back to Greco-Roman world (Hughes), though confined to Europe and East Asia. The dowry system prevails in India, despite it being outlawed by the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961 (Anderson, 270), and Anderson argues in “Why Dowry Payments Declined with Modernization in Europe but Are Rising in India” that this is because of India’s severe class stratification and the endogamous and patrilineal nature of marital practices (Anderson, 271). From an economic aspect, money acquired to give to the groom’s family can be detrimental on the bridal family, often leaving them impoverished. There have been case studies that show dowry prices ranging from $60,000 to $130,000 (Billig; Joshi) and can go as high as six times the annual wealth of the bridal family (Deolalikar and Rao).
The economic burden of a daughter in India creates many social problems, including the rise in preference of male children leading to sex-selective abortions and female infanticide. Abortions have been legal and accessible in India since 1971, and though sex-selection abortions have been banned (Clark; Arnold), there still seems to be evidence for highly disproportional sex ratios at birth and among young ages of children (Das Gupta and Bhat; Basu; Srinivanasan). In one study, researchers conduct interviews focused on fertility decisions with women in villages of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state with the highest rate of induced abortions according to National Family Health Survey data (International Institute for Population Sciences and ORC Marco). Most of the women in the study were of lower caste and typically poor, economic factors being the primary concern in their preference for quantity and sex of children. Almost all of the respondents stated a preference of two or three children and mentioned the struggles of providing children with education, healthcare, and for daughters, dowry. Many women voiced their preference for sons over daughters, majority of their reasons pertaining to dowry, as can be seen in this woman’s response:
“We decided only two because we need to have more money to raise more than two. Dowry was a problem for us, it costs two lakh (two hundred thousand Rupees) for dowry girls. We both do coolie (hired labour working in fields), so we can’t afford to have more than two. The government also suggests no more than two. It’s an incentive for people not to try for a boy.”
The interviewers never directly ask about sex-selective abortion, female infanticide or neglect, but some respondents talked of other women engaging in these activities:
“I know a lot of women who had scans and found out that it was a girl and then they got an abortion, in private hospital. Lots of people do that, I don’t know exactly, no one will tell outside…”
“…if they don’t like females they are putting paddy in the baby’s mouth and it will die. Another one, they don’t feed the baby for 2-3 days and it will die. Or they give herbal plants, milk of some plant to till. I know my neighbours and also other villagers. In this area it is very popular for female infanticide.”
“If women have two girls and want a boy they will give the baby ‘stone milk’ and then the baby will die.”
The study supports the notion of daughter avoidance due to economic restrictions, especially dowry. Other reasons were given for not wanting a girl because of dowry, such as the potentiality of daughters being harmed. If the groom’s family does not receive the dowry they stipulate, the daughter might be subjected to adversities, including physical abuse. This is reflected in one woman’s response during an interview:
“I am ready to give dowry for my daughters because now men’s families demand dowries. But I feel that in rural areas, mother-in-laws are doing cruelty to daughter-in-laws because of dowry matters, they are demanding dowries and it should be changed.”
The National Crime Bureau of the Government of India reports approximately 6,000 dowry deaths each year, but it is estimated that, because of unreported incidents, the number of women affected by dowry violence is around 25,000 (Menski). It is estimated that 30 million women are missing in India because of female infanticide (Sen). The trend causing these effects needs to be promoted and further analyzed and should be seriously considered by the Indian government in hopes of providing policies that will put an end to dowry, sex-selective abortions, and female infanticide.
 Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas examined 1,267 societies and concluded that only 4% of those societies practice the convention of dowry and illustrates the restricted locations of the practice Diamond-Smith, N., Luke, N., and McGarvey, S. (2008) Too many girls, too much dowry: son preference and daughter aversion in rural Tamil Nadu, India. Culture, Health, & Sexuality, 10(7), 697-708
Anderson, Siwan. (2003) "Why Dowry Payments Declined with Modernization in Europe but Are Rising in India." The Journal of Political Economy, 11(2), 269-310.
Arnold, F., Kishor, S. and Roy, T. (1998) Son preference, the family-building process and child mortality in India. Population Studies, 52, 301-315
Basu, A. (1999) Fertility decline and increasing gender imbalance in India, including possible southern Indian turnaround. Development and Change, 30, 237-263.
Billig, Michael S. (1992) “The Marriage Squeeze and the Rise of Groomprice in India’s
Kerala State.” J. Comparative Family Studies, 23, 197–216.
Clark, S. (2000) Son preference and sex composition of children: evidence from India. Demography, 37 (1), 95-108
Das Gupta, M. and Bhat, P.N. (1997) Fertility decline and increased manifestation of sex bias in India. Population Studies, 51, 307-315
Deolalikar, A., and Rao, V. (1998) “The Demand for Dowries and Bride
Characteristics in Marriage: Empirical Estimates for Rural South Central India.”
Gender, Population and Development
Hughes, Diane Owen. (1985) “From Brideprice to Dowry in Mediterranean Europe.”
The Marriage Bargain: Women and Dowries in European History
International Institute for Population Sciences and ORC Macro. (1993) National Family Healthy Survey-1 (Mumbai, India: IIPS)
Joshi, Charulata. (1992) “The Indian Dowry Service.” Spectrum, 3
Menski, Werner. (1998) South Asians and the Dowry Problem.
Sen, Amartya. (1990) More than 100 Million Women Are Missing. 61–66.
Srinivasan, S. (2005) Daughters or dowries? The changing nature of dowry practices in southern India. World Development, 33 (4), 593-615
 Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas examined 1,267 societies and concluded that only 4% of those societies practice the convention of dowry and illustrates the restricted locations of the practice
 Diamond-Smith, N., Luke, N., and McGarvey, S. (2008) Too many girls, too much dowry: son preference and daughter aversion in rural Tamil Nadu, India. Culture, Health, & Sexuality, 10(7), 697-708