Karachi

Timeless Treasure

The price of gold is sky-rocketing around the world but the metal
continues to make and mar marriages in Pakistan, come hell or high water.

By Khawaja Amer | September 2020

For brides in Pakistan, a common practice on the marriage day is to wear heavily embroidered and very traditional rich red or dark purple clothes, accompanied by gold jewellery. The prices of bridal dresses range, if bought from a known designer, between Rs. 3 and 5 million while in Jama Cloth Market and similar places across the country, the prices are Rs.20,000 or even less -- very much within the reach of even a lower middle class family.

The gold rate is announced by the Karachi bullion market on a daily basis and it is binding on every goldsmith, irrespective of the location of his shop, to sell gold jewellery at this rate. As such, the ever rising gold price is hitting marital customs a bit too hard because in Pakistani culture, no gold means no wedding. The yellow metal has been an integral part of creating healthy links through weddings. This is indeed not only shocking but disgusting. Tradition demands that families buy several tolas of gold for their daughter’s wedding, and these days, with the gold price touching new heights, even those with average salaries of around Rs.150,000 a month are finding the prices way beyond their means.

Gold is a status symbol in Pakistan, where the bridal ensemble is incomplete without enough, if not excessive, 22 karat gold accessories, which include numerous rings, earrings and bangles, jhoomar and necklaces. Shortly before the wedding, the proud parents display the wedding jewellery to guests. After the rukhsati (leaving her parents’ home), the bride enters her husband’s house adorned with gold, which is not provided for decorative purposes only but to establish the girl’s status and her family background. It is also seen as an investment in the new family’s future. Usually, it is the bride’s family that purchases most of the gold which is considered as a much more reliable asset than real estate or cash and, in fact, it guarantees the bride’s future happy stay with her in-laws.

Now middle class families, which manage to save up to Rs.500,000 by contributing to ‘Committees,’ are finding it difficult to buy gold for their daughters’ marriages. The “committee” system has existed for quite some time. In the system, funds are pooled on a monthly basis and this creates a savings amount. This helps those who make a monthly contribution to receive an interest-free lumpsum which can be used for a variety of purposes. Shopkeepers in markets of various sizes also follow this system to create interest-free money.

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