Your wedding ‘lehnga’ comes with a legacy of pain and injustice

Your wedding ‘lehnga’ comes with a legacy of pain and injustice

How strange that the central element of a ceremony meant to represent love, should come from a place of human abuse.
Updated 17 Oct, 2015

What can compare to the extravagance of a Pakistani wedding? The endless food, the hundreds of guests, the lavish decorations – it’s an event like no other. Although not Pakistani myself, I observed all of this firsthand at my own desi wedding, thanks to my Pakistani spouse.

Ever since my marriage, I have been reflecting increasingly on materialism and its effects on our world. As I attend more and more weddings, the opulence of these events makes me question the logic and lack of compassion behind consumerism.

Our concerns as consumers only extend to price and aesthetics. The only questions we ask ourselves is, “Do I like it,” and never, “How will this affects others?”

Also read: Wedding guests in the capital to be served one dish

As individuals, we like to think we care about worker rights and fair trade, but as consumers, we are every ready to drop these concerns for the right price.

Nothing exemplifies this attitude better than the wedding lehnga.

The traditional wedding lehnga is an iconic guilty pleasure, especially for members of the middle and upper classes. There are very few other items that society allows us to spend loads of money on, wear only a few times and never use again.

A lot of thought will go into the colour, design and price of the dress, but little thought goes into the conditions under which this dress would be made.

Beautiful and expensive, the wedding lehnga encapsulates the selfishness of today’s consumerist ideologies.

The reality is that this one special garment comes with a legacy of pain and injustice.

The textile industry boasts a near absence of labour rights. According to Karamat Ali, Executive Director of the well-known Pakistan Institute of Labour Research and Education, 80 per cent of workers in the industry work 12 hours a day or more.

Over 90 per cent of these workers have no formal employment contract, making the source of their livelihood completely precarious. It is not uncommon to see worker homes converted into workspaces at the workers’ expense.

From raw textile to embroidery, every step in a lehnga’s creation hurts people.

First, textile labourers work in factories lacking basic safety protocols and equipment to create and dye the dress’s fabric. They handle dangerous chemicals, often with no protection. As a result, these workers suffer from high levels of respiratory illness.

The fabric is then handed off to dress designers, who employ artisans to complete the dress under objectionable conditions.

Rafia Waraich, who started the fair trade children’s clothing brand, 'Cherished Juniors', recounts her observations on the clothing industry during her time in Lahore:

“If it’s a low-profile designer, they have these artisans working out of their own houses, otherwise they have them at a factory. The conditions these artisans work in are horrendous. Low lighting, tight spaces – almost sweatshop type conditions.

“There are also people who like to get stuff made on their own [without going through a designer]. In that case, the artisans work out of their own shops and charge rates that are suitable and market comparable, but which are still not nearly sufficient [to provide a living wage].”

On top of the fact that fair pay and decent working conditions are not the wedding industry’s standard practice, the societal pressure to enforce these standards is not strong enough.

Also read: Rental bridal dresses are heaven sent for some

How strange that the lehnga, a central element of a ceremony meant to represent love and commitment to higher ideals, should come from a place of human abuse.

It is time that brides and their families start insisting that their dresses be made while upholding the dignity and rights of all the workers along its chain of creation.

How to achieve this change?

We drive the decisions made by all consumer-oriented industries, including the wedding industry.

Support vendors who pay a fair wage and offer safe working conditions to their artisans.

Buy preowned dresses.

Question designers whom you patronise about their practices and demand fairness.

Only when the industry realises that their consumers place justice and human well-being over prices, will practices start to shift.

And it all starts with you.


sana-2 Oct 17, 2015 02:02pm
Anything you use has a history of abuse and pain behind it , that does not mean we sacrifice everything .
SAEED PK Oct 17, 2015 02:10pm
Very expensive for one time use.
Ayaz Ali Oct 17, 2015 02:23pm
Been trying to explain my to-be susral exactly that but to no vain. The cultural and societal pressures are so well embodied that its not easy to do otherwise. Can only pray.
M.Saeed Oct 17, 2015 02:36pm
A very appropriate and relevant to reality article. There is no doubt that people who give due value to hard earned money, feel extremely helpless when they have to spend heavily for this most useless but one of the highest priced single item in the marriages of their daughters. A presentable Lengha on average costs around Rs. 300,000/= and often remains packed and stored under heavy insecticides for all times to come after first ceremonial use. It no doubt represents our insincerity in spending money that is making mockery of our borrowings from the world. It is no surprise that they say we spend the highest amount of money in the world in our useless marriage ceremonies that make us paupers and force us to beg.
nayyab ali Oct 17, 2015 02:59pm
Our society hypes for sake of these sick trends & we cannot rid out of it.. well very good article thank you for such sharing .
Nangyal Oct 17, 2015 03:51pm
I respect the authors feelings but by stopping the trade or regulating it too much we would reduce the volume of trade and starve people of little money that they are making. Glad our beloved subcontinent has many opportunities for entrepreneurs without education and capital, they just open a chai khoka or pakora shop, too much western style regulation would kill it, recent ban on Ching-Chi rickshaws in Karachi is a good example.
nasiroski Oct 17, 2015 04:26pm
The whole wedding project in Pakistan is embodiment of WASTE. Weddings in Pakistan are nothing but reflection of a society which is full of selfishness, show-off and wastefulness. The hollow foundations of society today can be seen in a wedding ceremony, where people (typically) are trying to out do each other, crumbling under peer pressure, attitude galore..... Pakistani's need to change and among things they need immediate revision to is the way they conduct wedding and associated ceremonies.
nasiroski Oct 17, 2015 04:35pm
@Ayaz Ali Take a stand I did, it was bad for a little bit but then it just becomes history, convince your to-be spouse first .
Muslim Oct 17, 2015 05:08pm
After one dish weddings, and 10 pm time limit, the government should limit the events to 1 per family, i.e. only one event from the girls side (Nikah), and one from the guys side (Walima) Anyone having more than 1 event should be put in jail. After this should come the ban on expensive wedding dresses. I hope the government reads this
SAEED PK Oct 17, 2015 05:30pm
That's why it is called "Mera Lehnga bara Mehnga" but most important is who is wearing.
Hina Oct 17, 2015 06:18pm
I did it my wedding was just a nikah function my husband rented his sherwani and my goes cost only 25000 rupees and I must say that we can do it , we have to stop thinking what people are going to think and look at the bigger picture.
Hina Oct 17, 2015 06:22pm
I did it my wedding had only one function of nikah my husband rented his sherwani and my dress cost only 25000 rupees so rather than thinking about people we should look at the bigger picture and also think about what our religion tells us t do , these norms are all influenced my the Indian culture and some of them are just ridiculous.
KHAN Oct 17, 2015 10:34pm
@M.Saeed In what world does a presentable lehnga costs Rs 300,000! Clearly you are talking about the elite lehnga.
Bupi Oct 17, 2015 11:17pm
The poor embrider gets his bread he maybe paid less but his work gets handsome amount . It's pity's in sub continent.
Tahira Oct 17, 2015 11:22pm
@Ayaz Ali No you should refuse to wear the garment made by giving so much pain to the poor and so much money that could better be given to Edhi Center. You should order something trendy for yourself and simpler. Better make it yourself and insist on wearing it. Inform your susral that you intend to wear your own design so they do not waste the money. Tell them to give a one year scholarship to a poor girl to attend college. PAkistani susral are short on good ideas so provide them some. Also do not go to a beauty parlor to spend a few thousand and come out disguised as a painted doll. Stay as original as your husband will see you every day. In fact the groom should request the bride to remain in her original simple beauty. Most girls go through this non-sense because people expect them to look different than they are. I wish all the best for your wedding and I hope and pray that you will be a tend-setter and the first drop of a fragrant rain in Pakistan.
a Oct 18, 2015 06:44am
As a woman no matter how educated or economically independnetl you are it Depends on husband's Family how unmaterialistic you can be after marriage specifically but they can have much say even before marriage. Your Independence just ends around Your marriage.
Rita Oct 18, 2015 07:30am
@sana-2 If you care, you should sacrifice. What is the using of wearing something that has caused others to suffer? Your day of joy would have come at the cost of other's miseries. I for one could not bear wearing someting at the cost of others suffering.
Masoodul Hameed Oct 18, 2015 01:00pm
@sana-2 Maybe pain behind anything we use, but not abuse ! sacrifice? You do not need to sacrifice everything. Finding justification for what we want to do and being insensitive to the effects of our actions on others is plain simple self-denial; you do not exist!
Mukesh Oct 18, 2015 02:51pm
Dear Dawn readers:-) Many congrats to you for your decent remarks. I ve been living nreading toi n et and readers comments r mostly abusing here. Keep your decency alive. Mukesh
A husband Oct 18, 2015 04:39pm
Sometimes, the girl's family play a trick to put this expense on boy's side. On the other hand a designer sherwani can cost from pkr 80k to 250k. Its overall a big waste of money. We should drive the change. But it seems like we are getting a victim of this as we are getting financially better and better
Ashraf Oct 19, 2015 02:16am
Good and thought provoking. But if we demand human rights for the artisans the designers will raise the price 100%.
farhat ashfaq Oct 19, 2015 03:47pm
very humaned and thoughtful. weddings should be simple soft and beautiful event.less commercialize more private affair,
Hamaad Oct 20, 2015 05:46pm
Fully agree with the article. Lavish weddings and obscene display of wealth is a social evil. The conscientious within the society must actively make effort to stop this, starting with themselves.