The paying of dowries is a common feature of traditional marriages. A dowry can be defined as a some of money or a piece of property brought by a bride to her marriage. The richer the bride's family, the larger the dowry, and the larger the dowry, the better the chance of marrying well.
In the status-conscious society portrayed in Nectar in a Sieve, the dowry is a crucial element in accentuating the differences between the classes. It's notable, for example, that Rukmani, the narrator of the story, ends up being married to a poor tenant farmer. The main factor here is not so much her lack of beauty, but rather her lack of a dowry. The implications are clear: if you are born poor in this society, you will remain poor. The dowry system thus perpetuates the existing rigidities of the class system, making social mobility almost an impossibility.