Dowry: A Curse
“It is ironic that dowry was originally designed to safeguard the woman and the provision was made in the form of “Sthreedhan” (“Stree” means woman and “dhan” as wealth) consisting of money, property or gifts given solely to the woman by her parents at the marriage. The abuse of this custom eroded or aborted the original meaningful function where dowry was a safety not for the woman it was forcible made as a price tag for the groom.”
“Dowry” according to the dictionary, means the property which a woman brings to her husband at the time of her marriage. Originally, it must have meant property represented by the voluntary gifts given to the girl by her parents, relatives and friends out of love and affection, at the time of her marriage. May be these gifts were given to the girl in order to enable her to set up a new home out of sense of social responsibility. The system of dowry must be as old as the institution of marriage itself. It must also have been a universal practice. Every father wants to give some presents to his daughter when she is leaving his home for good and starting life afresh. There is nothing unusual, bad or abnormal about it.
But as time passed, the system, degenerated into an evil custom. It came to be looked upon as an evil and a curse. The dowry became an all-important and a primary factor in marriage. It became requisite forthe parents of the girl to give a good dowry to her whether they could afford it or not. Worse still, the married life of a girl came to depend upon dowry. Marriage became impossible in the absence of a handsome dowry. Several girls, whose parents could not afford a good dowry, had to commit suicide as their greedy in-laws made their lives miserable. Newspapers are full of reports carrying harrowing tales of brides being burnt to death or driven to hang themselves because of constant nagging by their in-laws. Some of these step-daughters of fortune choose the hangman’s noose. While other consume poison or jump down the multi-storeyed buildings to deliver themselves from the clutches of the inhuman dowry seekers.
Dowry originated in upper caste families as the wedding gift to the bride. It was later offered to help marriage expenses and taken as a insurance in case her in-laws mistreated her. Although the dowry was legally banned in 1961, it keeps on to be highly institutionalized. The groom often demands a dowry consisting of large sum of money, farm animals, furniture and electronics. The practice of dowry abuse is still on the rise in India. The most severe is bride burning when it was considered insufficient dowry by her husband or in-laws. Most of these incidents are given the shape of as accidental burns in the kitchen or are disguised as suicide. It is clear that there exist deep rooted prejudices against women in India. Cultural practices such as the payment of dowry is serving as death warrants for women in Indian society.
Despite banning practices of dowry, harassment, extortion and demands of preventive measure to avoid dowry deaths, the social evil of dowry deaths continues. The recent update and legal outcome of some cases illustrates the other side of the Dowry Prohibition Act. The legal system should put the accused of false dowry claims as a possible counter mechanism to blackmail and extortion via matrimony. There is considerable rise in “passport weddings” by Indians seek matrimony Non-Resident Indians (NRI) holding foreign citizenships. Once they get married and arrived on the desired foreign soil, many of them resort to tactics to earn more “dollars” from the NRI they married and the females crying false allegations of dowry harassment. When the mentality of dowry demands, along with accusations of extortion and harassment whether true or false start to be part of the imported and migrating baggage, it marks a nouveau scenario among some immigrant marital problems and family law cases. The autopsy of some arranged marriages which extended beyond Indian soil and led to separation and breakdown started to indicate traces of carrying the burden of this imported baggage as the norm of negotiating marriages and staying “happily” married.
In the recent past, the Government of India and many states have taken some anti-dowry steps. In some states, dowry has been made a cognizable offence. But legal steps are not enough. We have to create a social climate which does not favour giving and taking of dowry. Dowry seekers must be singled out and condemned. The Government should implement the anti-dowry bill strictly in the right spirit. Nobody, however highly placed, should be allowed to violate the law. Expenses at the marriage celebrations should be cut down. Needy married couples should be given grants to help them set up their homes. They can be asked to refund these loans in easy installments. Voluntary social service organization and religious heads should encourage dowry less marriages in large numbers. Girls should come forward to raise a banner of revolt against the dowry seekers They should refuse to marry such boys as expect a dowry. There is another dimension to the anti-dowry act promulgated by the government. This law is being exploited by some girls or their parents to blackmail the boys or their families after marriage. On threat of charge of persecution for asking for dowry, husband are being forced to shell out huge sums of money to get a divorce. This practice must be looked into and step should be taken to see that no family is unnecessarily harassed or exploited. Divorce should be made easier to obtain. Boys and girls should both be given equal rights in the matter of getting a divorce.
There are several laws to curb the dowry in India. Many NGO and Social Institutions, Women Organization, National Human Rights Commission also other to help the women in such cases. Family court is also established to settle the disputes in an amicable way. Police are also taking immediate action in cases of violence and dowry deaths. Press and Media also play a great role to make such incidence public, but in spite of all these, a social awakening is required to kill the devil of dowry.
More stringent laws, more awareness, more education to the girls more self dependence of the girls and a social awakening can only curb this ever increasing evil of dowry.