“Parents still prefer having a boy rather than a girl.” says a respondent to the online survey I’ve put up two months ago. Some may agree and others disagree in this Western world we live in, but in India, it’s a proven fact. In the early 2000’s, the country’s sex ratio has fallen to 927 girls for 1000 boys. Sex selective abortion has become an underground business that has been grossing more than 224 million US dollars in India with doctors going against the law to perform these sex selective abortions. Others who can’t afford sex determination tests, usually give birth and then get rid of the child if she’s a girl. This unethical selective process is expected to have an impact on the amount of human trafficking, sexual violence, child marriages and maternal deaths due to early marriage in the next upcoming years according to experts. There’s no need to mention that this is just an addition to the unusually usual high crime rate against women in India, a country where a big majority worship women goddess. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years or had never had the opportunity to sit down and watch one of those soap opera dramas your mum watches on Sun TV or its sister channels in the other languages such as Gemini TV or Surya TV, you are probably not asking yourself why this atrocity is so common. Nevertheless, if you are asking yourself, our groom buying traditions are one the main roots of this issue. Yes, I am talking about this toxic dowry tradition.
Dowry were primarily gifts given by wealthy elites to their daughters to show off their wealth and showcase their love for their daughter in Ancient India. However, in Medieval India, it became an unwritten custom that grew popular among lower castes with the awake of sanskritization, a period where lower castes started imitating upper caste lifestyle and customs. Dowry tradition is also practiced in other countries across South Asia such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. As we all know, colonialism never did any good for South Asia, as a matter of fact, it never did something good for anyone period. Except
genocides, land stealing, white-washing, erasing cultures and thousand years of customs, another thing colonialism “achieved”, as if it was a truly an achievement to be proud of, is reinforcing the dowry systems along with white collar job. Dowries slowly started to be an unbearable burden for parents that wished to see their daughter get married. Parents worry about saving up for their daughter’s dowry from the moment they’re born so much, that some refuse to attend to their daughter’s medical or educational needs out of fear of the cost of these basic human rights. Grooms and their families started taking advantage of the dowries given to the brides and guided those initially jewelry and money based gifts into gifts of all sorts for their selfish purposes. The dowry values sought for got higher based on two attributes of the groom: his family background/status and whether or not he has a lucrative job and oh, I totally forgot, there’s also a little bonus for the fair skinned groom. They justify their unreasonable demands for flats, jewelry, great sums of money, house appliances, cars, bikes and many more on the sole fact that they are “educated” and their “high reputation”. If this isn’t enough to foreshadow the quality of the marriage life those brides will lead afterwards, I don’t know what will showcase it better. Now, why does this tradition persist in 2016, especially in rural areas of India? The strong presence of the patriarchal society, the caste hierarchy, women’s place in society, modern education and employment, false prestige and economic prosperity are just few of the numerous factors that surround this issue.
You might already know what would happen if the bride’s family refuse to give the dowry, the daughter would remain unmarried. However, most of the groom’s families asks for an “advance”, as if marriage was a property business, and then give them time to settle in the rest, after marriage. What happens now if the amount and “gifts” aren’t settled after marriage? This is where the whole nightmare really begins. In a 2012 Telegraph article, a 25 year old women named Pravartika Gupta was set ablaze with her 13 month baby girl by her husband and father-in-law for not settling the rest of their “lavish” dowry request as described by the author of the article. The in-laws of the young women asked initially for twenty-thousand US dollars and a Honda City for the groom, the parents of the bride agreed as they assumed the marriage costs of twenty-thousand US dollars as well. In addition to that, the in-laws demanded for a flat as Pravartika’s parents were about to settle the dowry amount after their daughter tied the knot. The cost of a flat can go somewhere from fifty-thousand USD to hundred and fifty-thousand USD. The in-laws responded that they didn’t need such luxury but the groom was worth that value. Pravartika’s story is just an example of the disgusting, inhumane and atrocious exploitation of a parent’s love for their daughter that have been made for now decades behind the scenes of most of those big South Asian wedding bashes you are used to seeing. Pravartika’s story is also one among the 8,232 deaths that were recorded in 2012 under the dowry deaths file , most being alleged suicides and bride-burning. Those weren’t suicides, those were murders. Murders where the predators got out with clean hands and a clean conscience. In 2013, the number of case filed for husband torture based on dowry issues were up to 106,257 according to the same article. Reported cases are affiliated with domestic violence and psychological abuse.
How did the authorities react to all of this? Well, in 1961, a Dowry Prohibition Act was placed to resolve to this problem but it failed to achieve the slightest change to the situation. Later on, a new amendment has been placed where men charged for dowry issues are guilty, non-bailable and non-compoundable until proven innocent with a sentence that might go up to 3 years in jail if proven guilty. According to Delhi’s Supreme Court, this is supposed to bring “relief” to women suffering from harassment. Nevertheless, the sanction of other laws such as the invalidity of dowry complaints unless it’s been more than seven years of marriage, pushes newly wedded brides who can’t stand the daily torture to resolve into those pre-planned murders. “Grave violence is being committed against young women in their matrimonial homes and the low conviction rate shows the legal system is not geared up to investigate and prosecute these cases” says Vrinda Grover, leading lawyer and women’s right activist in India. In fact, among the 8,232 cases in 2013, only 32% had conviction according to officials on the 94% that were allegedly charged and taken in consideration. The current laws in place are anti-dowry but nothing truly forbids the tradition itself besides the total failure that was the 1961 Prohibition Act. Furthermore, the Indian Supreme Court has judged that there’s been a misuse of the laws in place. They claim that a big amount of women accuse their husband of dowry torture for all sort of reasons that are out of context and they prove this statement with the number of cases with low conviction. One thing that the Supreme Court has been extremely oblivious to is that brides are usually extremely vulnerable and pressured in this situation as the bride’s own parents will try to avoid reporting the case out of fear of damaging their family reputation, as police stigma is another common disease in this society. Furthermore, it is extremely hard for women to prove psychological abuse from husbands and in-laws as the police themselves lack involvement in the case; since , dowry issues are looked upon like a secondary crime that is not part of their duties because they’re considered more of a personal issue that aren’t worth to be brought to court. Another factor that adds up to the perpetuation of the issue is the long trials to solve the cases and the costs of hiring lawyers to defend the case which end up being an extra financial burden that falls upon the bride and her family’s hands. Some drop the case because the fees are too costly as the case seem to be dragged on forever, they silently accept their faith and go back to living in the same ugly, atrocious and toxic environment.
One of the main causes of this practice, as I mentioned previously, is the low status of women in Indian society. Empowering them by giving them access to higher education will allow them to be financially independent. Thus, they will be able to fight back this dowry system. For example, Kerala is one of the most scholarized state in India and not only we see a bigger quality of women’s life and status, we also notice a low rate of dowry issues. Furthermore, fighting back against society’s multiple mindsets such as police stigma , divorce stigma and this false prestige everyone is so preoccupied about could make people open their eyes towards the situation those young women truly face on a daily basis. By supporting any women empowerment organism, you are unconsciously supporting women education which will lead to a society of well educated women that could fight back unawareness and be independent. One of the organizations that can help tackle dowry injustice with education and women empowerment is CAREIndia. CAREIndia is an NGO (non-governmental organization) present within fourteen states of India that caters to the needs of women and children from poor and marginalized communities. They are determined to diminish poverty and social exclusion by educating women and empowering them. They fight for a progressive society for women and young children to live in.
To conclude, although us in the West might feel like dowry is a thing of the past and an unrealistic issue that are only showcased in television serials to spice up the plot , they are sadly a matter of the present not only in India , but in many countries across South Asia. It is time to address this issue that might seem fading to us, but is still very present in our homelands. Spread awareness and take a stand for women empowerment. Take a stand against injustice.
[ ANONYMOUS ]. “ Government plans to amend anti-dowry harassment law ”, The Indian Express , [Online] , March 15 2015 , [ http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/government-plans-to-amend-anti-dowry-harassment-law/ ] , ( consulted October 12 2016 ) .
GUPTA , Alka. “ Female foeticide in India”, Unicef India , [Online] , 2016 , [http://unicef.in/PressReleases/227/Female-foeticide-in-India ] , ( consulted December 3 2016 ) .
MONDAL , Puja. “ Dowry System in India: Problems, Social Dimensions and Other Details”, YourArticleLibrary , [Online] , [http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/society/ dowry/dowry-system-in-india-problems-social-dimensions-and-other-details/35175/ ] , ( consulted October 10 2016 ) .
NELSON , Dean. “ Woman killed over dowry ‘every hour’ in India ”, Telegraph , [Online] , September 2 2013 , [ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews /asia/ india/10280802/ Woman-killed-over-dowry-every-hour-in-India.html ] , ( consulted October 10 2016 ) .