Earlier this month, Manjula Devak, a 28-year-old civil engineer PhD research scholar at the prestigious India Institute of Technology (IIT) was found dead; it is believed she committed suicide. Last year in September she attempted to take her life but failed. No case was registered at the time by the police who claimed she was counselled and that she had regretted the incident. This time it appears she was not so lucky.
Her family is unsure what prompted her decision, but suspect it stemmed from her husband’s actions. They had an arranged marriage and he pressured her into quitting school to start a business with him. Unhappy, Devak separated from him but feared the repercussions if they divorced. Then he began demanding a dowry of Rs 20-25 lakhs. When this happened, her father said it was a mistake to have educated his daughter or send her to IIT instead of saving up for her dowry. He believes if he had done so and he had paid her husband, his daughter might still be alive.
Yes, his daughter might have been alive but she might have been a different person, a shadow of herself. As per one of her colleagues, “Her PhD guide was very happy with her. She has published four articles till date. We know there is academic stress but Manjula was doing fine.”
How did it come to pass that such a bright young woman decided to end her life rather than find an alternate path?
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 criminalises the offence of giving or taking dowry, even where only an agreement to pay the dowry has been reached and dowry has actually not been given. Yet, dowry, a social evil, is still prevalent today amongst all classes and castes in India. Recently, a high caste man posted on Quora, “What dowry should a 28-year-old North Indian Brahmin boy demand from the prospective bride?”
I have been thinking about the trauma this poor woman suffered and I cannot get over the fact that her father thought her marriage was more important than her education.
As a single woman, well into her 40s, I totally find the thought alien. I would rather be single than stuck in an unhappy marriage with no outlet in sight. Yet, I find that most women are led to believe that marriage is the ultimate destination for them and that their life is not complete without a wedding ring on their finger, a mangalsutra around their neck and a child born to her.
I would rather be single than stuck in an unhappy marriage with no outlet in sight.
Over the years I have observed several of my friends, all accomplished women, go through divorces. The trauma that they faced before the divorce — sometimes due to dowry demands or unrealistic expectations from them — and the trauma faced after divorce living in a society that does not accept a woman on her own, was self-defeating and energy depleting.
I saw women who were CEOs of their companies, highly accomplished career women, become shadows of themselves because they could not face society or the shame that seemed to visit their family. Most of these friends went through months of depression and it took them years to get their life back on track. Not many had supporting families and those that did, still had judgmental relatives and friends.
So I ask in all earnestness, is marriage really the be all and end all of a woman’s life especially when the choice is not hers and the circumstances to stay in it are life threatening? What exactly is the worth of a woman?