#Gender Fact

Not A Crime But A Custom? How Dowry Pressure Is Killing Indian Women

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Dowry Death Cases: No matter how many degrees a woman earns, her worth will always be determined by success at marriage. More often than not a woman will be weighed against tonnes of gold, cash and other material things she brings along with her in dowry.

India sees over 20 dowry deaths a day. And those statistics are only for the ones that are reported. Dowry in India takes away the rights of women to live, speak up, have a home, own a life.

Here are ten times when women were let down by the society as wives, as women and as human beings because of dowry demands.

The Adithyan Case

Recently, the Kerala High Court directed well known television serial actor Jayan S, also known as Adithyan, to surrender to the police in connection with a case lodged against him for dowry harassment, criminal intimidation and uttering obscene words in a public place by his estranged wife.

In her complaint, Devi alleged that he had misappropriated her gold ornaments of about 100 sovereigns and funds amounting to Rs. 10 lakh in her account and, also subjected her to severe physical and mental cruelty threatening her with dire consequences. Thus, the menace of dowry is practiced so directly and discreetly in the society that it cuts across all classes and castes.

Three Girls Below 25 Killed for Dowry

In another incident, in Kerala,  the suspicious deaths of three women below the age of 25 left the nation shocked. One would wonder how so many such cases get reported in a state like Kerala that has repeatedly emphasised on the importance of investing in public education and set the paradigm for progressive gender-reform movements since so many years. But unfortunately, this is also a state obsessed with extravagant weddings and vulgar showoff of gold.

Ayesha Banu Case

In February 2021, Ayesha Banu, a 24-year-old woman from Ahmedabad, recorded a video of herself speaking about the harassment she was facing for dowry from her husband before she jumped into the Sabarmati river and committed suicide.

Rashika Agarwal Case

In March 2021, another 25-year-old woman Rashika Agarwal fell to her death at her in-laws’ place in a posh locality in Kolkata. Her family claimed that she was tortured by her husband and others, and that they had given Rs. 7 crore as dowry.

Komal from Datiyana

In April, a woman’s body was found hanging from the ceiling of her in-law’s house in Uttar Pradesh’s Datiyana village, with the police suspecting it to be a case of dowry death. Reportedly, a video purportedly showing the victim, Komal, hanging herself, was shared widely on social media. According to a complaint lodged by her family, the woman got married to her husband Ashish two years ago and was allegedly being harassed by her in-laws over dowry.

Husband sought 1 Kilo Gold

In 2020, a 40-year-old man was arrested in Ahmedabad for sexually molesting his 14-year-old daughter and abusing his wife for dowry. In another case, narrated by a police inspector, the husband took 1 kg of gold from the girl’s family as dowry in Bangalore. The wife was then tortured for cash within few weeks of the marriage, and upon denial, she was burnt alive.

Kanchan Devi Case

In 2020 again, Patna Police arrested three persons, including two women, for allegedly abusing a woman for dowry, which forced her to die by suicide. Kanchan Devi hanged herself from the ceiling fan with her scarf inside her rented accommodation where she used to stay with her in-laws. Kanchan’s father Dinanath Singh lodged an FIR against her husband Sanjeev and 15 other family members, including his parents, alleging that they used to torture her for dowry. Though he did not mention any amount but accused Kanchan’s husband and in-laws of torturing her for a car as dowry. So a car mattered more than a woman’s life. Wow, this is the shameless society we live in.

Girl starved to Death

In 2019, a 27-year-old woman from Kerala was reportedly starved to death by her in-laws who admitted to having fed her only rice and sugar soaked in water. The girl’s family alleged that this was because their dowry demand of 2 lakh rupees was not met by them. Therefore, despite bearing two children her agony continued unabated. She was confined in the house which had tin barriers all around to prevent the neighbours from getting wind of what was happening inside. According to the police, the woman was denied food for three weeks straight. The postmortem report revealed that, the woman was reduced to a bag of bones and weighed a mere 20 kgs at the time of her death. How low can we stoop as a society? What a sheer disgrace!

Anissia Batra Case

In 2018, the famous Anissia Batra case happened. Anissia Batra, an air hostess by profession and the daughter of former Major General RS Batra, reportedly jumped off the terrace of her home in South Delhi. Her family filed a complaint with the police claiming that her husband Mayank Singhvi, who is allegedly an alcoholic used beat her for money and they suspect that she was murdered.

Neha Kumari Case

In 2018 again, the CBI took custody of a police officer named Vivek Bassan in Jammu and Kashmir for the alleged murder of his wife over an unfulfilled dowry demand. His wife Neha Kumari was reportedly found dead on February 26, 2018, with a gunshot injury from the service pistol of her husband. The ones supposed to save us are themselves the perpetrators of violence of this kind. So where do we seek help then?

Manjula Devak IIT Case

In 2017, a 27-year-old, PhD scholar, reportedly committed suicide in her hostel room in IIT Delhi. Her parents accused her in-laws of harassing their daughter, Manjula Devak, for pursuing her studies. According to victim’s father, Manoj Kumar Devak, her husband demanded 20-25 lakhs dowry. He told Hindustan Times, “It was a mistake to educate my daughter and send her to IIT. I should have saved all the money for her dowry”. In another statement to The Hindu, Mr. Devak said that his daughter had tried to end her life in 2015 also by slitting her wrists but she didn’t succumb to death back then and the matter was not escalated. So most people “let” their daughters study but the ultimate aim is always, just getting her married (and then getting her murdered for money).

india dowry death cases

A casual search on the internet will show such countless horrifying cases. Though dowry was made illegal decades ago, the crime is still rarely reported even today. In fact, it’s not a crime, it’s a custom according to our very own society. Dowry deaths constituted 40-50 percent homicides in the country for almost a decade from 1999 to 2018. In 2019 alone, 7115 dowry death cases were registered under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.

However, the Supreme Court in a recent judgment indicated that a restrained and literal interpretation of this penal provision on dowry death may have blunted the battle against this “long-standing social evil”.

The judgment declared by a three-judge Bench led by CJI N.V. Ramana proclaimed dowry harassment a “pestiferous” crime in which women are subjected to severe cruelty by “covetous” husbands and in-laws. But the language used in Section 304-B has always perplexed courts. Courts have often opted for a strict and narrow interpretation of the provision, which was one of the many legal initiatives introduced against dowry in India. And this needs to change now.

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