Stats Show Why We Need More Than Just Conversation On Dowry Menace In India

For generations, a woman's role in marriage has been diminished to that of a bargaining chip, a commodity to appease the desires of the groom's family. What was once called dowry, a word now draped in the guise of "gifts" to satisfy the son and his kin.

Oshi Saxena
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For generations, a woman's role in marriage has been diminished to that of a bargaining chip, a commodity to appease the desires of the groom's family. What was once called dowry, a word now draped in the guise of "gifts" to satisfy the son and his kin. These offerings are to ensure the care of the daughter in her new household, but in reality, they often serve as a pretext for extortion and exploitation. God forbid if the girl's family dares to resist or lacks the means to comply; then begins a harrowing saga of chastisement, pressure, and sometimes, as grotesquely evidenced, even death.


Take the tragic case of Karishma, whose life was snuffed out by the heartless demand for a Toyota Fortuner and a hefty sum of cash. Her crime? Failing to meet the insatiable greed of her husband and in-laws, who saw her worth only in terms of material possessions. In the end, Karishma paid the ultimate price for their greed, her blood staining the hands of those who saw her as nothing more than a dowry ATM.

Meanwhile, in Thiruvananthapuram, Dr. Shahana's story is equally harrowing. Pressured by her boyfriend's family's exorbitant dowry demands, she chose to end her own life rather than succumb to their materialistic demands.

As the nation reels from these senseless tragedies, the words of Dr. Shahana's final note echo louder than ever: "Everyone wants money only." Sadly, in our society, where greed masquerades as tradition and love is overshadowed by monetary demands, the fight against dowry-related atrocities rages on. Despite legislative measures in place for over six decades, the practice continues to claim lives and perpetuate suffering, particularly among women.

Family Didn’t Get Fortuner In Dowry, So They Killed Daughter-In-Law

Karishma, who married Vikas in December 2022, resided with his family in Kheda Chauganpur village, Ecotech-3, Greater Noida. Her brother Deepak received a distressing call from Karishma, reporting physical abuse by her husband, in-laws, and siblings. Tragically, upon investigation, Karishma was found dead.

Deepak filed a police complaint revealing that Vikas's family had received ₹11 lakh worth of gold and an SUV as dowry during the wedding. However, they continuously demanded more dowry and subjected Karishma to mental and physical torment. The situation escalated after Karishma gave birth to a daughter. Despite attempts to resolve differences through village council meetings, Karishma's family ended up paying an additional ₹10 lakh to Vikas's family. Nonetheless, the abuse persisted, ultimately resulting in Karishma's death. The police have arrested Vikas and his father, Sompal Bhati, while also searching for other suspects—Vikas's mother, Rakesh, sister Rinki, and brothers Sunil and Anil. A murder case for dowry harassment has been registered against them.


Kerala Doctor Dies By Suicide Due To Dowry Demand

Dr. Shahana, a promising young doctor pursuing a postgraduate course at the surgery department of Government Medical College, saw her dreams shattered after her boyfriend's family allegedly demanded an exorbitant dowry. A staggering request of 150 gold sovereigns, 15 acres of land, and a BMW car was made, leading to the cancellation of the wedding. Dr Shahana's family, unable to meet these demands, faced the unimaginable consequence of losing their beloved daughter to suicide. The haunting words of her suicide note, "Everyone wants money only," echo the painful truth of societal expectations. It is not merely about material demands; it is about the commodification of individuals within the sacred institution of marriage.

The police registered a case against Dr Shahana's boyfriend under abetment to suicide and dowry prevention laws. State health minister Veena George ordered a thorough probe, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the mental agony caused by dowry demands. The state Women and Child Development Department has been tasked with submitting a comprehensive report on the allegations of dowry demand.

P Sathidevi, Chairperson of the State Women's Commission, visited Dr Shahana's grieving family. Expressing deep concern, she emphasized the need for stringent measures if it is established that the mental agony induced by dowry demands played a pivotal role in pushing the young doctor to such a tragic end.

Understanding India's Dowry Laws

Enacted in 1961, the Dowry Prohibition Act ostensibly criminalized the exchange of dowry in marriages. Defined broadly, dowry encapsulates any transfer of property or valuable assets from one party to another in connection with a marriage. Violators of this law face stringent penalties, including imprisonment and hefty fines. Complementing this, Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) delineates provisions to combat cruelty inflicted upon women by their husbands or in-laws.


The Dowry Menace: A Statistical Overview

The cases of Dr. Shahana and Karishma are not isolated incidents, but rather a microcosm of a national issue. Despite the existence of the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), the practice continues to plague Indian society.  As per the latest data released by the NCW, a total of 28,811 complaints of crimes against women were registered in the year 2023, with 4,797 cases of dowry harassment. According to the NCRB report, a total of 13,479 instances were reported under the Dowry Prohibition Act, of 1961, in the year 2022. Within this distressing statistic, 6,450 cases specifically involved dowry deaths. While this reduction may offer a glimmer of hope, it's imperative to recognize that each of these figures represents a tragic loss of life and signifies an ongoing societal issue that demands urgent address.

Going deeper into the statistics, it is disconcerting to note that while there has been a marginal decline in the number of dowry deaths (4.5% in 2022) and cases registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act (0.6% in 2022), the figures remain alarmingly high. The states of Uttar Pradesh (2,218), Bihar (1,057), and Madhya Pradesh (518) report the highest incidents, highlighting the pervasive nature of this societal ill. Uttar Pradesh, in particular, reported a shocking 2,218 incidents, signalling the urgent need for intervention in these regions.

In the southern states, where Dr. Shahana's tragedy unfolded, the numbers are equally troubling. Karnataka leads in both dowry deaths (167) and cases registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act (2,224). The total number of dowry deaths in the southern states in 2022 amounted to 442, with Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala also contributing to these grim statistics.

The severity of the issue is further highlighted by the fact that 359 dowry deaths were closed due to insufficient evidence, and five deaths were transferred to different agencies or states. The National Crime Records Bureau emphasizes that these statistics record the incidence of registered crime, not the actual occurrence of crime, indicating that the actual scale of the problem may be even more extensive.

Despite the enactment of stringent laws, the data reveals that the dowry menace is far from being eradicated. It's a deeply rooted issue that requires not just legal rectification but a holistic societal transformation.


Delhi HC Raises Concerns On Rising Dowry-Related Deaths

The courts, too, have not been silent observers. The Delhi High Court recently voiced its concerns over the distressing pattern of dowry death cases, highlighting the prevailing notion that women are seen as a financial burden in many parts of the country.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma noted that these cases go beyond male dominance and gender-based hostility. They often unravel complex dynamics where women, in tragic irony, become participants in perpetuating hostility towards their counterparts.

The court emphasized that the psychological stress and emotional trauma inflicted by incessant dowry demands can be more damaging than physical violence. It acknowledged that the relentless torment faced by women, akin to a life of servitude, can lead to a point where death becomes tragically preferable to the relentless pressure for dowry.

The court's reflections highlight the urgency of addressing not just the legal aspects but also the societal attitudes and norms that contribute to the perpetuation of dowry-related tragedies.

Misuse of Dowry Laws

While the plight of victims is undeniably grave, recent judicial interventions have also highlighted instances of the misuse of dowry laws, casting a shadow on their credibility. The Supreme Court, in a notable judgment, quashed a dowry harassment case filed by a woman against her in-laws.

The court, in its wisdom, observed that the woman "clearly wanted to wreak vengeance." The allegations were deemed far-fetched and improbable, leading the court to conclude that continuing criminal proceedings would result in patent injustice. This highlights the delicate balance that must be maintained to ensure justice without unintentionally harming innocent parties.

In another instance, the Calcutta High Court commented on the phenomenon of "legal terrorism" perpetrated by some women who misuse the provision in the Indian Penal Code dealing with cruelty against a woman by her husband or relatives. 

Dr Shahana and Karishma's tragic demise serves as a harsh reminder of the urgent need to revisit and reinforce measures against the deeply entrenched issue of dowry. The incident in Kerala is not an isolated case but a microcosm of a larger societal problem that demands collective action and awareness. The dowry dilemma demands not just legal rectification but a comprehensive societal awakening where we must strive for a future where love triumphs over demands and no one pays the ultimate price for societal expectations.

views expressed are the author's own


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