Dowry Deaths In India: A 24-year-old BAMS student from Kerala was found dead at her husband's home on June 21. Two days ago, she had sent messages and images to her cousin alleging that she was being physically abused by her husband. The photographs were of injuries she had sustained from the alleged assault by her husband who was apparently unhappy with a car gifted to him by her family as part of dowry. The family claims they had also gifted him one-acre land among other things as dowry.
We often choose to look the other way when we hear wedding "gifts" being discussed in our own families. Gold ornaments, electronic appliances like fridge, television, mixer-grinder, new clothes for the every member of the wedding party, a new bike or car for the groom, a shop purchased in the name of the daughter to help the couple start their own business after marriage. Yeh to tohfa hai shadi ka, we are told, if we dare to ask uncomfortable questions. But why do parents feel obligated to go beyond their financial limits to purchase these items, if these are just gifts? Why do we fear disapproval of the wedding party members - the tayas, chachis and fufas, who feel entitled to create a scene if they disapprove of their wedding gift? Why do these so-called gifts have the power of impacting a woman's married life?
Just as we were recovering from the shocking revelations that Vismaya V Nair made to her cousin before her death, another report has emerged today from the same state, about yet another dowry death. Twenty-four-year-old Archana's body was found from her home in Vizhinjam, Thiruvananthapuram. Her family alleges that Archana's husband drove her to self-immolation, adding that he had demanded three lakh rupees from them to help his brother buy land for himself. Archana's was a love marriage. Vismaya's alliance was arranged by her parents.
According to National Crime Record Bureau's 2019 report, more than 7,000 cases of dowry deaths were reported during the year in our country. So, if you thought that dowry was a regressive practice belonging to the 80s, think again. There have been countless news reports in recent times where families have alleged dowry harassment, but only when they have lost their daughter, sister, cousin to assault or suicide abetted by physical and mental abuse.
What parents and society never realise is that such a heinous practice cannot be glossed over as an "age-old custom" or "wedding gift". It is a practice that finds its roots in sense of superiority and entitlement that comes with being of a certain gender, or being parents to a son. This entitlement reduces brides to a secondary gender, mere agents that bring in wealth and property, catering to insatiable greed in worst cases, that ends in tragic consequences for them and their families.
Vismaya's mother Sajitha V Nair said that her daughter called her on June 20, asking her for rupees 5,500, so that she could pay her exam fee. She also told her mother that her husband had hit her so badly, in the face, that her mouth was bleeding. "I told her to come back, but she said what people say, she will somehow endure it." She also said that while people were holding them guilty for giving dowry, the reality was very different. "People can ask why you gave dowry, but the reality is different. Dowry has to be stopped completely, no other woman should suffer this," she said. Her statement is indeed true. The blame cannot entirely lie with parents for paying dowry or on women who stay in homes where dowry demands never end. We as a society are equally responsible here.
When will we stop telling daughters to adjust in abusive homes? When will we stop judging women for leaving abusive husbands, seeing them as failures, for walking out on toxic relationships? When will we stop encouraging parents to settle dowry-related abuse and disputes out of courts and police stations? "Beta ab to wahi tumahara ghar hai, rehna to tumhe wahi padega," stop saying this to women, when they come back home bruised, bearing a list of demands to be fulfilled. All it would take is to say a firm no. Saying no, when asked to pay dowry. Saying no, when encouraged to accept dowry. Saying no, when society asks you to opt for settlement, and to send your daughter back to a greedy and merciless family that sees dowry as their birthright.
The bitter truth is, these young women had their lives cut short because we as a society did not choose to find a regressive practice problematic. We call it out only when it causes us inconvenience or leads to either abuse of someone we know or worse a a horrific a death. Else we are happy dancing around decked up cars, shining utensils, refrigerators ensconced in red ribbons during wedding parties, that are passed off as a gift.
The views expressed are the author's own.