A young 27 year old PhD scholar committed suicide because her in-laws were not okay with her continuing studies. A flight attendant Anissa Batra who jumped off her terrace, her parents say, was tortured emotionally for dowry. India has an alarming trend that sees 20 women die every day as a result of harassment over a dowry – either murdered, or compelled to commit suicide. Why is the dowry system still a threatening reality? Why do we value a woman’s life around the amount of gold she brings in dowry? Questions like these need to be raised again and again.
National Crime Bureau of India, as recently as 2017, recorded nearly 7000 dowry linked deaths a year. Dowry deaths rose from about 19 per day in 2001 to 21 per day in 2016. And we are yet talking about reported dowry deaths here. There are many that go unreported. Taking or giving dowry has been criminalised by law as early as 1961. But, it is still a significant part of Indian marriage and is openly defying laws and failing women empowerment.
What is the India's dowry system?
In India traditional marriages, the dowry system, perpetuates the concept of the girl's parents giving gold, money, cars, homes and other material goods to the boy's family for 'taking care' of their daughter. It reinforces the 'belief', that Indian society has long perpetuated, that girls and women are a burden on society. This in turn reduces a girl's value to the money and material goods she brings to her wedded house.
For centuries, this has been a system actively follow. It's also projects the boy and his family as superior to the girl's and the girl's parents are 'expected' to service the boy's family with special treatment. The amount of dowry often becomes an issue of contention between the two families, and eventually leads to pressure on the girls who either suffer the marriage or kill themselves.
Not just rural India...
The brutal reality of the dowry system is not the story of rural areas only. Even the educated family sitting in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore is harassing a woman for not bringing enough gold or money. Not more than 16 days of the year 2020 had passed, Bengaluru, the silicon valley of India, reported 17 cases of abuse and death of women for dowry as mentioned in The New Indian Express. Going by this 2020 could be the worst for the plight of women due to dowry system, when is the end?
What's this dowry system all about?
Dowry system makes it necessary for a bride’s family to give dowry in cash or kind to the groom’s family as a pre-condition for marriage. After marriage, some families demand more dowry and when it is not fulfilled- either because of the inability of the bride’s family or the denial of the bride herself- the groom and his family abuse and kill the bride. In one of the cases reported in Bengaluru in January 2020, a few weeks after marriage, a husband demanded cash despite receiving 1kg gold in dowry as per his demands. When the extra demand was denied, he burnt his wife.
In some cases, to escape the punishment by law, the husband and his family do not kill the woman directly but harass her mentally and physically forcing her to commit suicide. A similar case was reported in Kerala last year when a 27-year-old woman was starved to death by her in-laws because their demand of two lakhs in dowry was not met.
Why The Dowry System Is Still Prevalent
We are in 2020. Dowry system was abolished in 1961 in India. The reason for the prevalence of this custom is the patriarchal society that values men over women. In India boys have a rate card in many societies. This is the unofficial price the boy is worth. And that worth is measured by the amount of dowry a boy will get upon marriage. The stronghold of the gender inequality in Indian society makes a bride’s family feel obliged to meet the dowry demands of the man who has ‘agreed’ to take care of the daughter. The second major reason is that the dowry system is too deeply rooted in the Indian culture that it is seen as normal and unchangeable. Even today, if people are reminded that dowry is a crime, they ignore it as an alternate reality which cannot change the age-old customs. Many educated families practice it, willingly or unwillingly, to avoid being criticized for not following the customs. After all who will dare to change the traditions? The third and most important reason is the dominance of the institution of marriage. A woman’s marriage is of the paramount importance in Indian families. If a woman’s marriage requires dowry in return of her secured married life which is a challenge in the world that is unsafe and discriminatory for women, it is never seen as a crime.
Dowry deaths are a result of this stagnancy in the traditions and cultures. Groom’s families take advantage of the stronghold of the dowry system which will ultimately bring them wealth. Often they ‘rightfully’ abandon or abuse the woman for dowry because she and her family did not fulfil their duty. This is a harsh reality that still haunts the lives of the women who are moving ahead towards a respectable, empowered and independent future. This system is the major reason why daughters are considered as a burden for the families. Consequently, families either keep the wealth aside for the daughter’s dowry rather than investing in her education or kill her before birth to get rid of the burden forever. How far will women bear the weight of patriarchal traditions like these? How and when will the change begin? SheThePeople asked the same question to some young women, here is how they will bring the change:
How Young Women Are Determined To Bring A Change
Avleen, 19-year-old and a student of English Honours, told SheThePeople that a marriage founded on the exchange of dowry is only a business deal. She believes that marriage truly needs love and respect. “If a boy cannot marry me without my money, I don’t need him. I am more capable of doing business with my own money." She further talked about how she will convince her family to not seek dowry for her brother’s marriage. “I would tell them not to seek dowry because we don’t need money to keep someone else’s girl. If we like her and my brother likes her, then that love is enough for the marriage. “
Drawing on a similar line, Ayushi, 19-year-old and student of Economics Honours said, “I will bring a change in the prevalence of the dowry system by being self-dependent and refusing to marry anyone who needs money to marry me.”
Dowry system gets an open passage in the society despite being a crime because no one dares to take legal action against the families. Divya Rawat, 18, student of Economics Honours says, “Taking legal actions against my family if it partakes the tradition will be a harsh decision. So I will ask them..does dowry assure them that their daughter will be happy in future? By doing this, aren’t they contributing to the already existing gender inequality?” She further said, “But, if the groom’s family is pressurizing for dowry, then there is a need to take legal action against them.” Moreover, Divya stressed on the need of organizing more workshops and discussions on this issue so that its seriousness is realized.
According to NCRB reports on an average, every hour a woman succumbs to dowry deaths in India with the annual figure rising upwards of 7000. No matter how many PhDs a woman earns, her identity and the right to live is decided according to the kilos of gold, cash, latest vehicles and appliances she brings in dowry for her in-laws. If you are reading this article, share it widely so we can push for conversations that question this and helps us all change the system.
Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author's own.