DOWRY: A CURSE FOR SOCIETY
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On Prima facie, this matrimonial advertisement published in a daily national newspaper bears testimony to the fact that marriage in Indian society has undergone a transformation. But while going deep into the root of the matter, we find out that no matter how marriage proposals have undergone a transformation, from arranged one to advertisement to the online matrimonial application, dowry system which is not seen in any of the forms but is still under the practice of ‘give and take.’ In many societies, the union of souls is not the sole criterion for marriage, rather dowry plays the role of ‘requisite criteria.’
So what is dowry? Dowry is the money, goods or estate that a woman brings to a marriage. In a court judgement “The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961’’ legal definition of dowry is defined as:-
“Dowry” in the sense of the expression contemplated by Dowry Prohibition Act is a demand for property or valuable security having an inextricable nexus with the marriage, i.e., it is a consideration from the side of the bride’s parents or relatives to the groom or his parents and/or guardian for the agreement to wed the bride-to-be.
Although Dowry is illegal in India by the Dowry Prevention Act 1961, it is still prevalent and widely practised in many societies.
Pertaining to the history of the dowry system in India different scholars claim different things based on interpretation of ancient Sanskrit fiction and inconsistent smritis from India. The Shastras, the reservoirs of Indian culture and heritage is replete with references to the practices of dowry. The marriage hymns of Rigveda and Atharveda are its instances. The Smritis have recognized the right forms of marriage. It was only in Brahmin marriage and the gifts to be given in dowry were left entirely at the discretion by the bride’s father.
Al-Biruni further claims that a daughter, in 11th century India had legal right to inherit from her father, but only a fourth part of her brother. The daughter took this inheritance amount with her when she is married, claimed Al-Biruni, and she had no rights to take income from her parents after her marriage or to any additional inheritance after her father’s death. If her father died before her marriage, her guardian would first pay off her father’s debt, then allocate a fourth of the remaining wealth to her upkeep till she is ready to wed, and then give the rest to her to take along with herself after her marriage. (source: Wikipedia)
The idea behind the dowry system was very clear. Brides’ parents used to give money, land, assets, to the bride as a gift or blessing. But when British Rule came into the picture, they restricted women to own any property. Women were not allowed to buy any property, land, or assets. This leaves women dependent upon their husbands and in-laws, who keep the dowry when she marries. In 1956, India gave equal legal status to daughters and sons among Hindu, Sikh and Jain families, under the Hindu Succession Act (India grants its Muslim population the Sharia derived personal status laws). Despite the new inheritance law, dowry has continued as a process whereby parental property is distributed to a daughter at her marriage.
The magnitude of the problem of dowry today is to be assessed not only on the basis of money/goods, land etc given by brides family but also on grounds of reported cases of different forms of violence on a bride. These outbreaks of violence vary from burning of brides, cruelty, domestic violence against women, abetment to suicide, dowry murder, female infanticide and many more.
Although there are laws and acts which makes practising dowry illegal.
THE DOWRY PROTECTION ACT 1961
This legislation came into force from 1 July 1961. This act prohibits the practice, request, payment or acceptance of a dowry by either party to a marriage. This law also punishes demanding and advertising dowry. Any violation of the act leads to imprisonment up to 5 years plus fine of up to Rs 15000 or the value of the dowry given, whichever is true.
There are also sections in IPC that deal with dowry like:-
It is related to dowry deaths
Stipulates that death of a woman within 7 years of her marriage by burns or bodily injury with evidence of cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives in connection with dowry demand is ‘dowry death’ and punishable with imprisonment for not less than 7 years.
Related to the recovery of streedhan (It is what a woman claim as her own property within a marital household. It may include jewellery, gifts, and dowry articles.)
It is Non-bailable and cognizable offence.
For any act of cruelty, imprisonment of husband or his relative for up to 3 years plus fine.
It is also Non-bailable and Non-compoundable(once a case is lodged there can’t be a compromise)
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act,2005
It was passed in order to provide a civil law remedy for the protection of women from domestic violence in India.
It encompasses all forms of physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse and forms a subset of the anti-dowry laws to the extent it is one of the reasons for domestic violence.
Despite such stringent laws and acts which are in force, Dowry practice is prevailing. In 2019, 913 cases pertaining to dowry deaths have been reported. And this is the number of reported cases. In Bengaluru, only the number of cases filed under the Dowry Prohibition Act witnessed a rise from 690 in 2018 to 739 in 2019.
Consequences of the dowry system
This system of dowry has solidified its root in our society that it is seen as a form of prestige in Indian marriages. The more dowry means more respect to the grooms family. Dowry or the amount of money given as dowry is proportional to the groom’s income. It is very clear that dowry is creating violence. Apart from this, sometimes brides’ parents have to lend money to give a huge amount of money demanded as dowry by the groom’s side. There are other ill consequences also like:-
Low Women Literacy:- In many cases girls are not allowed to pursue higher education after 12th or graduation because of the ill mentality that they have to take care of the family after marriage and from where the capital is going to be arranged for her marriage if all savings will be invested in her education.
Female Foeticide:- In the avarice of dowry, and because our society gives more preference to the boys, female foeticide takes place. Although Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal gender screening or testing are illegal in India by Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994.
Gender Discrimination:- Dowry coupled with female foeticide is the leading reason to gender discrimination and low sex ratio in India.
Violence against women:- Domestic violence, marital rape, physical and verbal abuse, torturing of women etc. There are many forms of violence which took place and still unreported either due to lack of knowledge or suppressed voices because few women try to save the sanctity of marriage which never really existed.
It should also be noted here that there are also false cases of harassments reported and these laws and acts are being misused as it happened in case of Nisha Sharma Dowry case in which IPC 498A was misused. But this does not show that every case or violence pertaining to dowry is false or fabricated.
So, Dowry is the tool of harassment and inhuman expression out of the coalescence of processes and relationship which are degrading women turning them into commodities. The central message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and honour” only echoes a hollow concern. Be it in democracy or dictatorship, war or peace, women’s rights have been violated daily, systematically. Their freedom, dignity and parity are persistently compromised by law and customs.
The dowry system developed from India’s inheritance laws in which it is the mentality of people that Dowry is a form of inheritance which the bride brings along with her to the groom family. Law and acts should be made enforceable on the ground, not on paper only.
All groom need to take a step up and say “NO” to dowry as they can be a milestone in abolishing this dowry system. Boys need to convince their parents that they will not take dowry. They should have the confidence to earn for their living.
Parents must educate their daughters so that they can have dignity and become self-dependent or start earning which will make them financially stable and courageous. A well-educated girl will also be able to compete against any turmoil or raise her voice against the mishaps.
All the expenses of marriage must be shared by both families according to their own capability.
People must give encouragement to simple marriages without taking/giving dowry.
Dowry is a social stigma that can be removed with all our contributions and awareness. It will take time to abolish but it can happen if preferred.
There is a very well known quote- “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of a woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.
There is no hope for that family or country where there is no estimation of women, where they live in sadness. For this reason, they have to be raised first.” – Swami Vivekanand.