Dowry: An Unwelcome Guest at Indian Weddings


The word dowry in the Indian context
literally means the payment in cash and/or in kind by the bride’s family
to the bridegroom’s family along with the ‘giving away’ of the
bride under the system of Hindu marriage. There are many conflicting
versions of the origin of the system itself but with due credit to all
versions of this social practice one finds it hard to believe there
could ever have been a justification for it in a context where women
were treated unequal to men and as a burden upon the paternal home.

‘Dahej,’ the Hindi term
for dowry, is quite unequivocally derided as an ugly word
even though in practice, many participate, accept or give dowry – wherein lies the dichotomy of this odious practice. Even the educated, professional elite of the country have contributed
to the institutionalization of the practice despite the existence of
a law criminalizing it. Many of its flagrant violators are also government functionaries entrusted with the job of implementing the
law in the first place.

‘Streedhan’ – the milder
and more acceptable usage for the same practice literally meaning a
‘woman’s wealth’ – was believed to be the original intent of the
much abused dowry system today. It was the wealth the father gave his
daughter in the form of money, jewelry or cattle at the time of her
wedding, meant as her financial security, since women did not enjoy a
share in family property. Over time the amount
began to be determined by the groom’s side of the family in lieu of
the alliance.

Gradually, dowry became
the opportunity for the groom’s side to redeem all the ‘investment’
gone in to the education of their son(s) from the girl’s side of the
family. Thus, the quality of education, the degrees accumulated and
the potential jobs were the parameters to demand exorbitant amounts
of money from the prospective bride. Ironically, in a country where
education continues to come at a premium largely due to mass scale poverty, an educated bride not only dwindled her chances at finding a suitable alliance (since educated boys were not easy to come by) but also, consequently, exponentially increased the dowry demands off her family.

So the system found a way of penalizing parents for spending
on their daughters’ education.

But the dowry system is not a rural
or small town phenomena and neither has it declined with increased levels
of more equitable education in the urban areas of the country. Globalization
brought with it interesting materialistic alterations. From demands
for hard cash the stipulations switched to motorbikes or cars and household
items (considered luxury items in many households) like refrigerators and
television sets. Most police stations in the country are known not
to lodge cases of dowry and police officials rarely treat the cases
with any seriousness simply because of its social legitimacy. It is not considered
a crime even though it is illegal by legislation.

There are many rituals leading
up to a wedding, which more often than not must be hosted
and funded by the bride’s family, even if it means taking a loan. In
more contemporary times dowries have metamorphosized into demands for
theme weddings and not necessarily material items like a computer or
washing machine. So while theme weddings might have spawned a complete
industry by themselves for wedding planners, the truth is that the exorbitant
costs of these weddings are almost always completely borne by the bride’s
family. The economic setback this involves for families is very often
the reason why daughters are hardly welcome in most families with disastrous
consequences for the gender ratio in the country.

The dowry demand and the manner in
which it guides alliances are also responsible for the limited commitment made towards
the education of girls in the country. It is not uncommon
to find advertisements on relatively progressive media also guided by
such social constructs. So while one invested in the son’s education,
it was equally prudent to start saving early for the girl’s wedding
(meaning dowry).

The absence of any serious and concerted efforts to deal with this social issue have taken it to the next level — resulting in dowry deaths when the bride’s family does not comply with their dowry promises.
The "accidental" deaths of young brides in the kitchen due to stoves
bursting just within the first few years, or deaths termed as suicide
over the years led to a more severe legislation; legislation which put the onus of
proving innocence on the husband and the in-laws of the victim, if the death
occurred within the first seven years of marriage. More recently, there
have been moves to remove the seven year cap because of instances of women enduring dowry-related torture even two decades into a marriage.

And even as statistics on dowry deaths point to one reported every
45 minutes (besides the cases of mental harassment and torture that are
largely undocumented), a more recent judgement by the Supreme
Court has been a setback in eroding this social malaise. Despite clear examples of protracted
dowry demands at the slightest excuse, according to the court, customary articles given to the bridegroom’s relatives
at the time of marriage or during the birth of a child will not come
within the ambit of dowry under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.

Reports in the media have also clearly
pointed to the prevalence of the practice all over the country – from
a phenomenon once believed to be restricted to the north of the country. Communities across the country have within their system
of rituals and customs managed to accommodate dowry as a crucial custom
defining the alliance. Ridiculously low rates of prosecution against
the criminals, pressure on families to get
their daughters married off at the first sight of an eligible
groom, loud whispers of dowry deaths and harassment
allegations, have not stopped criminal families from getting their sons married
off again and again with newer and fresher dowries. Thus, while getting
rid of a non-milking cow (the wife) for not getting enough dowry,
and behind the façade of accidental deaths, the horror is that most families have actually gotten away with not just the crime but another cash rich alliance.

In the midst of poverty, boys continue
to demand a price at birth, even as girls are unwelcome in their paternal households, and become even more vulnerable as
they step in to their matrimonial home.

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  • invalid-0

    Deepali,

    You say – “women were treated unequal to men”. I hope you are saying that women were treated better than men, bec that is what I see around me.

    1. Women are not expected to work. They sit at home and enjoy all the luxuries.

    2. They pay lesser income taxes.

    3. They have free education.

    4. Now, they have so strict dowry laws that they can send the husband and his family behind bars if they dont dance to the tunes of the women.

    Regards,
    Rahul

  • http://rackletang.livejournal.com invalid-0

    Because all of those things, if true, don’t make up for the murders and harassment that these women suffer. Your priorities are really scary.

  • http://legalfighter.wordpress.com invalid-0

    Dowry itself is a bogus word and needs serious consideration. Often people rule out dowry but they forget that the daughter also has an equal right in the parental property. Why is she deprived of that right?

    Is this not unequal treatment to sons and daughters? First daughters need to be treated equally in their own homes.

  • invalid-0

    Rachelpea,

    Talking about the murder of women – well the data clearly suggests that more the number of married men die under mysterious circumstances as compared to married women.

    The number is men is around 52,000 per year while the number of women is around 28,000 per year.

    (There was a typo in my earlier post, hence posting again)

  • http://www.498a.org invalid-0

    Do you know that in urban India, dowry is just a myth !! Most of the times, the bride side insists on “gifts” and then when a marriage turns sour, they scream “dowry”.

    Do you know that every 5 minutes, an innocent person is arrested after being implicated in a false dowry case ?

    Do you know that every 21 minutes, an INNOCENT women is arrested under a false case under dowry law ?

    Do you know that almost every day an innocent CHILD is arrested under the dowry law ?

    Do you know that 80-98% dowry related cases are FALSE.

    Do you know that about 67% of all dowry death cases are false ? (Deepa, you might want to check out the stats at NCRB)

    Visit http://www.498a.org for more details

    Rgds,

    Andy

  • deepali-gaur-singh

    Virag, while I completely agree that the daughter
    must have an equal right in the parental property – which really is one of the
    important issues – that still does not make dowry bogus. A family that does not
    treat its own daughter equally will rarely treat someone else’s daughter
    (daughter-in-law) equally. And this leads to a range of connected issues of
    which dowry is just one.

    Rahul, are you suggesting lower income tax = no
    dowry. Then we should all push for lowering it even more so we can get rid of
    this social problem completely! By the way, a large percentage of the
    population does not even earn enough to fit in to the income tax bracket. You also seem to be suggesting that stay-at-home moms/housewives/home-makers actually do nothing but live off the earnings of their husbands!?! Free education
    is provided because that seems to be the only incentive for many parents to
    send their daughters to schools. While they might invest in the education of a
    boy it might not be the case for the girl.

    Andy, for NCRB statistics lets go to the NCRB
    site please and draw inferences from the reported cases at least.
    As far as a child being arrested under the dowry law is concerned firstly you
    should be complaining about the implementing authorities and not
    the dowry laws. And that also raises the question of child marriage (and yes
    the child continues to be innocent in both scenarios but that still does not
    make the dowry law irrelevant). And if the bride’s side ‘insists’ on gifts then
    when the marriage turns sour those ‘gifts’ can be returned, isn’t it?

    • http://legalfighter.wordpress.com invalid-0

      It seems your focus wanders a lot with nitpicking comments from here and there and replying. What Rahul is trying to stress is that women in India are by no means having lesser advantages than men albeit more. If you talk of gender equality then there are many issues where men do not enjoy the privileges women enjoy and one of them being less taxes. If equality then why less taxes? Do women get lesser salary than men at similar qualifications then why lesser taxes?

      Women have the freedom to speak any number of lies in open courts against their husbands and get away with the bounty. Men do not have even a right to make a complaint against Domestic Violence. Every year thrice the number of men are committing suicide and everyone’s a mere spectator.

  • invalid-0

    I have example where Judge himself is knowing using DOWRY – 498A law to extract better deal for her daughter.

    This is worst law that can be there.

    Educated girls are using this law freely & 98% are false cases. In one case girl married boy as her boyfriend had left India & the day he came back she put 498A & got 10 lacs. What a good use this law is to frauds.

    This is a law for fraudulent people by fraudulent people.

    Your questions are worthless & there is such a great law which is supposed to kill people asking dowry.

    Your whole discussion is biased.

    Know the facts from Supreme Court which say 498A is legal terrorism.

  • invalid-0

    my reply comments were not posted on this site, hence i start to think that the author does not want to know the truth but only propogate her views

  • deepali-gaur-singh

    And I do know of examples of judges, police officers, politicians, a host of other government functionaries
    and non-government functionaries demanding dowry for their sons and for the
    alliance in to their ‘influential’ and ‘reputed’ families. So…is this an
    indictment of an individual, a particular profession, the dowry law or the
    dowry system itself?

    And the dowry law alone is not abused by people with the wherewithal to do so. In most criminal cases
    influential people get away with murder, rape and a host of other crimes. Does
    that make the laws incorrect or would you question the people given the
    responsibility of upholding the law? Will you get rid of the law itself which
    is the only possible support system for some people simply because there are
    some who are able to misuse it.

  • deepali-gaur-singh

    Mr Verma,

    The dowry system is not a personal battle between you and me.

     

    And the idea of blogs such as these is to generate a healthy discussion on issues important to society irrespective of which side of the fence you are occupying.

     

    Unfortunately, there are glitches and technical problems that occur in this medium which, both people who agree with my viewpoints or disagree with them and even I face equally and I – as much as you would like to believe in this conspiracy theory – do not have any control over it.


    • invalid-0

      Deepali,

      I agree with both the things you mentioned:

      1. This is not a personal war.
      2. There is no conspiracy theory

      Though I still maintain that your initial blog was biased and pro-woman. Men are undergoing more torture in India as compared to Women, and the problem is that there are no measures being taken to reduce their torture either.

  • invalid-0

    Dear Deepali,

    The comments about the laws being misused here by Verma, Singh and Andy are merely a backlash and best ignored as they are meant to derail the more serious discussion.

    Property law, criminal law, industrial law… in all fields laws are misused, why not banish all these laws? How come the ‘dowry law’ has been singled out?

    I think the point about share in property and dowry is related. Possibly if women did get an equal share in their parental property, the need for ‘gifting’ away as ‘dowry’ at the time of marriage may die down? However this is speculation as there are other symbolic factors associated with dowry which would still come into play, like ‘honour,’ ‘extravagance’ etc.

    ss

  • invalid-0

    Dear Anonymous,

    The dowry law has been singled out because it is only being misused (there is no use, only rampant misuse).

    98% of the cases filed are false (Refer to the data of CISR).

    I know you have not come across this data before. In fact, anyone who believes torture for dowry exists does not have any data to substantiate their views. They just ‘believe’ that women are the opressed section of our society.

    Tell me one thing that is in favour of men in India/ marriage, I can tell you 10 things that are against men:

    Do you know adultry is a crime for a married man, a man can be sentenced to jail for extra-marital relations; while it is not a crime for women. They are allowed to have multiple partners! (IPC 497 applies only to men)

    India has a ministry of women, ministry for children, ministry for animals, but no ministry for men, why? Our situation here is worse than animals. We pay 83% of the taxes collected by the government and not even one paisa has been spent on our welfare in the last 60 years!

    The discussion can continue provided you have some data to take this discussion forward rather than what you might have possibly observed at your home.

  • invalid-0

    Dear Anonymous,

    The dowry law has been singled out because it is only being misused (there is no use, only rampant misuse).

    98% of the cases filed are false (Refer to the data of CISR).

    I know you have not come across this data before. In fact, anyone who believes torture for dowry exists does not have any data to substantiate their views. They just ‘believe’ that women are the opressed section of our society.

    Tell me one thing that is in favour of men in India/ marriage, I can tell you 10 things that are against men:

    Do you know adultry is a crime for a married man, a man can be sentenced to jail for extra-marital relations; while it is not a crime for women. They are allowed to have multiple partners! (IPC 497 applies only to men)

    India has a ministry of women, ministry for children, ministry for animals, but no ministry for men, why? Our situation here is worse than animals. We pay 83% of the taxes collected by the government and not even one paisa has been spent on our welfare in the last 60 years!

    The discussion can continue provided you have some data to take this discussion forward rather than what you might have possibly observed at your home.

  • invalid-0

    Feminist groups are screaming from the roof tops about the use of Dowry, and have gone on to the extent of making ‘Dowry Harassment Laws’ which are widely misused against innocent young men.

    And yet, there is a very strange reluctance on their part to rectify the REAL reasons why ‘Dowry’ exists – namely the unwillingness on the part of girl’s own family to divide their property equally. Though this has been time and again pointed out by intellectuals, there is simply no attempt at all to rectify the basic and original problem, but only a malicious attempt to blame the son-in-law for all the faults in the family!

  • invalid-0

    Dear Rahul,

    Could you please provide the link to the data that you have quoted. I am referring to one which you use to conclusively prove that 98% dowry cases are false? If you are referring to CSRI then the statistics you have provided are not what they provide.

    I think a discussion on the 498 a law is needed as the loophole for false cases are there. However I object to you suggesting that there is no problem of dowry and all cases are false and suggest tehrefore that there is no need for a dowry law. There needs to be a discussion on 498a as it’s a cognizable law and therein lies the problem of misuse.

    SS

  • invalid-0

    Dear All,
    I think all these people who are making such a noise about the dowry law will not be able to give any data/years women in this country are being opressed and tortured. Its still going on in full swing whether she is on the roads or in the confines of her house. Whats the problem if the tables have been turned.
    Hats off to all the women who are enduring it for hundreds of years…and thumbs down to these “MEN” who have started crying foul in just a few years.