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May 26 2012

‘DOWRY’ & its modern version as a SYSTEM

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As I had stated in my last post on Dowry, I am sharing my views on the prevalent form of Dowry System in the country, a first-hand account of the practice.

I always believed that Dowry System must have evolved thousands of years ago in our culture and must have been based on the idea of gift giving. I personally do not just believe in something just because it is being written or said about, rather I try to find some logic in the same to believe in it. Same way, I have an understanding that the Dowry system must have originated long back with an idea of giving gifts to the daughter and the groom’s family to ensure the well-being of the bride.

I feel that every tradition starts as a practice and then gradually evolves into a custom or tradition. Same way a practice of giving gifts for the well-being of the daughter in a new place gradually developed into modern day Dowry system.

In the earlier days, when the communication and transportation systems did not exist (or were not well developed) the dowry system must have been limited to small payments and exchange of some tangible household items. I could remember (not very long back though) how young girls used to stich their own dresses and collected articles that they would be carrying along at the time of their marriage. A big steel box (peti) use to be arranged for storing these articles much before the marriage.

I remember an incident where a girl had stored an electronic product (received as gift from someone) for almost 6 years; but when she actually wanted to use the product after her marriage, it didn’t work!!

Anyways, when the economic conditions of the people of the country began to improve, it had an adverse effect on the practice of sharing gift. Dowry System has transpired into an atrocity, which had claimed many lives in last few decades. Transactions in the name of Dowry became the norm of the society across the country, which spread essentially because of the phony prominence of HONOUR amongst families.

It was believed that the larger the dowry paid or received, more honorable it would be in the community. In fact, not paying dowry is rather considered reprehensible for the family doing so.

The practice which originated from a modest root has grown and transformed into an outrageous custom today. Today’s Dowry has involved many characteristics when compared to the traditional practice of giving gifts. It is no more a voluntary exercise rather it is demanded. With the liberalization of the market and availability of luxurious items, the need of people has been replaced by greed.

This greed has afflicted the marriage system of our society the most. The eligible male is sold as a commodity in the market of marriage. The parents of such men act as negotiators in the process and demand cash, jewelry, car, bike and other goods. At times the demands can include land and houses as well!!

I personally feel that Dowry system has been impacted adversely by the changing face of the modern day marriage tradition as well. Families splurge lavishly in the marriages just to earn a good impression in the community. As said earlier, higher the dowry paid or received – higher the honor. This makes parents treat marriage as a transaction more than a social connection.

Selection of the bride or groom is based on the status of the opposite family, their bank balance, their assets etc. Families even look at some appalling factors such as number of siblings – brothers or sisters!! All this to ensure if all the assets would be passed on to the groom!!

I had highlighted in my earlier posts on foeticide that the modern dowry system has numerous adverse effects on the position of women within Indian families. To begin with are the obvious negative financial effects that a dowry may have on a family. By negotiating too high a price for a potential groom, a family can experience severe financial setbacks.

On the other hand, not being able to meet a dowry payment can cause detrimental social effects on both the family and the daughter that is to be wed.

Similarly, while a boy brings a dowry into the family wealth, a girl will result in having to pay one out. This particular mindset has led to serious evils like female foeticide to thrive in our country. With little (or no) benefits of having a daughter, Indian women and girls are neglected and abused.

The communal burden of having daughters is clearly depicted in the current sex ratio of our country. As we have seen earlier, the number of females in India has been dramatically declining in recent years. Though some of the difference can possibly be accounted for by natural birth rates; but majority of the girls are dead either through neglect of female children, female feticide or infanticide.

The modern dowry has also had many negative effects on women after they are married. ‘Bride-burning,’ a term used to describe the increasing number of young Indian housewives found murdered each year, has become commonplace in young marriages. Driven by consumerist greed, new evidence is showing an increasing number of young wives being burned alive within their households, supposedly due to gas cylinder explosions!

In the last couple of decades, the commercialized, modern dowry had developed from a social institution that provided some security and equality within young marriages to a deadly reality that many young Indian women are forced to face, largely alone.

I am strongly of a view that all sections of the society have their role to play in the prospering of the custom of Dowry in modern times. Let’s try to inspect

Groom’s Parents:

  • Boys are seen as investment for old times and it is being fed in the minds of boys as well that they must fetch good bargain in form of dowry.
  • The groom’s parents perceive dowry as a way of making good the investments they have made in their son’s education.
  • An apprehension of insecurity that the son, following his marriage, may not look after them in old age tends to be yet another incentive.

Bride’s Parents:

  • Girl child is seen as a burden and it is resolved at the time of birth only that dowry has to be paid at the time of her marriage.
  • Fast rising income graph has made the grooms much sought after by the brides’ families who want to enter into matrimonial alliance with families of a status higher than their own.
  • Parents of girls accept all the undue demands of the groom’s family with a perspective that this will in turn ensure the well-being of their daughter in the new family.
  • Education of girls is not giving importance since the parents expect the husbands to take care of them.

Grooms:

  • Men most of the times accept this tradition and a part of the marriage system and become a party to it; no matter how realist they might be.
  • Men treat the wives/would-be wives as outsiders and simply follow the words of their parents.
  • Few men themselves favor dowry the most and compel the bride’s family to meet their demands; varying from a 2/4 wheeler to expensive gadgets or even jewelry.

Brides:

  • Most of the times, girls remain silent in spite of all the agony from the fear of community.
  • Despite of knowledge of transactions happening between two families, girls do not intervene since they feel that they do not have a say in all that.
  • Even in the modern times when a small courtship has become an acceptable norm, girls do not discuss such issues with the would-be husbands to know his views about this issue.
  • Many girls also feel that dowry is their right which parents must give them at the time of marriage. This tendency is common amongst girls who have a male sibling, which is related to the feeling that the brother would inherit the property of parents after her marriage.

These were a few specifics that I could list.

But is it an everlasting practice or can someone put a stop to it? Yes, it is very much stoppable!!

Let’s see how simple steps can set off the process of eradicating this evil practice.

  • Men should insist on marrying without a penny being exchanged in the process. They should have confidence in their own ability to provide for their family.
  • Women should insist on marrying only those men (not immature boys!) who have the courage of their conviction to say “NO!” to dowry. Men who insist on living on the wealth provided by their in-laws are as good as incapable.
  • Children should be imparted the value as a part of their education that Dowry is an evil and that they should never take or give dowry.
  • Parents of bride and groom should avoid splurging on expensive marriage celebrations. They spend a life time of saving in these events which put financial pressure on them.
  • Girls should be treated equal in family without any discrimination. They should be encouraged to have a career.
  • Girl’s parents should focus on education of their daughter in order to make her economically independent.
  • Girls should take a strong stand when they face situations of adverse effects. They should always believe that they are in no way inferior to men.
  • The prospective couple should sit together and chalk out a plan for future. This will give ample confidence to the parents that they both can take charge of their lives.
  • None of the people involved in the marriage system (bride, groom, parents) should allow their decision to be ruled by comments and views of the external people of community. Such people mostly comment sadistically and somehow do not contribute towards their welfare during the times of distress.
  • The already existing law should be strictly enforced and the defaulters should be severely punished.

Talking of law, another irony of our country is that majority of the laws meant to protect the citizens from such crimes are least know to them! How many of us know of the Dowry Prohibition Act that is has been laid to prosecute the offenders.

Let’s have a look at some pointers related to the law:

  1. The law is called the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961.
  2. Offences under the law are:
    1. Giving and taking dowry
    2. Helping in giving or taking of dowry
    3. Asking for dowry
    4. Advertising for taking or giving of dowry
    5. Punishments for giving or taking dowry or for helping are:

a)     Imprisonment up to five years

b)    Rupees 15,000 fine

c)     If the dowry amount is more than Rs 15,000, a fine equaling that amount

  1. Punishment for asking for dowry

a)     Imprisonment for at least six months or fine

  1. Punishment for advertising

a)     Imprisonment for a minimum of six months or Rs 15,000 fine or both

 
Now let’s have some more details on the various sections of Indian Penal Court (IPC) related to the Dowry System (Courtesy: Wikipedia.org):
 
Cruelty, Sections 498A, IPC
 
This section was inserted into the Indian Penal Code in 1983 via an amendment, which reads:
  • Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.
  • Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation – For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means-
  1. Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
  2. Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her meet such demand.
This section is non-bailable, non-compoundable (i.e. it cannot be privately resolved between the parties concerned) and cognizable.
 
Dowry Death, Section 304B, IPC
 
This Section of the Indian Penal Code was inserted by a 1986 amendment.
  1. Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death” and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
  2. Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

Criminal Breach of Trust, Section 406, IPC
  • This section, for offences related to Criminal Breach of Trust, is usually applied in investigation of stridhan recovery from the husband and his family.
  • Offences under this section are bailable and cognizable.
  • Punishment for criminal breach of trust – Whoever commits criminal breach of trust shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

That’s all for now! Let’s not only hope and wish but DO something to make our world free of such evils! Let’s pledge to do everything in our capacity to curb prevalent vices for the generations to come live a happy and liberal life!

God bless!!

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5 comments

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  1. srishti

    Initially dowry was given as ‘stridhana’ – which belonged to the bride consisting of Utensils,jewelry,clothes and other small portable items which could be carried by the woman if she ever left the married house. It was wealth that belonged to the woman. It was not supposed to be something that belonged to the boys’ family. Initially only royal families used to give a lot of wealth that it became part of the bride’s new kingdom’s wealth, then the practice spread.This was my perspective.

  2. karma

    i hope to see dowry free nation

  3. Ashish Bathini

    Very well written Manav, hope we can one day be a dowry free nation.

    1. Manav Lalotra

      I agree Ashish. I have played my part, lets hope now that every youngster do the same!!

      1. Shelley

        Nice,detailed writing Manav, A pool of information & ideas clubbed together . Hope to see u writing more.But one thing i want to highlight that our job never ends by marrying without dowry but it starts with guiding our next Gen to do the same.

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