Among the many evils in our society, the evil of dowry system has attained the harmful forms. It has proved to be a life-taking evil. The dowry system is as old as the institution of marriage. It is a social evil prevalent not only in India, but other parts of the world. Many of the traditional customs have been given up but the custom of dowry has not only continued but flourished over the years. It reflects and perpetuates man’s superiority over woman and hence marks a mockery on the very idea of the gender equality.
In general, dowry refers to the durable goods, cash and real or movable property that the bride’s family gives to the bridegroom, his parents or his relatives as a condition of the marriage. It is essentially in the nature of a payment in cash or some kind of gifts given to the bridegroom’s family along with the bride. It includes cash, jewellery, furniture, crockery and other household items that help the newly-weds to set up their home.
The system of dowry also prevailed during the ancient period. Parents of the bride provided gifts, money, property and other household items to the girl out of their own wish. It was known as the premortem right of the girl. She was the absolute owner and even her husband had no right over it. But with the passage of time, the definition and the dimensions of dowry changed. It became an important and a primary factor in marriage. It became necessary for the parents of the girl to give a good dowry to her irrespective of their ability.
The married life of a girl came to depend upon dowry. Several girls, whose parents could not afford good dowry had to commit suicide as their in-laws made their lives miserable. The worst part of this evil led to another evil i.e., female foeticide. It becomes important to understand what causes such an evil practice to prevail in the society when we are moving towards modernity.
There are multiple reasons of dowry. It is a feeling that practicing or practising customs generates and strengthens solidarity. It means that they sail in a single boat of demonstrating that we are one in this regard. A few people give more dowries just to exhibit or show their high social and economic status. It has become a trend in our society to feign. Without this evil, it has become difficult to live. Most of the people believe that their daughters should live happily with their husbands and hence provide dowry. Here, in my opinion, the parents are not to blame. For the happiness of their daughter, they readily follow this tradition. Illiteracy is an important cause of dowry. Most of the people are unaware about the harmful effects of dowry. They blindly follow the traditions that are going on in the society. They have no time to ponder over the negative effects of dowry. They, being the so-called rich, in their comfortable rooms, think that everyone is capable of doing this. However, the reality is something different. It has brought a lot of misery in our society. The society of ours has become more difficult to live, particularly for those who are poor and can’t afford to opt for dowry.
With the advent of science and technology, almost everything goes through a change, though in a limited manner. But it is our mindset that doesn’t accept good changes. Dowry has involved many characteristics when compared to the traditional practices of giving gifts. It is no more a voluntary exercise rather it is demanded diplomatically. The groom’s family may act modest or civilized but do not hesitate to accept precious articles offered by to the bride’s family on their own. I have come across many cases where the same situation came. They, being the champions of decency in talk, walk and behaviour, are devils when it comes to dowry. I was amazed at those times. I felt the urge to change the dynamics of learning. A system of learning can never be life-taking. But in our society, from the bottom to the top, the menace of materialism has taken strong roots. In the college, we were taught about the defects of materialism. Our English textbook had a poem which said that earning and spending had become our prime objective. In this process, we had lost touch with morality. The concept of morality had lost in thin air. Today, after completing the college course, I meditate and find that the laws are for fools. The lawbreakers are the real champions.
The predominant types of dowry crimes relate to creulty, domestic violence, abetment to suicide and dowry death which includes bride burning and murder. In India, approximately 247710 deaths have been reported in past three years. As per National Crime Records Bureau data, the country had recorded 3.48 lakh cases of creulty by husband or his relative. There is hardly a day when one does not read of dowry deaths in the national newspapers. Dowry is considered as a major contributor towards violence against women in India. Some of these violence include physical violence, emotional abuses and the murder of bride’s and young girls prior to marriage.
The Government has taken many steps to stop the abominable practice of dowry. A few of them are listed below:
- The Dowry Prohibition Act,1961 marked the beginning of a new legal framework of dowry harassment laws. It prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of dowry and provides penalty for the same.
- Section 304B was added to the Indian Penal Code(IPC) which made dowry death a specific punishable offence. Any one who commits offense under section 304B or 113B shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may be extended to imprisonment for life.
- Section 498A IPC was included in 1983 to protect women from creulty and harassment. Whoever being the husband or relative of the husband, subjects creulty under this section shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be extended to three years and shall be liable to fine.
- In 2005, the Government of India passed the ‘Protection of Women from Domestic violence Act’ to provide a cover law remedy for the protection of women from domestic violence.
India is also a party to several international human rights instruments which provide theoretical remedies to the dowry problems. However, on the ground level, much is not happening against the evil. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
It may be concluded that the abolition of the dowry system would be a landmark towards social reforms. With whatever intentions this custom may have been started, it cannot be denied that it has failed to give equal status to women in the society. The time has come to scrape the roots and branch of dowry system. Unless we become more progressive in our outlook, less orthodox in our ways and more revolutionary in our ideas, dowry will remain the same of our society. We can’t afford to lose more brides. In the present moment, the institution of marriage has already become complicated. Marriages often after a lot of bargain. We have thousands of girls who have passed their marriage ages and can never marry. Their redness of hands will never come true. They will die with the dream of going to husband’s home. In this context, all should come forward and try his or her best to fight against this crime. I think it will be a revolution for the superstitious society.
Writer: Syed Mustafa Ahmad.