THE DOWRY SYSTEM
THE CURSE OF DOWRY
Essay No. 01
‘Dowry’ according to the dictionary, means the property which a woman brings to her husband at the time of her marriage. Originally, it must have meant property represented by the voluntary gifts given to the girl by her parents, relatives and friends out of love and affection, at the time of her marriage. May be these gifts were given to the girl in order to enable her to set up a new home out of a sense of social responsibility. The system of dowry must be as old as the institution of marriage itself. It must also have been a universal practice. Every father wants to give some presents to his daughter when she is leaving his home for good and starting life afresh. There is nothing unusual, bad abnormal about it.
But as time passed, the system degenerated into an evil custom. It came to be looked upon as an evil and a curse. The dowry became an all- important and a primary factor in marriage. It became necessary for the parents of the girl to give a good dowry to her whether they could afford it or not. Worse still, the married life of a girl came to depend upon dowry. Marriage became impossible in the absence of a handsome dowry. Several girls, whose parents could not afford a good dowry, had to commit suicide as their greedy in-laws made their lives miserable. Newspapers are full of reports carrying harrowing tales of brides being burnt to death or driven to hang themselves because of constant nagging by their in laws. Some of the step-daughters of fortune choose the hangman’s noose while others consume poison or jump down the multi-storeyed buildings to deliver themselves from the clutches of the inhuman dowry seekers.
It is really tragic that in the progressive world of today, the evil of dowry continues to exist in all its horrid forms. Many homes are broken and several families are driven to ruin only because they are too poor to afford a rich dowry. Previously, in the selection of a bribe, her family background, education and her intrinsic worth used to be the primary consideration. Now, dowry is the first and the only consideration in a majority of the matrimonial alliances. As a result, dowry, which was at one time a token of love and affection, has become a cause of oppression and exploitation of the worst order.
Some parents have to incur heavy debts for giving dowry. At times, they remain under debt for the whole of their life. Sometimes, the girl’s parents fill to raise the necessary funds for marriage. They are compelled to commit suicide in disgust and despair. No wonder, therefore, that the birth of a daughter is looked upon as a bolt from the blue.
In the recent past, the Government of India and many states have taken some anti-dowry steps. In some states, dowry has been made a cognizable offence. But legal steps are not enough. We have to create a social climate which does not favour giving and taking of dowry. Dowry seekers must be singled out and condemned. The Government should implement the anti-dowry bill strictly in the right spirit Nobody, however highly placed, should be allowed to violate the law. Expenses at the marriage celebrations should be cut down. Needy married couples should be given loans and grants to help them set up their homes. They can be asked to refund these loans in easy installments. Voluntary social service organizations and religious heads should encourage dowryless marriages in large numbers. Girls should come forward to raise a banner of revolt against the dowry seekers. They should refuse to marry such boys as expect a dowry.
There is another dimension to the anti-dowry act promulgated by the government. This law is being exploited by some girls or their parents to blackmail the boys or their families after marriage. On threat of charge of prosecution for asking for dowry, husbands are being forced to shell out huge sums of money to get a divorce. This practice must be looked into and steps should be taken to see that no family is unnecessarily harassed or exploited. Divorce should be made easier to obtain. Boys and girls should both be given equal rights in the matter of obtaining a divorce.
In order to root out the evil of dowry from the society, we shall have to build up a strong public opinion against it. Boys and girls in schools and colleges should be made to take a pledge that they would neither seek nor give dowry. They should be educated through films, television plays and talks, slides camps, lectures and radio talks. Such boys as refuse to accept dowry in their marriages should be honoured in public. If we succeed in removing the evil of dowry, it will be really a praiseworthy achievement.
Essay No. 02
The dowry system is an age old system and a peculiar phenomenon of the Indian society. It is, as today, a curse to the society.
Dowry is the name given to all that, the parents of a girl give to her when she gets married. At the face of it, the system seems quite appropriate, healthy and logical, for in this simple way, the parents of the girl help her in setting a new home. So far, so good and, originally also the purpose of dowry was very justified and understandable.
Let us now analyze how and why this system took birth at all? In the earlier times of Indian society, the daughter had no share in the father’s property so, by way of dowry the girl would get at least some portion of her share. Besides this, in those days, the girls were not educated so, this dowry could serve the girl as a back up support system in case of any emergency after her marriage. Seeing this as the ground reality and the reason for the system for having taken birth, no right thinking people would call the system wrong or unjustified. However, with the passage of time this same fine system has taken the ugly shape of begging for dowry, bargaining for dowry, auctioning the boy to the highest bidder and finally suicides. This is because, taking advantage of the system, the parents of the boys, have Started demanding dowry. This was never done in the original shape of the system. The girl’s parents would give whatever they could and, there would be NO – yes, No demands from the boy’s side. Besides demanding items of dowry, now parents of the boy’s family keep items of the dowry for their own use. This was also not in the original system for, whatever was given was for the girl only- and never for the boy’s family. These two additions in the original system have converted the blessing for the girl into a curse for her. The parents who cannot afford to meet the demands of the boy’s family are forced either into taking loans that they can never return, or use unfair means of corruption to make money to meet the demanded expenses In turn, this has led to even committing suicides by the girls murders of girls by the in-laws. At times even before the marriage, the girl is led to kill herself to save her parents from the trauma of collecting money for her marriage.
Thus, we see that, a system that was at one time very wise and discreet, has taken an ugly shape just because of the deed of men and women in today’s world. This system of dowry has become a slur on the Indian society. Besides being a shame, in today’s scenario, the system as it was even in the initial stages of its existence, has become quite irrelevant. This is because, both the reasons for its birth are now not in vogue. These days, girls are usually educated and can earn a livelihood if need arises, and, they now also have a share, an equal share as the brothers have in the father’s property. That means the necessity of the girl having an amount to reach out in the days of crisis or emergency does not hold good any more. So, when the very basis of the system does not exist, the system should be scrapped altogether. This is because; the system instead of bringing solace, only generates greed and even crime in several cases
My view is that, the system as it exists should be put to an end and all those who indulge in it should be punished severely.
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Marriage is an integral part of society, a source of joy and festivities as well as of new beginnings. Yet, one of the longest standing evils associated with marriage from a woman’s point of view in the Indian society is the Dowry system. Despite a lot being said and done against the custom, it is still prevalent in the 21st century, in both subtle and obvious ways. The root of a host of social atrocities against women, the custom of presenting dowry is the crudest expression of the male-dominance in the society. It is most often the mandatory custom of a girl’s parents having to provide a considerable amount of cash, gold in the form of jewelry, electronic equipment, movable or immovable properties, to the groom and his family, at the time of marriage. Although the origin of the custom lies with parents trying to assure financial stability for their daughters, in current perspective it has translated into parents paying up for the assurance of well-being of their daughters. The jewelry and cash that a bride brings with her from her parents’ house is often referred to as “Streedhan” and in theory is the property of the girl, but in reality it is often treated as their rightful due by the groom’s family. The sum to be paid as dowry has no set standard, the yardstick greatly depends on the groom’s profession/social standing and is often perceived as the groom’s family as the compensation of efforts they have made to educate their boy. In a more subtle perspective, one may define this custom as the unquestioned idea that the girl’s family is inferior in standing with the boy’s family, no matter what her qualities are. Thus they need to be on their best behavior and offer lavish “gifts” to please the boy’s family. This ideal is so ingrained in the psyche of a large number of Indians, they either practically ruin themselves financially in order to pay for the appropriate price of the chosen groom, or make a bid to eradicate the prospect of this financial burden by selective gender-biased abortion or female infanticide.This exploitative system that has turned the custom of giving gifts and well wishes into a compulsory demand for money, respect and subjugation, is the one of the major contributing factors hindering the growth of the Indian society where being a woman is still viewed synonymous to being a burden.
Causes of Dowry System
1. Greed Factor – dowry demands often is exemplary of the collective greed of the society. Extortion in the name of social standing, compensation for the cost of groom’s education, his financial stability is a key feature of Indian marriages. Demands are put forward shamelessly and are expected to be met with silence. Threats of withdrawing the proposal looms on the bride’s family’s head at the cost of losing face in the community, and portions of the agreed upon sum is often demanded before the actual ceremony.
2. Society Structure – the dowry system is largely the manifestation of the patriarchal nature of the Indian society where men are considered superior to women in aspects of physical and mental capabilities. With the backdrop of such societal structure, women are often considered second-tier citizens, fit to assume only domesticated roles. Such perceptions are often associated of them being treated as a burden in economic terms first by the father and then by the husband. This feeling is further compounded by the dowry system which fuels the belief that girl child is a potential cause of drain of family finances.
3. Religious Dictates – Religious constraints imposed by the society on marriage customs, mainly suitability of groom have a contributing factor towards the dowry problem. These constraints do not condone inter-religious marriages or even between different religious sects and a suitable groom has to be found from the same religious backgrounds. These restrictions limit the number of suitable matches. Boys of marriageable age with desirable qualifications become a prize and this in turn encourages the practice of the catch being caught by the highest bidder.
4. Social Constraints – Aside from similar religious backgrounds, further constrains are imposed based on caste system and social status. Practices like caste endogamy and clan exogamy, has to be kept in mind while arranging a match. Preferred matches have to belong to the same caste, different clan and same or higher social standings. These limitations again severely deplete the pool of marriageable men leading to similar consequences for demanding dowry.
5. Social Status of Women – the inferior social standing of women in Indian society is so deep-rooted in the psyche of the nation, that this treatment of them as mere commodities is accepted without question, not only by the family but by the women themselves. When marriage is viewed as the ultimate achievement for women, evil practices like dowry takes its roots deeper in the society.
6. Illiteracy – lack of formal education is another cause for the prevalence of the dowry system. A large number of women are deliberately kept from schools either due to certain superstitions or from the belief that educating girls will take away from their eligibility as good wives.
7. Propulsion Towards Adhering to Customs – Indians value traditions a lot and they tend not to question customs. They follow traditions blindly and provide dowry because it is the norm handed down through generations.
8. Urge to Show Off – dowry is often a means for showing off social stature in our country. One’s worth in society is often measured by how much one spends in daughter’s wedding or how much gold one gives to them. This perspective heavily justifies the practice of dowry demands. The boy’s family in turns gains new heights of social standings based of the amount of dowry their new bride brings in which is indicator of how desirable their boy was in the marriage market.
Effects of Dowry System
1. Short Term Effects of Dowry System – these effects of the dowry system are immediate and are a permanent fixture in the daily news.
a. Injustice towards girls – dowry bears a huge financial obligation for the bride’s family. As a consequence, a girl child is viewed a possible source of drain on the family’s finances, ultimately an onus. This view evolves into gigantic proportions taking the shape of infanticides and feticides of girl child. Girls are often marginalized in the areas of education where boys of the family are given preference. They are thrust towards domestic chores from a very early age. A host of restrictions are imposed on them in the name of family honour and they are made to stay indoors. Child marriages are still practiced because age is counted as an index of purity. It also stems from the belief that young girls can be better molded into the household roles than older girls. The amount of dowry increases according to the girl’s age, fuelling the practice.
b. Violence against women – contrary to hopeful parents, dowry is often not a one-time pay up. Demands are continuously made by the husband’s family who consider the girl’s family as a never ending source of finance. Inability by the girl’s family often leads to verbal abuse, domestic violence and even deaths. Brides being burned by the in-laws are hardly a novelty in this country. Continuous physical and mental torture instigates women to go into depression and commit suicide. 2016 figures indicate that in India, 20 women die every day due to dowry related issues.
c. Economic burden – getting a girl married is associated with a hefty amount of money by Indian parents due to direct or subtle demands for dowry by the groom’s family. Families often borrow heavily, mortgage properties leading to major decline in economic health.
d. Gender inequality – the idea of paying dowry in order to get a girl married generates an increased sense of inequality among the genders, placing men superior to women. Young girls are kept from schools while their brothers are given access to education. They are regarded incompetent for roles other than housework and are often discouraged from taking up jobs. Their opinions are suppressed, not valued or ignored more often than not. Physical and behavioral restrictions are imposed on girls that are completely natural for boys.
2. Long Term Effects of Dowry System – the short term effects lead to the following long-term consequences
a. Gender imbalance – the much abhorred practices like abortion of female fetuses and killing of girl babies have resulted into an unnaturally skewed child sex ratio (CSR) in India. In states like Haryana and Rajasthan where these practices are most prevalent, the CSR stands at 830 girls per 1000 boys. This in turn leads to peculiar practices like polyandry and an increase in violence against women.
b. Loss of self-esteem in women – in a country which has experienced centuries of inferior attitude towards women, it is very hard to maintain a high level of self-regard if you are a woman. Naturally, women themselves are bound in the shackles of an idea that they are incapable of any contributions to the society. Their sense of self-worth hits rock bottom and they are increasingly subjugated to injustice.
c. Status of women –practices like dowry are social evils and a huge deterrent towards improvement of social status of women in India. Inferiority of women has been impressed upon the minds of the nation time and again by the demands of dowry.
Solutions to Dowry System
1. Law – several laws have been enacted to prohibit the practice of dowry and the injustice against women stemming from it. The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed on 20th May, 1961 with an aim to eradicate the evil practice from the society. The act declares not only the practice of accepting dowry unlawful, but also penalizes giving of the same. It includes property, valuable security like cash and jewelry exchanging hand during the marriage. Making demands of dowry is punishable by a minimum imprisonment of 5 years and a minimum fine of 15,000 rupees. Incidences of cruelty by the husband or his family against the wife have been addressed in the Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 198A in the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 113A added in the Indian Evidence Act further provides the family of the bride to charge the husband’s family of abetting suicide of their daughter within 7 years from the date of marriage.
2. Enforcement – it is never enough to just introduce acts and amend sections to fight against a social evil. This requires strict and ruthless enforcement of such laws. That aspect still leaves a lot to be desired. Although such allegations are taken very seriously by the authorities, lack of proper investigative procedures often leads to the accused going free. The government needs to ensure a zero-tolerance policy for such offenders and ensure enforcement of the law through systemic changes.
3. Social Awareness – creating a widespread awareness against the evils of the dowry system is key first step towards eradicating the practice.Campaigns should be designed to reach the deepest strata of the society and aim to spread knowledge about the legal provisions against dowry. There also is the need to promote the need for educating the girl children.
4. Education and self-dependence of women – education is not just required to find your vocation in life, it is essential to gain eyes and ears to a world beyond the one you can immediately see. It is important or all of us to emphasize on educating the girls in order to fight widespread social evils like dowry. Knowledge of their rights will enable them to speak up against practice of dowry and ongoing marginalization. They will also be able to strive for self-dependence and not view marriage as their only salvation.
5. Overhaul of mindsets –India as a country requires major overhaul of its existing mindsets in order to push back against the iniquitous custom of dowry. They need to realise the fact that in today’s society women are perfectly capable of doing anything that men can. Women themselves need to come out of the belief that they are inferior to men and they need to depend on men to provide for them.