Our country has an ancient 5000 year old civilisation and a society which referred to the feminine half of the population as Devi. How and when this Devi started being treated as a commodity is a mystery. Although our society has been patriarchal over thousands of years, the power and dignity of the mother over her children and the rest of the household, was always supreme. The wife and mother were the ‘Grih-Lakshmis-the Goddess of wealth for the house.
They still are, in many of the cultured and educated households all over the country. But these are now becoming a minority. Girls are now being considered a liability in many families giving a boost to sex-determination tests and infanticides. The word infanticides would not be proper as most of these would-be girls childs that are being aborted and the female foetus removed to die an untimely death Foeticide is the right word for this act. And all this happening because the marriage of the daughter has become a stifling burden on the family. Today, the price for a qualified groom, who is in the Administrative Services, is not less then Rs.
5Lakh in cash, besides other items. What is the hapless would-be brides family supposed to do? This sum of money is beyond the reach of the middle class and the poor, father can only look for a groom within his means. The qualifications of the girl, her family background and her nature, 1s only secondary. The tragedy is that even after emptying their life’s saving the hapless father has to be satisfied with seeing the status of his daughter as no better than an unpaid maid in her in-laws household.
Dowry has been defined in the dictionary as “the property brought by a woman to her husband at marriage”. There was nothing wrong with this as long as it was voluntary. The early civilizations were highly developed, knowledgable and egalitarian. Men and women were treated as equal and so were their children irrespective of male or their parents. The early civilizations were highly developed, knowledgable and egalitarian.
Men and women were treated as equal and so were their children irrespective of male or female. Both had equal rights and share in the property of their parents. The tradition always has been for the woman to leave her parents’ house and live with her husband and so she carried her own belongings as well as right to property which was her share, to her husband. This is no different from any other civilized society of the world and is termed universally as dowry. The crave for material and easy wealth, to be one up on others, to get access to huge sums of money without having to work for it, all this lead to giving dowry a different dimension. Our society has undergone a radical change in outlook for the worse and dowry which was voluntary earlier has now become a demand. This is one more aspect of rampant corruption.
The enormous demands being made in cash and kind could not be ethically met by the middle class and the only way this can be provided for is through illegal means. The widespread evil of gratification, always illegal and dubious, devious methods of earnings by the business sector can be attributed in part to such exhorbitant demands for dowry. In fact this is a vicious circle where the more one earns through illegal means the more demands are made on him. The other party is aware of huge amounts of money stashed away by him. The circle is complete when the bars are further raised for others by example.
The bars can only go higher until it is beyond the reach of the common man. The law has come down heavily on this illegal phenomenon, after several cases of bride burning, beatings and tortures were reported by the media. A few years back, it was becoming quite regular and the metro of Delhi reported nearly 210 deaths in the year 1985. In most of the cases, inspite of proofs being provided by the family of the bride of demands being made even after marriage by the groom and his family.
The investigation conclusively believed that the burnings were accidental while working on stoves. Are they plausible, in the age of cooking gas why were they using pressure stoves. The surprising feature of such was the fact that it was always the poor newly wed bride who got burnt while others of the family were never scolded. The dowry seekers are those greedy persons who could never be satisfied with one time payments. They are a breed of arm twisters and blackmailers who find a mulching cow and continue to milch it till it is dry and then looking for greener pastures prefer to create such intolerable situations where either the woman leaves house on her own after being fed up of the daily routines of physical and mental torture or throw them out on the streets to fend for themselves.
Dowry is not necessarily a demand for cash only. There are also hawkeyed persons, who look for brides without siblings or at least without brothers, who would naturally inherit their parents’ entire property. There have been cases where, the poor bride was physically and mentally harassed, to pressurize the poor parents into transferring the property, in the name of the son-in-law and giving away the only roof over their head. All this to save their daughter and themselves from ignominy. There have also been cases where the unsuspecting parents were murdered to inherit the property before time.
Greed has no limits, although the strict appliance of the anti-dowry law has definitely been a deterrent. Unfortunately, the law enforcers are also corrupt and any person who stands to gain lakhs of rupees unscrupulously would face no scruples in greasing the palms of the law inforcers. Money makes the world move and the corrupt are no exception to this rule. But where these wolves in sheep’s clothing breed, there are also the genuinely good who are bent on setting examples before others. The world, our civilisation and our country services because there are good and decent persons who form the backbone of our society. There are families who are religious, aristocratic and truly cultured. Persons who would sneer at the very thought of any one else’s money, who are looking for a bride who would be the real home-maker, the ‘Grih-Lakshmi’, whose sole intention would be to keep her husband and his family, her in-laws, happy. A happy family is like ‘heaven on earth’.
There are exceptions who have refused all enticements in favour of the cultured, educated and pretty girl from a good family. These emancipative overtures are what is needed today to save the girl child from annihilation. The drastic reduction in the radio of female as to male is now becoming quite alarming. A few decades from now, this will be more disbalanced, leaving at least 10 to 15 males out of every hundred without a partner. There are laws now against foeticide, although abortion is a legal right. The law is against sex determination tests which were being used indiscriminately. All the in-laws are interested in male heirs.
The mother-in-law wants her son’s progency to be male and this is another aspect of harassment. When the daughter-in-law begets a girl child, the harassment for dowry and other related issues, start off again. As is a female progency is the fault of the mother only, it is a disqualification in the eyes of these vultures. There were States and regions where people were more cultured like Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Now this widespread and corrupt practice is engulfing these cultures too.
The Bengali Bhadralok had always advocated equality of genders but greed is now overtaking them also. Instead of cash, the value of the pride depends on the amount of gold ornaments and household appliances she brings to her new family. The same attitude is today applicable to the educated South and West. Of course, as stated earlier there are exceptions but not as a rule anymore but as a rarity. It is not as if the society and the laws of the land are unaware of these facts.
The Dowry Prohibition Act is the culmination of these inhumane demands which are eating away at the very fabrics of our social infrastructure. We are waking up to the tortures committed for not meeting the dowry demands, on the poor hapless newly married bride. A girl in our society grows up with the idea of having a nice and understanding husband and a family to call her own. She needs all the support to be adjusted in a new and totally different atmosphere after getting uprooted from her own family and its security. What she actually gets is a husband who considers it to be masochistic with the subdued wife.
A husband who excepts his newly married wife to be a nanny, a maid-servant, a cook and of course a sexual playmate to satisfy his lust, all at his beck and call. In our society a girl does not get married to her husband only, she gets married into family. A family which is out on a fault finding mission and waiting to pounce on the hapless girl to point out her lack of awarness and values. She is expected to be mum all through this terrifying experience and infact most of them are reduced to apologetic, stuttering statues. All this besides the plysical torture she may be subjected to in case she even dares to mutter a few words in her and her parents’ defence. This may be just the start, as a preface to more demands for dowry, in cash or kind. As the demands become more and more stringent and the poor parents fail to meet them, the physical tortures increase ultimately culminating in her being turned out of the house, if she is lucky or physically maiming her or burning her to death, if she is unlucky.
This is sordid and grim picture but in several cases true as is apparent from the innumerable dowry death being filed all over the country. A survey of such cases has brought to light some facts like the percentage being more pronounced in the northern states of the country. Muslims and Christians, generally do not have such rituals but under the influence of society, these flaws are creeping into their weddings too. Several cases of Muslim brides being tortured and killed for dowry are now coming to the forefront. The Christian families in Kerala are finding it extremely difficult now in getting their girls married, due to exhorbitant demands being made by prospective grooms and their families.
This has now become the bane of the female population in these states. The rise in corruption, in securing bribes against genuine work, in profusion of illegal money-making activities are partially a result of the pressure being faced by families having daughters and of course due to sheer greed which is the root of all such dowry demands. The higher the rank the more grandiose the demand. Another fact which is noticed is that the dowry demands are more in arranged marriages which are the norms in our society, however the recent trend of boys and girls opting to choose their own life partners has seen the total lack of such demands being made and austerity being practiced, saving money and wastage. Austerity, the lack of pomp and one-upmanship can be another factor in reducing exhorbitant demands and save the brides parents. Expenses being reduced this bane of all women may also see its eradication. Another solution may be official monitoring, strictly of gifts offered and demanded during a marriage.
When the extent of expenses and gift go beyond a certain specified limit, it should be made comprehensively taxable. Together with this, any complaint of such demand should be thoroughly investigated and the guilty penalized. Today’s women are being exhorded to become equal in knowledge, aptitude and professionalism. There are some industries where the women have even taken a lead.
These professional women with glittering careers are also breadearners of their families who are not dependent any more on their sons to look after them in their old age. Another surprising fact which has come to light recently is that in most of the cases where the sons are breadwinners, they discard their parents as liabilities, mostly in the urban areas. The recent efforts of the government to eradicate illiteracy, monitor the child marriage rituals strictly by making the minimum marriageable age of a girl 18 years and Mahila Police thanas with lady police constables, can make an overall improvement in the situation of dowry culture. However the only permanent solution is for the social norms to be changed. Only when dowry seekers will be looked down by society as parasites and ostracized with the transformation be complete. That will be the time when the girl child will become the ‘Devi’-Goddess Lakshmi once more and not a liability and prospective grooms will evaluate the worth of his bride in terms of her qualifications and not her buying power.
The day we start feeling for and being proud of our country, this will start filtering down to our society. It is then and only then that we shall definitely overcome corrupt and reprehensible practices like dowry, hold our heads high with dignity and respect others. It is the dignified who know the value of equality, respect and dignity.