“As soon as she came out of the womb, she was killed. Her parents could not afford the dowry they would have to pay at the time of her marriage. Next time they had a boy. They bought him home with all the festivities and sweets. After a few years, at the time of his marriage, they would take huge amounts in the form of dowry.”
Marriage is one of the most auspicious occasions in one’s family. However, there is a darker side to it. It is the long-prevailing social evil of the “dowry system“. The meaning of the word “dowry” was understood in S. Gopal Reddy Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the phrase demand for ‘dowry’ was to be flexibly interpreted. In this case, this meant that any ‘demand’ of money, property or valuable security made from the bride or her parents or other relatives by the bridegroom or his parents or other relatives or vice-versa would fall within the ambit of ‘dowry’.
However, in our country, the general trend shows that it is only the male families who ask for dowry. It is essential in the terms of payment in cash, kind like jewelry, electronic appliances, crockery, utensils, etc.. The amount depends on a large number of factors, including region, religion, caste and subcaste, groom’s education, bride’s skin tone, and the negotiation skills of both the families involved. There is no religious justification for dowries or even requirements for them within the caste system. They are simply traditions and not even very old ones at that. One survey found that in the 1960s two-thirds of communities had bride price payments rather than dowries. In the late twentieth century, the values of dowries have been increasing. Groups that never gave dowries in the past are being pressured to do so. Thus, a girl child can represent a significant economic liability to her parents.
Dowry is an ancient custom with no records on when it started or where. There is evidence of dowry being practiced in ancient Babylon, ancient Greece, the Roman era and across almost all parts of the world through time.
In the pre-colonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women, for women, to enable them to establish their status and have recourse in an emergency. Dowry was meant to be the bride’s family’s payment to the groom/groom’s family as financial security in case of the groom’s death or desertion. This wealth in cash and kind was to be subsequently passed on to their children. So, the original concept of dowry was there to provide financial independence to women after their marriage. However, the current scenario is totally the opposite. It has been used by the people to extract the money from the family of the groom to satisfy their greedy needs. It does not provide any financial independence to the women. Rather it leads to deaths of the females who are killed if they are not able to bring dowry due to any reason.
So why are people still into these social evils? It is because of the greedy mindset of the people who want to extract money from the family of the brides, the manifestation of the patriarchal nature of the Indian society where men are considered superior to women in aspects of physical and mental capabilities, illiteracy due to which women are not made aware of their rights and last the religious constraints imposed by the society on marriage customs, mainly suitability of groom have a contributing factor towards the dowry problem.
It leads to a financial obligation for the bride’s family. As a consequence, a girl child has been viewed as a possible source of drain on the family’s finances, ultimately an onus. People tend to take huge loans for paying to the families of their daughters. They are not able to pay back the loans and fall under debt causing depression and suicides in some cases. It leads to female foeticide and infanticides which acts as a blot to the country’s reputation. Then, females are even killed for not bringing a dowry to the families after their wedding. This leads to a poor sex ratio in the long run. For example, the census of 2011 showed the sex ratio to be 943 females to 1000 males. This also leads to gender inequality and then the entire circle of killings, violence tends to continue.
Gandhi Ji was totally against this practice and wanted to make a dowry prohibition a part of the 1947 constitution. “A strong public should be created in condemnation of the degrading practice of dowry, and young men who soil their fingers with such ill-gotten gold should be excommunicated from society,” Gandhi wrote. “The system has to go. Marriage must cease to be a matter of arrangement made by parents for money.” The dowry prohibition act, 1961 was initiated which was against this social evil. The punishment could be imprisonment for a minimum of 5 years and a fine of more than ₹15,000 or the value of the dowry received, whichever is higher. Dowry agreements are void as per law and if any dowry is received by anyone other than the woman, it should be transferred to the woman.
Then, the Indian Criminal laws were also amended to include dowry death as a punishable offense. Section 304B was added to IPC( Indian Penal Code ) which made dowry death a specific offense punishable with a minimum sentence of imprisonment for 7 years and maximum imprisonment for life. Further, section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 (“Evidence Act”), creates an additional presumption of dowry death when it is shown that before her death, the woman had been subjected to cruelty on account of dowry demand. Then, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was also enacted to protect women from all kinds of violence which includes physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse and forms a subset of the anti-dowry laws to the extent it is one of the reasons for domestic violence. But the real taste of pudding lies in its eating. There are laws against all the crimes happening in the country. But still, why do we witness small girls being killed, acid being thrown upon women? There are loopholes in the legislation. Governments are corrupt and are not at all into the proper implementation of the laws. Only when the governments work totally towards the betterment of society and punish all the violators is the time that we might witness a reduction in the deaths caused because of dowry. Social awareness programs must be held, literacy must be spread among the people and it is only then that this menace would lose its graph.