Exclusive: Evils of Dowry System in India

By Muyiwa Olayinka

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This world is interesting because diversities in all spheres of life. We differ in culture and traditional beliefs, mostly in Africa and Asia where culture and traditional beliefs were taken into consideration to draft laws.

In Africa, the institution of marriage is sacred and guided by cultural laws. For example, in consummation of marriage, the groom’s family is deemed to pay bride price to the family of bride.

It varies in sizes and  different from one tribe to another. The family of the bride collects the bride price as a token of appreciation for raising their daughter to be given as wife for marriage.

But in other clime, it is the bride that pays the groom’s family. It is called a dowry system.

In South eastern Asia country like India, Dowry is commonly practised.

Dowry is payment in cash or some kind of gifts given to a bridegroom’s family  along with the bride (as there was no property share for a girl child along with sons.

According to research conducted, the Dowry existed in India even before the British Rule.

In the pre-Colonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women, for women, to enable them to establish their status, maintain their independence and have recourse in an emergency.

In this ancient system of dowry, the parents/ relatives of the bride gave wealth to her in the form of valuable gifts, land, etc. These valuables or the wealth was given to the bride, and NOT to the groom or his family. In other words, the dowry wealth continued to be owned by the wife and not by the husband or his family.

So in the original system of dowry prevalent in India, women were gifted wealth from their parents during marriage and this served as a tool of financial independence for the bride even after marriage.

However dowry system had been twisted to what is practised today.

So when did the wrong turn take place?

It all started with a British rule which prohibited the women from owning any property at all!

Once the British prohibited women from having any property rights, it meant that all the wealth that a woman got from her parents would be owned by her husband instead. And the moment, this system of husband owning the wealth of his wife was created, the traditional dowry system got converted into a menace creating an institution of greed that oppressed, victimized and suppressed women. Families started looking at the incoming bride as a source of wealth. Marriages stated becoming more of a business deal, where making wealth was easier. Male child became an additional source of income, and female child became a financial burden on the family.

Dowry is paid in the form of cash and goods such as jewellery, household appliances and cars to the bridegroom or his parents by the bride’s family.

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 and includes cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils and other household items that help the newlyweds set up their home.

The dowry system has put great financial burden on the bride’s family. In some cases, the dowry system leads to crime against women, ranging from emotional abuse, injury to even deaths.

So, a simple or casual gifting tendency turned up into an evil thought of dowry.

In India, one woman dies every hour in a dowry-related case. Dowry has become a social tradition where the families of Indian groom continue to make endless financial demands of the bride’s family.

In extreme circumstances, the newlywed bride can be murdered by her in-laws, or driven to commit suicide.

Fortuitously, the payment of dowry has long been prohibited under specific Indian laws including, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

Although Indian laws against dowries have been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective.

The practice of dowry deaths and murders continues to take place unchecked in many parts of India and this has further added to the concerns of enforcement.

Grim and Scary statistics

Women have committed suicide because they could not face harassment over dowry payment. Others have been murdered by their husband or in-laws for not meeting their dowry demands.

About 8,000 dowry deaths are recorded each year in India, according to the National crimes statistics bureau. Two women in their 20s committed suicide over dowry harassment on the same day last month in Gurgaon, a modern satellite city of Delhi, where the number of dowry deaths rose from 12 in 2015 to 20 last year, according to the Times of India, an increase of 66.7 per cent.

In another case reported last month in Hyderabad, a 21-year-old woman died after her husband and parents-in-law poured kerosene on her and set fire to her because of a dispute over dowry.

A software engineer in Hyderabad was reported to have hanged herself after being harassed for dowry payments by her husband, even although her family had already given him land and substantial amounts of gold and cash at the time of marriage.

Indians who still adhere to the dowry system tended to be from very conservative backgrounds and were often less well educated, although the practice occurs in all segments of society despite the passing of more legislation in the past decade, including a law against domestic violence in 2005.

One cannot blame the system but the weird culture followed by the people.

In a traditional conservative continents like Africa and Asia, old habits die hard. Many India women are stuck with the abuse in marriage to avoid  stigmatisation of being a single mother as a result of separation or divorce.

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