The Shameful Stain on India
Everyone was sobbing and screaming “Those sinners will die too”. My 8-year old self was trying to assess the unusual sighting, I would be deterred if I asked anyone about the situation. I was frustrated as my curiosity was left unsated. But my cousin, who was around the same age, was able to get some insight from his lenient and modern mother. According to sources, our neighbor’s newly-wed daughter had died. I was perplexed, the bride was a young healthy woman, and had a recent merry marriage. She lived with the family of her husband in a close by village as we are a patriarchal society.
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Five years passed and the incident was irrelevant and forgotten as we moved to the United States. But one night, I overheard my mother talking about the same incident on the phone with her sister. But this time, When I questioned her about the incident, she informed that the bride was murdered by the groom and his family as their demands for dowry could not be fulfilled by our former neighbors. She told me that she could not reveal the inside information at the time of occurrence because it would have caused my perspective about our traditions, culture and society to be sickening.
Dowry is wealth and goods gifted to the bride by her family at the time of marriage. It was thought of as economic support for the newly-wed couple. It is the property of the bride and the groom has management rights over it. The system dates back to the ancient Greek-city states around 800 to 300 BCE (Anderson). Dowry was required under Roman law, as it was believed to do good deeds. The expansions of the Roman law due to the construction of empires caused this system to be implemented in a large part of the world. The dowry system was also practiced in the countries of the modern western world, but modernization allowed curtail of the system. But it is still very much embedded in marriages of Indian society as 94% of people gave dowry for their daughter’s marriage from 1970-1994 (Anderson).
Modern India is thought of as a world power, but modernization has failed to diminish the practice of dowry. The religious and cultural roots of majority of India allow the dowry system to be immune to social changes. The Hindus make 79.8% of the population of India and Hindu traditions are prevalent in India, even in states like Punjab, which is populated by Sikhs. The ancient Hindu marriage rite is called Kanyadan, the ceremony of gifting the bride. Many Hindu holy scriptures suggest, the act of dan or ritual gifts is partial till the receiver is given a Varadakshina (Shodhganga). Accordingly, Kanyadan became associated with Varadakshina, which is any form of gifts given by the family of the bride to the groom. The Varadakshina in those days included ornaments and clothes, which the family of the bride could afford. This Varadakshina was offered out of affection and was not for consideration for the marriage. The Dharamashastra, another Hindu scripture, suggests that the Varadakshina is the bride’s property, which provides her financial protection in adverse times (Shodhganga). It was a voluntary practice without any pessimistic connotations. But nowadays, social pressure has caused Dowry to be compulsory and be considered at the time of marriage. The practice is thought to represent social status and traditional values. The Dowry system is proliferated throughout India and practiced regardless of religion, caste and class.
Most Indians are nationalistic and would deny any allegations of crime against women due to the Dowry System, they would also deny practice or the prevalence of Dowry. But Dowry is a leading cause of crime against women from emotional abuse and violence, which may lead to death. An average of five women a day are burned in dowry related disputes (Monani, 18). The frequency and severity of violence against women is a growing problem, there was a 15.2% increase in dowry murders in 1998 compared to 1997 (Srinivasan), this percentage does not capture the true size of the problem as dowry murders are often not reported because of social stigma. The detrimental consequences of Dowry are not limited to death among women. It is the sole, if not only, reason for female infanticide. It is cause for the change in gender demographics of India, In In 2011, males outnumbered females by 35 million (Monani, 29). A baby girl is thought of as bad luck and economic burden. Which has led to a disproportion in sex ratio in some regions of India.
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The Indian government does not candidly condone the dowry system, there are several public efforts to diminish the system such as The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 and prohibition of techniques to determine the sex of a fetus. But the government neglects the awry act of the police force of India. It enfranchises the system by allowing corruption within the force, sanctioning such crimes to go unpunished. It is facile to bribe impoverished force. Another reason, why this stagnation is possible is because the force is male-dominant. This allows the tradition to flourish, causing the bride’s family to be in great financial burden. Marriage is now thought of as an investment, a business decision whose profits come from the bride’s family. The average age of a newly-wed bride in India is 22, and it is no coincidence that two-thirds of women who commit suicide were less than 25 years old (banerjee). When the marriage has taken place, the groom’s family use the daughter as leverage to demand more dowry, if the demand is not met by the bride’s family, the bride suffers from violence. This cycle of demand and fulfill continues until the daughter reasons herself as a burden on her family and commits suicide. Sometimes, a poverty struck family is unable to marry their daughter to desired families because of they are not able to fulfil the dowry demand of the prospective groom’s family. Instead, they have to resort to marrying their daughter off to a family that is in the same financial class. At times, this decision turns out to be poor and results in more problems for the family and atrocious outcomes.
As an Indian myself, I am embarrassed that such traditions flourish in my modern and culturally rich country. The dowry system is still very much prevalent and the proximity of it stings me. My parent’s marriage also involved dowry and I am positive many members of my family still take/give dowry. India’s marriage circus still participates in the dowry system, but people have shifted to restrained practice to avoid criticism and verbal bashing by others.
- Monani, D., & QC, F. G. (2017). Death and the dowry system: India’s women and female children at global risk of gendercide over money. Issues in Legal Scholarship, 15(1), 1-13. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/10.1515/ils-2016-0251
- Srinivasan, P., & Lee, G. R. (2004). The dowry system in northern India: Women’s attitudes and social change. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(5), 1108-1117.
- Anderson, Siwan. “The Economics of Dowry and Brideprice.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 21, no. 4, 2007, pp. 151–174. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30033756.
- Banerjee G, Nandi DN, Nandi S, Sarkar S, Boral GC, Ghosh A. The vulnerability of Indian women to suicide a field-study. Indian J Psychiatry. 1990;32:305–8.
- “ORIGIN, MEANING AND GROWTH OF DOWRY.” Shodhganga, shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/132584/8/08_chapter 2.pdf.
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