DOWRY SYSTEM: SOCIAL EVIL IN INDIA
"Denigration of women has ruined our society".
Today, Indian society is surrounded with many problems such as unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, terrorism, etc. Among these problems, a problem which is deep rooted in Indian society is the problem of dowry system. In modern Indian political discourse the custom of dowry is often represented as the cause of serious social problems, including the neglect of daughters, sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, and the harassment, abuse etc etc. This fact that it is condemned by every modern citizen of this country and yet it still flourishes at a very large scale in our society is a testimony of how deeply rooted this system is in the Indian society. Official statistics show a steady rise in dowry crimes. More than 9,5000 women are killed every year in India over dowry.
The dowry system is so deeply rooted in Indian culture, that sometimes one feels that there's going to be no way out - at least not for another century. Dowry (dahej) is one of the most ancient practices of India. The Vedas prescribe that a dowry be given by the bride's family to the groom. The Rig Veda states that cows and gifts given by the Aryan father of the bride to the daughter accompanied the bride's procession [ Rg Ved X.85 ] [ Apte 12 ]. ‘Kakshivat’ in the Vedas says he became rich by the father-in-law giving him 10 chariots and maids and 1060 cows during the marriage ceremony [ Rg Ved I.126 ] [ Apte 13 ]. Dowry is referred to as `Streedhana' and is an ancient practice. This custom implied that women were, in addition to being viewed as mere sex objects, severe economic liabilities for the parents. Indeed, the Brahmins raised the level of dowry to such ridiculous levels that the non-Brahmins were forced to murder their female children or face economic ruin. In this manner, the non-Brahmins exterminated their own females, perpetuating Brahmin dominance. We see this philosophy in action today. As per the book “Genocide of Women in Hinduism” authored by Sita Agarwal, over the last 65 years, more than 50 million female children have been murdered as a result of Vedic dowry and infanticide laws.
In the book aforesaid the author says that the ancient Vedic custom of kanyadan, where the father presented his daughter with jewelry and clothes at the time of her marriage, and vardakshina where the father presented the groom with cash and kind are, in essence the dowry system. This curse is fully sanctioned in the Vedas. These examples show that dowry was practiced in ancient times. Thus, in order to marry Sita to `godly' Rama, her father had to supply her with 100 crores of gold mohurs, 10000 carriages, 10 lakh horses, 60000 elephants, 100000 male slaves, 50000 female slaves, 2 crores of cows and 100000 pearls, and many other items [ Ram.wh 61 ]. Thus, dowry, which is the very root of the Hindu evils of sati and bride-burning, is given `divine' sanction by the `noble' Hindu gods.
The ancient marriage rites in the Vedic period are associated with Kanyadan. It is laid down inDharamshastara that the meritorious act of Kanyadan is not complete till the bridegroom was given adakshina. So when a bride is given over to the bridegroom, he has to be given something in cash or kind which constitute varadakshina. Thus Kanyadan became associated with varadakshina i.e. the cash or gifts in kind by the parents or guardian of the bride to the bridegroom. The varadakshina was offered out of affection and did not constitute any kind of compulsion or consideration for the marriage. It was a voluntary practice without any coercive overtones. In the course of time, the voluntary element in dowry has disappeared and the coercive element has crept in. it has taken deep roots not only in the marriage ceremony but also post-marital relationship. What was originally intended to be a takendakshina for the bridegroom has now gone out of proportions and has assumed the nomenclature'dowry'. The social reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have striven hard for the abolition of various social evils including the evil of dowry system.
The dowry system is responsible to a great extent for child marriage and discrimination against girls. If a girl is married at a tender age, a small amount of dowry will work, but if the girl is educated and qualified, she needs an equal amount of dowry to get a bridegroom of the same status.
Unfortunately, the dowry system is still prevalent in India despite the provision in the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961. it says that: "If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more."
Section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC)
498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
Though law has provided stringent measures to curb this menace; Unless there is a strong awareness in the minds of the people, unless the entire society believes that dowry is an evil, unless the entire society objects to the demand for dowry, unless every mother-in-law thinks that at one time she too was a daughter-in-law, unless every mother thinks that the treatment which she gives to her daughter-in-law can also be received by her own daughter, the evils of dowry will remain in society. Society and we as a member of the society can do a lot to prevent offences of harassment, dowry death, etc by taking the following steps:
Start practicing dowry prohibition in your family.
Educate the members of your family with the provisions of law – that demanding and accepting or giving dowry is an offence.
A woman is an important member of family and is entitled to all the rights and privileges a man enjoys.
Educate the members of your family and your neighbors to respect a woman’s rights and privileges.
If in any family there is a growing dispute between the in-laws and the lady, try to intervene to sort out the differences and educate them about the evils of dowry system. If they fail to listen to you, please inform the jurisdictional police and counseling centres.
Provide support and shelter to the lady in distress. If you cannot, please contact the Women organizations who can provide support in such cases.
Gather like-minded people who are fighting against this evil and gather public sympathy and support to ex-communicate the families where the evil persists.
In case you have any suspicion of ill treatment of a lady in any house, immediately inform the local Police. Ladies in distress, generally avoid showing their resentment to ill-treatment till it reaches a dangerous point leading to their being burnt to death.
Encourage women folk to raise their voice about their rights and to fight against dowry system.
In my view, it is mainly because of lack of awareness that women have been turned into a saleable commodity. Most of the women are not educated enough to defy the pre-established social norms. Even those who are educated are continuing this ugly tradition in the name of social prestige.
Best education is the best dowry. Parents are advised to educate daughters the best as the time has changed and it is time that education has more value in the employment market and fields have been opened for women to become entrepreneurs. Amount of dowry may be invested for her secured future.
Girl’s parents should help reporting Governments or concerned authorities about the dowry demand by groom parents. Marriage with such boys should be discouraged as demand of excessive dowry means they do not want girl but money this would result to extortion after marriage by torture.
Despite every stigma, dowry continues to be the signature of marriage. It is high time each one of us should make sure not to encourage this practice, if we choose to call ourselves educated, aware & moral, and seeking for spirituality. This is just another way contributing to the ill treatment of girls and their subjugation and we should have the policy of zero tolerance in the matter which will help us solve other problems associated with it automatically. Women should insist on marrying only those men (not immature boys !) who have the courage of their conviction to say "NO!" to dowry. Men who insist on living on the wealth provided by their in-laws are as good as impotent and should be avoided at all cost. Women need real social, political, financial and moral support in their fight against the system. They have to be empowered so that they can take their decisions about their own life by refusing the dowry system.
The evil of dowry cannot be combated by a few individuals. It requires a wide spread transformation. It is for prospect grooms and sensible men to down play this evil.