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(This article was originally written for the Super Brain All India Essay Competition conducted by the competitive monthly magazine named Competition Success Review and won the second prize) “The best of the marriages is one which is least burdensome in the financial sense to the families of the bride and the groom”. – Prophet Mohamed. THE BEGINNING Ours is a sacred soil where women are venerated as shakthi; where there are more women deities in our pantheon than male divinities; where Jhansi Rani, Indira Gandhi and Laxmi took birth and icon of maternity like Mother Theresa dwelt. Nevertheless, wife burning owing to curse of dowry – that atrocious species of murder horrendously escalate in many parts of India pre and post independence days despite legislation against it, and giving a chance to evolve as a part of a social custom. Historically dowry had a legitimate rationale. It was given to a daughter to enable her to support herself independently in her husband’s home without making demands on her new family. It was supposed to provide for her pocket money, allowing her to buy herself anything she fancied including foodstuff, clothing and jewelries. However, in the course of histories peregrination, the meaning and metaphor of dowry acquired a negative metamorphosis. Moreover, Vedas prescribed dowry and the ancient Vedic custom of ‘kanyadhaan’ and ‘varadakshina’ were in essence of the dowry system. An archetype – when Sita was married to ‘godly’ Rama, her father supplied her with gold, pearls, carriages, horses, elephants, slaves, and many other items. Thus, dowry, which is the very root of the Hindu evils, is given ‘divine’ sanction by the ‘noble’ Hindu gods. Other precedents like Aurangzeb demanding the fortress of Ramgiri on the marriage of his son 1
to a princess from Golconda; Akbar setting the paradigm when Jahangir married the daughter of Raja Bawagan Das; Catherine of Braganza, the non-Indian, marrying Charles II and bringing with her the island of Bombay as her dowry system traversed over emperors reign, region and religion. DOWRY TODAY The traditional ideas such as ‘kanyadhaan’ and ‘sthridhan’ should not be mixed or mingled with today’s dowry. The ‘sthridhan’ assets that were given to the bridegroom by the feudal land owning class later assumed nomenclature of dowry. This dowry system was intended to indicate the affluence of the feudal landlords and was a status symbol to offer gifts to the bridegroom. Today, it has taken cancerous dimension, acquiring a very new phenomenon and becoming a permanent trait in the lives of the working middle class even. Under the impact of liberalization and the growing consumerism, the practice of dowry has intensified and expanded its reach. Today, Indian weddings are occasions for conspicuous spending with the invitation of numerous acquaintances, parking of cars outside the wedding hall, costly clothing and jewelry, the cash given to the groom, the lavish dinners, the shamiana lights, band music, processions etc. There is an attempt to equate these tendencies of show-off to ‘dakshina’, which is only an attempt to legitimize a modern monstrosity by linking it up with an ancient respected custom. For the poor, it has turned to be an obligation to marry off their daughters with dowry, with whatever their economic means. Hence, the whole system acts to pauperize families and make daughters a curse. As the customs have taken the form of a compulsive nature, what is surprising is that the imposture has had so much success. Countless stories of horror, brutality, cruelty and cold-blooded murder in the name of dowry is reported which could rip apart any heart with the crudity of their details. Today dowry seems to have disappeared from national consciousness even though thousands of women continue to be burnt, poisoned, electrocuted or forced to
commit suicide every year. Cases of dowry harassment no longer merited prime positions in news papers and stories of dowry deaths were now being relegated to the inside pages, reflecting a clear shifts in social priorities. Why even the women organizations are mute in this matter? Amidst all these community lackadaisicalness, recently, Nisha Sharma in Delhi, Vidhya in Chennai and Farzana, a Muslim woman calling off their marriages because of dowry demands by the greedy groom’s kin, caught in media and public cynosure. They have set the anti-dowry wave in motion becoming an icon for young brides and women, a case study for Ladies Forum and the torchbearer of the Indian middleclass girls cause. All were waiting for this spark. Let it turn into a revolutionary inferno quenching the hunger in dowry mongers. LAW AND LEGISLATION Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 stemmed from a noticeable increase in the number of Indian brides documented to have died from suspicious and mysterious circumstances. The cause of death was characteristically labeled as ‘kitchen fires’. One of the many cases significant for its contribution to the anti-dowry law in India is the case of Delhi’s Satyarani Chadha, who fought for 20 years to seek punishment for her son-in-law, who had burnt to death his six-month pregnant wife. So long drawn out was the legal battle that even the laws changed during the course of the case proceedings. It was during the hearing of this case that the IPC was amended in 1986 to incorporate Section 304-B and defined for the first time a ‘dowry death’. In spite, the harsher legal amendments in 1968 to that of 1961 Dowry Act such as Section 174 CrPC enforcing investigations of suspicious bridal deaths and stringent punishments for those found guilty and convicted of bride burning, the social evil continues. Now a day, Section 498-A is shamelessly abused both by police and by lower judiciary violating all the constitutional guarantees promised in the constitution of democratic India. The process of trial and punishment of the accused in dowry death
cases, apart from being lengthy, is fraught with numerous hurdles. The local police (ill paid, ill qualified, incompetent, indifferent and corrupt) refuse to co-operate with the relation of the victim and do a slapdash job by way of investigation. As a result, the prosecution case has no supporting arguments and the accused are acquitted in the absence of suitable evidence. Moreover, the conviction rate according to statistics shows that only 2% are convicted and 98% acquitted in 498-A cases. However, Supreme Court of India on July 22, 2005 held that Section 498-A of IPC is constitutionally valid law and directed the legislature to rethink and rediscover the ways to plug the loopholes in the law. There is lot more to be done in the legal parchment and in the legislative pasture so that the cases of the thick groaning utterance of a dying woman in the grip of dreadful agony, to a certain extent, could be slenderized. THE DESIDERATUM The fight will have to be carried out concurrently on several fronts awakening the collective consciousness. Tradition or no tradition, battle against consumerism and obscurantist politics perpetuating the custom of dowry must go on where young generation needs to work harder. Change of heart ant attitude, economic independence for women and the providing of education for women are the solvent of this pernicious social malevolence. Parents should express their love for their daughters by making them independent and giving them property rights, rather than lavish wedding and unproductive consumables. Educating the public about the detrimental effects of dowry is a most imperative task. Dramas in the local language must be staged brining home to the people the evils of the institution. Any information received about dowry must be publicized through wallnewspapers and town criers in villages. The support of enlightened men and women, the press, politicians and officials must be enlisted in this fight. Pressure must be put on
political parties to give tickets only to candidates who have worked dowry and to deny them to those who are known to have received dowry. Police, administrative authorities and other machineries should be accountable and sincere. Moreover, the Judiciary must deal with dowry cases in a more realistic and humanistic manner and not allow the criminals to flee because of procedural errors or technicalities. Courts have to be sensitive, perspicacious and correctly oriented I sight in drawing to judgments fulfilling the social welfare legislation and lifting the principles of penology in its finer perspectives. CONCLUSION Dowry acts as a disincentive to spend on daughters, whether on nutrition, health or education, except in ways, which will make them for marriageable. Daughters are denied the very opportunities, which would give them the poise, the power and the proficiency to live a dignified and independent life. Thus, dowry is a manifestation of the devaluation, disparity and discrimination that women experience in Indian society. In succinct, dowry is a curse for those who value a relationship more than money and for whom marriage is a sacred knot. For all practical purpose, dowry has spoiled the social fabric and slackened the sacrosanct word ‘marriage’. Now what requires is, mobilizing the social consciousness to ban effectively the vicious survival of the social evil –‘The Dowry’. Remember: “The love of money is the root of all evil” – Bible; I Timothy 6:10