Dowry means any property or valuables that are given by the bride to the groom or vice versa. It is a pre-requisite for marriage, given by the parents of either side, before or after the marriage. Dowry is an age-old tradition that is still continued today and must be changed. It is a status of symbol i.e giving more dowry is having a high position in society. Though banned for over 60 years, the dowry system is still widespread. It is still prevalent in parts of South Asia, the Middle East, parts of Africa, and in some communities in Britain.
Why is Dowry illegal?
Dowry is an evil deed, that has caused unimaginable tortures and crimes towards women. Dowry has become a great economic burden to middle and lower-class families. Therefore, Mahatma Gandhi had once stated that the one who makes dowry a pre-condition for his marriage, not only shows disrespect to women but also humiliates his own nation.
The amount of dowry often asked for becomes an issue between the two families. Eventually it leads to pressurizing the bride’s side who either suffer during the marriage or kill themselves. The brutal reality of the dowry system is not the story of rural areas only. Moreover, educated families harass woman for not bringing enough gold or money is still evident. Bengaluru, the silicon valley of India, reported 17 cases of abuse and death of women for dowry as mentioned in The New Indian Express.
The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961
The Indian criminal laws were comprehensively amended to include dowry as a punishable offense. Section 304B was added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”), which made dowry death a punishable offense with a minimum sentence of imprisonment for 7 years and maximum imprisonment for life. Down’ Prohibition Act 1961: The custom of dowry among Hindu created various problems in the society in marrying daughters. Hence, in order to abolish the custom of dowry, the Government enacted Dowry Prohibition Act on 20th May 1961.
An Act to prohibit the giving or taking of dowry. BE it enacted by Parliament in the Twelfth Year of the Republic of India as follows: This Act may be called the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. You shall give the women their due dowries, equitably. Therefore, if they willingly forfeit anything, then you may accept it.
Dowry deaths in India Statistics 2020
India has by far the highest number of dowry-related deaths in the world according to Indian National Crime Record Bureau. In 2012, 8,233 dowry death cases were reported across India. This means a bride burning every 90 minutes, or dowry issues cause 1.4 deaths per year per 100,000 women in India. In 2020, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India had the highest number of dowry deaths with more than 2000 cases registered with the authorities. The country recorded nearly seven thousand cases of dowry-related murder cases that year. Apart from North East, Goa and Himachal Pradesh have consistently shown fewer cases of dowry. While Goa consequently recorded zero dowry deaths in both 2013 and 2014.
In 2020, reported dowry death cases in India amounted to nearly seven thousand. This was a gradual decrease from 2014, in which this number was approximately 8.5 thousand. Why is the dowry system still a threatening reality? Why do we value a woman’s life around the amount of gold she brings in dowry? Questions like these need answers. Dowry deaths rise from about 19 per day in 2001 to 21 per day in 2016. There are many that even go unreported.
After marriage, some families ask for more dowry and if the bride doesn’t give, the groom and his family abuse the bride. In some cases, to escape the punishment by law, the husband’s side of the family do not kill the bride directly but harass her mentally and physically forcing her give in. A similar case in Kerala last year when a 27-year-old woman was starved to death by her in-laws because their demand of two lakhs in dowry was not met.
Why Dowry system is still Prevalent today?
The reason it is still prevalent today is because of the patriarchal society that values men over women. The stronghold of gender inequality in Indian society makes a bride’s family feel obliged to meet the dowry demands of the groom who has ‘agreed’ to take care of the daughter. No matter how educated the woman is, her identity and the right to live is decided according to the valuables she owns. The second major reason is that the dowry system is become a part of the Indian culture that it is seen as normal and unchangeable. Even today, people know that dowry is a crime, but they ignore it as it’s an age-old custom.
The Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan launched a 24-hour helpline for dowry harassment, domestic violence, and other gender-related crimes. Other helplines for victims of domestic abuse are Women in distress and the Women helpline directory. The Universalisation of Women Helpline Scheme connets to several police stations, hospitals, and other social organizations. Even if the caller is unable to express their issue, the organization will send immediate help.
Why Dowry deaths are uncommon in the North East
According to the latest Crime in India report 2014, prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a constituent of the Ministry of Home Affairs, among the four Indian states that recorded zero dowry deaths in 2014 include two North-eastern states, Sikkim and Mizoram. In 2013 too, North-eastern states figured prominently among the top-five states that registered no dowry death.
|State||No. Dowry Death in 2014||No. of Dowry Death in 2013|
An interesting facet of North East India is that most of the states in the seven-sister domain have predominantly tribal societies. Kaustav Padmapati, program executive at Ananta Aspen Centre, attributes the low figure of dowry deaths to a number of reasons, including the predominant matriarch Northeastern society. It’s mainly because the tribal societies are matriarchal, and gender equality stems from this. You can say that in Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, there is hardly any concept of a dowry system.
The emphasis on the matriarch societal factor echoed in the voice of Meitei Manipuri student Chinglen Khumukcham as well. Chinglen, a convener of the Delhi-based North-East Forum for International Solidarity, said, “Dowry deaths are rare because in our tradition women are not looked down upon. We have community gatherings on numerous occasions, almost every day, which are largely preside over by women. So the status and roles of women in our society are entirely different from the other parts of India.” Chinglen, however, expressed apprehension that dowry nowadays is not entirely an unknown practice in North East, particularly in Manipur. “Gradually the dowry system is taking over the North-eastern traditions. People are becoming greedy,” said concerned Chinglen.
States that have maximum Dowry Deaths
Uttar Pradesh has been at the top of the list, which has had maximum dowry death for the past two years. It recorded 2,469 incidents of dowry deaths in 2014 and 2,335 incidents in 2013. In both years, 2013 and 2014, Bihar followed Uttar Pradesh in dowry deaths with 1,373 cases in 2014 and 1,182 cases in 2013, with an increase of 1.63 percent. Madhya Pradesh remained at the third position continuously for two years in terms of maximum dowry deaths with 733 incidents in 2014 and 776 incidents in 2013. West Bengal was at the fourth position in dowry deaths in 2014, while it was at the fifth position in 2013. Odisha was in the fifth position recording 441 incidents in 2014.
Many educated families practice it, willingly or unwillingly, to avoid criticism for not following the customs. A woman’s marriage has a paramount of importance in Indian families. A woman’s marriage is only secured when she has a good amount of dowry on her. The dowry system is widely prevalent in rural as well as urban India, although the law makes it illegal, it still continues nevertheless. Marriage is no longer about two individuals wanting to spend their lives together, but about the monetary gain that a family receives.
In conclusion, the harsh reality of dowry still haunts the lives of the women who are moving ahead towards a respectable, empowered, and independent future. This system is the major reason why daughters are thought of as a burden for the families. Consequently, families either keep the wealth aside for the daughter’s dowry rather than investing in her education or kill her before birth to get rid of the burden forever. Above all until society starts making changes in these customs, nothing will change.