She comes to light up your home, not add to your wealth
Dowry, popularly referred to as ‘dahej’ in India, is a payment of cash or gifts from the bride’s family to the bridegroom upon marriage. Though it has been an ancient custom prevalent in India as well as in certain other countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Vietnam etc., in recent decades, it has come to acquire a fearful connotation. This is not only because the expected value of dowry has risen over the years, but also because this practice has led to a sharp increase in “dowry deaths” since the 1980s. Statistics in India itself bears a testimony to the astonishing number of brides that are murdered every year by her husband and/or in-laws if they are unhappy with her.
Women’s rights groups describe it as a problem that typically ails the emergent urban middle class, that aspires for greater material prosperity and even views the wife as a means of obtaining money and material goods in the name of dowry. Come to think of it, it not only puts great financial strain on the bride’s family, but has also been cited as one of the reasons for families favoring the birth of sons over daughters. This is turn has distorted the sex ratio in India, a major social ill that has crept in Indian society.
According to a survey carried out by India Today, over 90% of government servants demand and get dowry in marriage. There are also different dowry-rates according to the posts held by the prospective bridegrooms, and more often than not, these are sky-high! In 2010, 8,391 dowry deaths were reported in India, spreading from Delhi to other regions as well. Though once a Hindu phenomenon, this phenomenon has now spread to Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities as well.
Payment of dowry is now prohibited under The 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act in Indian civil law and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498a of the Indian Penal Code. However, it is a sad fact, that despite such legislative and judiciary measures, it still continues to exist as a common illegal practice. Other laws introduced to eradicate this evil include the Dowry and Bridal Gifts Restrictions Rules, 1976, and the Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of Lists of Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules, 1985. There are also many organizations and NGOs that are actively at work to address this issue. The International Society Against Dowry and Bride-Burning in India was formed and incorporated in 1993, and in February 1995, the Society received tax-exemption status from the Government. Organizations such as the All India Democratic Women’s Association, All India Women’s Conference, Young Women’s Christian Association and Guild of Service have always been at work to plug the loopholes and strengthen the implementation of the anti-dowry laws.
However, “dowry’ is defined as a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage. Those that are willingly given are not considered dowry, and are legal. Be aware that asking or giving of dowry is a punishable offence by an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of up to Rs.15,000 or the amount of dowry, whichever is higher and imprisonment up to five years.
Women need to have a thorough understanding of such laws, so as to prevent herself and her family from being unjustly exploited. She should keep a track of the women’s organizations and other similar bodies working for such causes in order to demand justice. Inadequate knowledge of the various laws and resignation to such unfair acts will only push her into torture and oppression.
Not only should women heed these laws, but men who want to ask for dowry should be made aware of them too so that they realise that a wife is not an easy way to expand their wealth.