Imagine the following scenario:
Daughter: “Mumma, why do we have to pay to get married to someone? Am I being sold?”
The daughter innocently asks her mother after discovering the term ‘dowry’ for the first time in her social science textbook. In response, the mother is silent and doesn’t utter a word as she recollects her wedding day and how she was married to her husband for a price.
Though Indian society would like to be called modern, most of us are shushed when we talk about being married to someone for a price– or as is known in ‘modern’ parlance, being married to a special someone after giving them extravagant gifts; what are women considered to be, Santa Claus?
Originally, dowry was a way for the family of the bride to give the groom or his family cash or assets as financial security for their daughter, in case of the groom’s death or desertion. Unfortunately, over the years, it has turned marriage into a money-making business. Dowry transformed from being a blessing for brides by providing them an insurance of sorts to being the biggest social evil as they are now exploited for money.
Though dowry is illegal, whether or not this has affected its practice in the country is questionable; the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, prohibits any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the other party in a marriage, but seems to be effective only on paper. This is gaged from the statistics that show that these laws have have failed to avoid or reduce the dowry harassment cases and death rates. The most excrescent act of this evil is perhaps ‘bride burning’, wherein the bride is burnt by the groom or his family and smartly reported by them as a kitchen accident or a suicide attempt, simply because they aren’t satisfied with the amount they have made from the marriage. As per the latest report, 8172 dowry death cases were registered in India in 2008. These deep rooted prejudices and practices against women show how they are still considered to be the inferior part of society.
This is not to say that anti-dowry laws are old and stagnant, as they have seen several amendments over time to prevent misuse. For instance, it was realised that all allegations against a groom and their family may not be true, and an amendment was issued to ensure gender justice. Furthermore, these laws have at least been useful in protecting women from being harassed and being used blatantly as commodities rather than human beings.
In the 21st century, on one hand, due to education and awareness, some families and grooms understand the situation of women and do not consider them or treat them as ‘salable’ commodities. On the other, patriarchal grooms and families who need the money to satisfy their greed have managed to present dowry in new packaging: as ‘gifts’ for the wellbeing of the newly wed couple to be given by the bride’s family, to ensure a happy married, and abuse-free life. It is pitiful to note how marriage, a beautiful bond created between two individuals, is treated as a business deal and on how money plays such a key role in the beginning of the relationship itself. They say marriages are made in heaven, but on observation of the dark corners of Indian society, it seems they are made through successful business transactions.
Cash or jewelery, car or a flat: dowry is not a gift. Calling it a gift is a subtle way to make it seem more like an insurance policy than anything else. It’s high time that we reflect on our behaviour, and stopped expecting or rather focusing on free ‘gifts’ and started focusing on the actual well being of the couple.
Picture Credits:Google-Media India Group