Dowry in India
Dowry is another social evil which is affecting Indian society like a disease and there seems to be no solution or cure to this. In fact, dowry is a type of violence committed against women. This is a specific crime committed only against married women.
What is Dowry?
In simple terms dowry can be understood as a demand for money or valuables by the family of the groom from the family of the bride in lieu of their marriage. It is in a sense compensation or value being demanded by the groom’s family for the groom. In all possibility dowry system of harassing women is peculiar to Indian society only. Dowry is another dimension of gender inequality being practiced in our country.
In essence the system is based on the presumption that males are superior and for maintenance of the girl in her in-laws home she must bring a certain amount of money or property.
The system of dowry has become part and parcel of our collective conscience and has been accepted by the society as a whole. In a way it has become a customary rule for the society which is to be followed by everyone. The situation is such that if someone does not take dowry, people start questioning him and try to look down upon him.
Higher the income of groom or higher the status of his family, higher the amount of dowry is demanded. Caste also plays a role in this. Usually, higher the caste, higher the dowry has been the concept. But in recent times, dowry system has become an all pervasive exploitative system and it is only the economic position of groom’s family which is the deciding factor in demanding dowry.
Origin of Dowry
The origin of this social ill can be traced back to the custom or tradition of giving gifts to brides in marriage and this system of gifts was a voluntary system which had its sanction in our religious beliefs that the father of a girl has a duty to give a part of his property to his daughter in her marriage as after marriage she would be going to another home and the son would be getting the rest of the property of the father. So it was considered as a moral duty of father to gift a portion of his earnings or property to his daughter also.
But in earlier times this system was not an exploitative system where any specific demands would be made by the family of bride-groom, it was a voluntary system and family of bride would make gifts according to their capacity.
But in course of time the system of making gifts got converted and changed into an exploitative system of compulsory demands made by the family of groom. And the system took the shape of dowry system. As a societal evil it not only degrades the institution of marriage but also violates and diminishes the dignity of the women.
Dowry Death or Bride Burning
Related to the system of dowry and as an outcome of it is the inhuman practice of Dowry death or bride-burning. Each year thousands of young brides are burnt or killed by their in-laws because they fail to fulfill their ever-increasing demand of money or property.
Records show that there is an alarming increase in cases relating to harassment, torture, abetted suicides and dowry deaths of young brides. Only in 2010, more than 9,000 dowry related deaths have been reported which shows the level of violence being faced by the young brides. These deaths are, in reality, cold blood murders where an innocent girl gets killed only because could not bring the money or property demanded by her own husband and his relatives.
The most disturbing and unfortunate fact in such cases is that in most cases it is the women who plays the dominating role in said crimes and men in the family either act as passive supporters or active participants. And especially husbands have no regards of their matrimonial obligations of protecting and safeguarding their wives.
Dowry Prohibition Act
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1986 makes both giving and demanding of dowry a punishable offence. But despite the Act, dowry system is continuing unabated and in fact it’s increasing by the day.
The humiliation and hardship which the family of the bride has to face is enormous. And this results into and becomes one of the motivations for other social evils such as Female Infanticide and sex-selective abortions. For the same reason female child is always discriminated against in households because they are considered as burdens on the family and to arrange dowry for her marriage the family do not think it fit to spent money on her education or food.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1986 failed to check the evils of dowry system and it also lacked in providing solutions to the ever increasing menace of dowry deaths. So, the Parliament thought it fit to bring a specific provision to deal with the said crime of bride burning. Thus, through an Amendment, a new section i.e. Section 304-B was inserted in the IPC which creates a new offence in the name of ‘dowry death’. The provision in detail provides ingredients which are to be looked into in case of death of a married woman and if those ingredients are there such death would be considered as dowry death. As per the provision, maximum punishment of life imprisonment has been provided for dowry death to the husband or any relative of husband.
Though the said provision is there and cases are being reported regularly but the rate of commission of crime of dowry death is not lessening. Apart from death, various other forms of harassment, exploitation and cruelties are being performed on hapless married women.
Only very few such crimes are being reported because of the societal pressure and fear of break-down of marriage. Also, police authorities are not registering FIRs in dowry related cases due to various obvious reasons such as bribery or pressure from bridegroom’s side.
But above all, it’s the economic dependence and low level of education among women which are the real reasons for women being not able to lodge complaints in dowry or harassment cases. And such married women are bound to bear constant harassment for dowry and suffer in misery with no ray of hope.
Role of New Generation in Eliminating Dowry System
The real problem lies with the society as a whole which directly or indirectly supports and encourages the system of dowry. And there seems to be no ray of hope that the situation would improve in near future. Materialism is the main driving force for the people and in search of the modern day life style and comfort; people are willing to go to any extent, even to burn their own wives or daughter-in-laws.
May be the only hope lies in new generation of young boys and girls who are educated and of modern thoughts. They should come out in open and fight against this social evil and also starts protesting within their own families, if any such incident happens there.
Also, young brides should start protesting if any dowry demands are made by their in-laws and immediately make a complaint to police or proper authorities; they must stop being a victim and start to think themselves empowered as laws are there to protect them and empower them.
Otherwise, legal provisions shall remain there only in statute books with no actual effects in reality.