Does calling dowry 'a gift' make it okay?
Mannat Dutt, Writer
In a country like India, where a girl is given the status of Goddess Laxmi of the house, she is often referred to as 'paraya dhan' who has to get married one day. According to the societal mindset, a father's sacred desire is to get his daughter married. For this occasion, he starts saving money from the day she is born and spends his life's earnings on her wedding. One might assume that these instances only occur in rural India, but they are equally implicit to urban India as well. One might also assume that literacy and modernisation might have changed the urban scenario. While this is partly true, dowry is deep-rooted in Indian cultural traditions, which continue to remain the same. We think that we have embraced modernity but who would’ve thought that dowry would evolve to become invisible to the naked eye?
The narrative is twisted and evolved where dowry isn't asked for out loud, but society's implicit ideas make it exist.
Marriage and dowry in rural India continue to exist hand in hand, where people don’t shy away from asking for it. A preconceived notion of the bride's family leads to them hosting the entire wedding and giving dowry in cash or other forms of gifts that are said to be provided for the bride's well-being and security after marriage. Although the urban Indian population which includes the literate upper middle class and higher class families, tries to be progressive, the evil of dowry persists. The narrative is twisted and evolved where dowry isn't asked for out loud, but society's implicit ideas make it exist.
In urban India, the concept of dowry has been sugarcoated and called 'gifts'. These precious gifts are mostly given by the bride's family as a token of love. These usually come in the form of a washing machine, television, property, car or even something like the attire for the groom and his family. According to a report published by India Times, 'Under the pretext of gifts, the groom is given a gold chain, a gold bangle, his mother given jewellery, his sisters and other relatives some other 'gifts.' There is an exchange of cash too and not the usual 101 shagun ke paise, this one involves a lot more zeroes.' The big fat Indian wedding has modernised its narrative, for instance, a wedding can have 300 guests, where both families are paying for all ceremonies equally, but the guests' ratio is 1: 3. The groom's side tends to have more guests, and this isn’t perceived as a wrong thing at all. The weddings might have changed their narrative, but old traditions die hard.
There are traditions like milni or shagun where the bride's family has to provide tasteful gifts to the groom's family, which are meant to be given with emotions but should match certain standards. There exists a weightage of what the bride's family has given to the groom, which in most cases decides the future of the bride in her in-laws’ house. Marriage in India is a bond of two people and a union of two families, but the bride's family tends to be one step behind the groom's because of most families' social conditioning. Even if we consider the changing time, marriage has become a business deal between families, disguised as a beautiful affair to outsiders.
Dowry taking Lives
The scenario might be based on upper-middle-class families and other well-off families who can afford it, but the people in rural India continue with the old tradition of dowry. Amidst the wedding gifts, one excludes the situation of the girl who is sent as a part of the business deal.' According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) 2016 report, the country witnessed 1,10,378 cases of crimes against women due to cruelty by the husband and relatives, with dowry being one of the most significant reasons. 1.8% of these deaths took place because of dowry issues. While emphasising urban India or the metropolitan cities of India, 53 women died due to dowry in Bengaluru in 2018, along with seven deaths in Chennai, 17 in Hyderabad and 137 in Delhi. In 2020, Delhi recorded 115 dowry deaths and 3,697 cases of cruelty by husband or relatives. All of this is often ignored by the society under the pretence of cultural traditions or so-called gifts.
Section 2 of the High Court's dowry prohibition act of 1961, defines any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly, as dowry. Despite the efforts of the law, very few cases actually get reported and may women end up suffering. The truth of the matter is that greed can never be satisfied. There have been instances where women have committed suicide within a few days of marriage due to dissatisfaction with their in-laws. Unfortunately, dowry is deeply rooted in the customs and traditions of Indian culture. Nowadays, dowry isn't asked for but implied in rituals such as the jewellery the bride gets from her parents, the upper hand given to the groom's family etc. The survival of this heinous tradition is on us and the ignorance of the families that continues to exist.
Breaking the Norms
There is hope for change as matrimonial websites have started promoting ‘no dowry’ marriages. A website called NoDowryShaadi (NDS) is a marriage-based introduction service. People who are against the dowry system can sign up on their new websites and support NDS. Likewise, shaadi.com, a renowned matrimonial website, was praised for launching campaigns to create awareness against dowry. In 2012, they launched a game 'Angry Brides,' which effectively helped generate awareness of dowry's evils. The game involves grooms with a heavy dowry price tag. The players have to strike the dodging grooms with a weapon of choice. Each hit decreases the price of the groom & adds that money to the player's Anti-Dowry fund, which players can choose to publish on their wall or tweet to their timeline. Through this campaign, shaadi.com received overwhelming support from over 600,000 people and leading media channels across 35 countries. In 2015, they made use of a 'dowry calculator' for highlighting the social evil. The dowry calculator conveys a message to stop dowry in marriages by showing the number of dowry deaths in India. As technology takes over the world, we hope these campaigns succeed in changing the mindsets of people too.