We would like to think that as civilization progress, we also evolve as better humans. But guess what, a human’s greed knows no bounds. In Indian society (and some other South Asian countries), the practice of giving and taking dowry still exists.
A dowry is a transfer of parental property, gifts, property or money upon the marriage of a daughter. Dowry contrasts with the related concepts of bride price and dower.
While bride price or bride service is a payment by the groom, or his family, to the bride, or her family, dowry is the wealth transferred from the bride, or her family, to the groom, or his family. Similarly, dower is the property settled on the bride herself, by the groom at the time of marriage, and which remains under her ownership and control.Source
Dowry custom has existed since ages. Dowries continue to be expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal in some parts of the world, mainly in parts of Asia, Northern Africa especially in cultures that are strongly patrilineal. Dowries have long histories in Europe, South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, defines dowry as the giving away of any property or “valuable security” by people “directly or indirectly” involved in a marriage or “by parents of either party” in connection to the alliance. This, however, does not include dower or mahr in which case the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies to the people involved.
One would think that this concept would have no place in a time and age where we are so advanced with technology and scientific developments and where the gender divide is seen narrowing more and more with the rise of female literacy and education. This burden of dowry accumulation starts right from the birth of a girl child and is also the foremost reason for female infanticide. Parents spend all their life accumulating wealth, living a simple life, just so they can see off their daughter married happily to a family, whom they literally bribe with all their wealth to accept their daughter. It’s like buying a groom, only that sometimes the payment doesn’t stop with one time.
However, patriarchy doesn’t seem to end now or in near future, because not just the practice of dowry during weddings but also the harassment of a woman post marriage by the in-laws do not seem to die. We only hear more and more deaths instead of dowry demands being the issue. Harassment and deaths over dowry cut across class, financial, educational, and religious barriers. Cases of suicides and women being burnt or killed for this social menace are still making headlines.
In 2019, reported dowry death cases in India amounted to more than 7.1 thousand. This was a gradual decrease from 2014, in which this number was approximately 8.5 thousand.Source
With the statistics reporting one dowry death every hour, police point out that the nature of cases has become more disturbing and serious, often involving attacks on women who are victimized by the husband or the in-laws resulting in dowry deaths or suicides.
February alone two cases came to light because of the nature of deaths involved- suicide.
Rashika Agarwal, 25, fell to her death at her in-laws’ place in a posh locality in Kolkata. Her family alleged that she was tortured by her husband and others, and that they had given Rs 7 crore as dowry.
Ayesha Banu, 24, a resident of Ahmedabad, recorded a video message before she jumped into the Sabarmati river and ended her life. Ayesha said she was facing harassment for dowry from her husband.
If you know someone who is giving or taking dowry or wants to report any harassment or cases, please approach the police. There are bodies like National Commission for Women who can be contacted for help.