Dowry – The Number One Killer Of Women In India

Dowry is violence. There is a very good reason it is declared a crime. Essentially, dowry is a business deal around the marriage of two individuals. It is a widespread practice, and feared so much by parents of girls, that girls spend entire lives restricted until marriage in order to avoid anything driving the price still higher.

People kill their daughters because they don’t want or are not able to accept the expense of her wedding years into the future. From female foeticide, to infant killings, to dowry deaths. We have managed to bring ourselves to a place where getting a girl to marry is difficult, because there aren’t enough girls – plain and simple. This is a view society understands, while it fails to see the massive numbers of deaths that lead to it. Women are a commodity. And the only commodity people pay to be rid of – whether it is illegal abortion costs or dowry.

But deaths are just one part of it. Many would say deaths are actually easier than living. When you make a business deal around a relationship, people fail to see that all business deals have a shelf life. Post that, it is dissatisfaction, and the “customer support” happens to be the woman – who is actually expected to attend to complaints about not enough money being paid to accept her.

When a price is attached to a woman, unless the people are very rich, running out of money is a guarantee for the woman to come under pressure. Running out of money is a far more common reality than having enough money.

But it is the girl’s share, stree dhan, etc.

If it is the girl’s share, why is it given as a price of getting rid of her? Why is it not given to the girl when she goes to college, for example? Or when the parents die? What is the big deal about giving it at the time of marriage, and to people other than her?

But parents do it voluntarily / Parents are proud of their ability to provide / etc

Honor killing murders are also voluntary and done with pride. That is no measure of acceptability. The simple fact of the matter is that the parents will not be living with the consequences of the expectations they trigger.

If someone gives dowry with his will what’s the harm?

Erm… dead daughter is a distinct possibility. Not harmful enough? Deprivation of the daughter’s rights. If her share of inheritance goes to her in-laws, then what does she get? Or should she in turn kill off girls and produce boys so that she can earn from their marriages?

Many brides demand dowry from their parents.

Irrelevant. It isn’t a question of who initiates it. It is wrong. Brides are led to believe that it is their share of the property – their demand isn’t for the money to go out of their control, but to get their rightful share. However, the reality of dowry is never that. I had recently tweeted a series of tweets with the story of a girl who was told all her life by her father that she would get her share of the property when she married as her dowry.

When she got engaged, the dowry was fixed between the parents, and it wasn’t exactly the fraction of what her share would be if equally divided. On one of the “dates” she happened to mention this to her would be husband, thinking of him as her partner, and thus planning along with him for a more advantageous start of a married life, and he encouraged her to ask her parents for more dowry. Her brothers didn’t like it, because they saw it as dividing the parent’s property while they were still alive, but the parents agreed. They had planned to give her the balance later anyway. She saw nothing wrong with that, because all her life she had been taught that it was hers for this exact time.

Within a few days after her marriage, she realized that she had no clue where the money actually was. So she asked. Her husband had invested it in his name. The gold that had come with her was in the “family locker” under the mother-in-law’s control. She was even made to give the wedding jewellery she had worn, once she took it off in favor of more ordinary stuff. Two days later, the husband landed up home drunk, smelling of perfume. One week later, she knew that he was a regular drinker and into prostitutes and that her mother-in-law had got him married hoping that that would make him better.

Angry, she demanded that he behave. He told her to leave if she didn’t like it. At least the good part is that she didn’t commit suicide or continue to live there. She returned to her parents. Heard a lot of anger and taunts from her brothers, even though her parents accepted her back “shame” and all. Eventually she sued her in-laws and got her stuff back.

Even if the girl didn’t get abused, and indeed lived happily ever after, it was still a crime.

But… the girl’s father offered

It does not matter. A reader on this blog has lost a cousin to dowry murder – her parents had voluntarily offered dowry. The point here isn’t who initiates it. When your daughter will not get married without dowry, some parents will offer money rather than see her single for life. They are criminals too.

Often, parents will offer money to compensate for “defects” in the girl. A limp, scarring from pimples, bad figure, generally less than beautiful, uneducated/without job…. all these can drive up dowry prices or make a girl difficult to marry without paying. The question isn’t if the parent voluntarily offered it, but that the deal happened. Money changed hands in order for a girl to be accepted into a new home.

But many women are happy

Not true. About a third of all women have suffered from domestic abuse. Considerably more in cultures where dowry, honor killing, and such practices can be used to victimize with impunity. Dowry turns the woman into a liability. Liabilities are the trouble, aren’t they? The minute there is frustration, the default assumption is that the liability needs to do more to create happiness. There is your happy family formula. It is human psychology.

But I think as long as there is no violence, it is fine

By the time there is violence, it is too late to change your mind. No person enters a marriage anticipating abuse. Yet, it is so hideously common. There is a lesson there, if you are willing to let go of the sense of entitlement.

The money shouldn’t be given to in-laws, but only to the husband. It the couple’s marriage, not the in-laws

On the surface, this would seem like a big contribution to an equal marriage, but it isn’t unless the person recommends the husband’s inheritance be put in the wife’s name. Why should the wife’s inheritance be for them both, but not the husband’s? There lies the trap. At the end of the day, it is a deprivation of the woman and her loss of control over her own destiny, because, losing her money, she has no means to support herself if she needs to escape from possible abuse.

It is ok to give dowry if the wife isn’t earning

Will it be refunded if the husband turns out to be a good for nothing? A marriage is a contract between two people to together manage their lives. A housewife isn’t doing “nothing”. She is taking care of the home for both. It is fair to expect the husband to provide for both instead of being sponsored. If money is provided to compensate for a non-earning daughter, fully expect to provide her husband a salary for life, or sorrow when the money runs out.

Only a small percentage of women are victims of dowry murders

It may seem to look at how widespread dowry system is, and then think that the number of deaths is comparatively small, but it is worthwhile interviewing people sentenced for female foeticide and infanticide to see how large a motivator dowry is. Even before it is given. The expectation that that expense will happen is enough to kill off girls. Those “defending” the dowry system when “no harm is done” may want to consider what the social cost is of allowing dowry to exist at all.

There is a strong corelation between dowry and domestic abuse. A social worker once told me, she has yet to see a dowry marriage not resulting in abuse – that strong – even if she were wrong, it can’t be a percentage easy to ignore. Too strong to be shrugged away as an exception. And the odds are massive. Women are steadily dying out.

Under these odds, to ignore the biggest factor in making women a liability and making them vulnerable to abuse or to say that dowry is fine if no harm is done is the equivalent of saying that there is no harm if people walk in minefields as long as they don’t die. In other words, it is a monstrous disregard for the cost of life and well being of women out of a misguided sense of entitlement. The acceptance for the practice forces her to walk it and pray for the best. This, if done even to our soldiers – forget civilians – would result in massive outrage from the very people who are fine asking women to bear hideous odds.

But I want to give my daughter her right, and after marriage is the time when money is needed

So put it in her name in her bank account. There is absolutely no need to even inform the in-laws of the amount. She can choose to tell or not at her discretion. Better still, give it before or much after her marriage rather than at the same time, so that it doesn’t feel like an immediate source of funds to sponsor her home. Never hesitate to inquire after the condition of her investments or valuables (even her own investments from her own earnings – often overlooked). Money is usually the first to be eroded in an abusive environment. Apart from protecting her interests, you may save her life.

I will be following this with a post on ideas to combat dowry practice.

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About the Author

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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