We have laws against dowry. The laws are not against dowry deaths and abuse alone, but the practice of dowry is illegal according to THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961. (Act No. 28 of 1961). Our policing of this is non-existent. It seems as though the law enforcement is apologetic and hesitant to enter people's personal space to enforce law. Personal space of course being defined as whatever people choose to define it, including illegal practices.
As though "allowing" giving and taking dowry to happen is not a crime unless "crime" is committed. Conveniently forgetting that Dowry IS crime. Our police force is reactive rather than proactive, and there needs to be massive reform in terms of applying the writ of the law without waiting for complaint or worse, outrage after dowry deaths claim lives.
As a result, our main contact with dowry as a practice is through its victims. Dead women. Women in hospital. That is too little, too late. Not to mention an increasingly influential if illogical view that complaints of dowry and domestic abuse are just ways women victimize their in-laws out of greed.
Sure killers of women should be punished, but that is the punishment for murder. Where is the enforcing of the Dowry Prohibition Act unless a complaint is made?
- If dowry happens off the public domain, then informers need to be cultivated among those where it is prevalent. Approach matrimonial services, recruit informers conduct stings and put people behind bars for accepting dowry WITHOUT the marriage happening and women and their reputations being hostage to retribution and thus silent. THAT will give any anti-dowry movement teeth.
- Spend some money on public service ads - make heroes out of people whistle blowing dowry. Trigger more such heroes in society.
- Publicize a helpline number for dowry people can call if they come to know of any wedding or domestic situation involving dowry.
- Ask doctors to alert police about suspected mistreatment of women - regardless of whether the woman wants to complain or not. Even if every case cannot be investigated without specific details about abuse, enough alerts about a certain family should automatically trigger an investigation - possibly in collaboration with social workers. This will also help with domestic abuse.
- Condemnation of dowry by religious leaders: Encourage religious leaders to openly condemn the practice of dowry and educate their followers.
- Stop treating dowry and the abuse around it as a multiple choice answer. It is illegal. Period. If you see it happening, you don't need a victim's permission to tell the cops. Nor do cops need a victim's consent to investigate a crime. In fact, not having the victim's consent will keep her safer if she is not the one getting the family in trouble, and get the family cautious knowing that others have noticed and that they are under investigation.
- Get into the space of the dowry doers, so that that space is no longer safe for them to operate in. THAT is how this is going to stop - not by providing a safe zone of allowed crimes and only acting when any spill over happens.
- Drugs happen off public areas too. How do police combat drug trafficking? Same logic. Cultivate informers, infiltrate, set up stings, catch red handed, put behind bars. This MUST be done, or we might as well scrap THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961, because abuse, injury and murder are covered by other regular laws too.
- And other organizations or individuals can do it too. Inform your local police station that you will be pretending to accept/give dowry, and send them info on when they can do a sting. This kind of thinking should be encouraged in colleges.
- There were some who called it entrapment. So? Dowry is still a crime. Do we call drug busts invalid because the undercover cop pretended to strike a deal? What kind of garbage logic is this?
- Publicly show on national television and publicize highly a dowry bust. Let people know that the person they are making a dowry deal with could be setting them up for prison and there is no way of knowing if that person, or anyone who knows - relatives, friends, siblings.... could inform by simply calling the number you see everyday on TV. Make it known that that way lies destination prison. Highlight it. THAT is the best deterrent you will ever be able to create.
- Be okay with being wrong - in investigating someone who isn't giving or taking dowry. That is the whole idea of investigation - finding out.
- Make post mortems of women dead within 7 years of marriage mandatory. They are required by law. Enforce it. There should be an additional law punishing families that cremate or otherwise dispose the body before a post mortem can be conducted. Remember Naina Singh? It isn't such a rare incident. ENFORCE it.
- Arrest cops who shield dowry crimes in India by preventing investigations as party to the crimes.
- Many politicians are among those shielding and committing gender crimes. Allegations and suspicious coincidences must be immediately investigated. Any confirmed links should automatically disqualify that person for political space. No matter what their role or position.
This should do the trick. We have the laws. Now we need to get serious about them.
And then back it up with public service messages and in depth public debates around the practice of dowry. Blow the shroud of silence to bits and talk about this openly and take on the challenge.
Blow this practice of dowry out of the water. Finish it comprehensively. It can be done. Let us do it.