Dowry Deaths In India: The Story Of The Powerless

Posted on March 15, 2011 in Society


By Amritapa Basu:

Bride goes missing — A case was filed wherein the bride filed a complaint with the police against her in-laws, of torture for more dowry. After many pleadings, the in-laws were released from custody but, shockingly, the bride was missing from the next day. No clue has been found till now about her whereabouts. Police has refused to comment on the issue…

Sadly, in an age where technology is developing at such a fast pace and impossible dreams are becoming a reality of our daily life, we still come across such news at some corner of the newspaper. A Times of India report on 21 February, 2011 reads, “Recently, 28-year-old R Sushila was admitted to the burns ward of the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMCH), Chennai after she tried to immolate herself. When she died a week later with 90% burns, it was recorded as a suicide. However, nurses said she had told them she committed suicide unable to bear the pressure and harassment from her husband and in-laws for dowry.” “We get around eight burns cases everyday and of those five are women and they are mostly reported as cases of accidents or suicide.

It is only when we talk to the women that we realise these are cases of dowry harrassment by the husband and the relatives,” said Dr V Jayaraman, head of the burns ward, KMCH. A majority of these deaths, nurses say, are recorded as suicides by the husband and his relatives and in some cases by the woman herself. As per a TIME magazine report, dowry deaths in India have gone up 15-fold from 400 cases in 1980s to 5,800 in 1990s. National Crime Bureau of the Government of India reported 6,000 dowry related deaths in 1995. These are official figures, reality must be petrifying. Though The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted way back in 1961, the rising figures tell us an absolute different story. More often than not, dowry deaths are registered as suicides or accidents. Victims are doused in fire and set ablaze by the in-laws and in case some foul is detected, the case immediately becomes a suicide-the bride could not adjust in the new family, and so she committed suicide.

In India, ancient texts describe women as ‘Power’ which rules over God’s creation. But current scenario shows a contrast picture. Women have never been fortunate enough to hold that position. Marriage plays a significant role in making or marring a woman’s fortune. Not all many but many Indian women fall prey to the monster of dowry. Earlier the dowry system was prevalent only in the upper classes who considered it an ill-omen to send their daughter said to be the Goddess of Wealth according to Indian mythology, empty-handed to her in-laws house. Therefore, they gave her the articles required for daily household. Daughter’s share of her father’s property was also sent as ‘gift’. With the passage of time, the significance and purpose of dowry changed and it has become a social menace that ails the society now. Today a cultural idea has become a corrupted one and a blessing has changed into a curse. One of the main reasons is the growing greed of money, power and status. They dream of a luxurious living out of the money that the bride brings in as dowry. Thus, it is seen that most of the victims belong to middle class or lower strata of the society. Inability to bring in more dowry often result in the brutal murder of the bride herself. Burning her alive or torturing her to such a severe extent that she commits suicide as a panacea to all her sufferings.

The sacred union called marriage has been reduced to mere financial transaction. The huge dowry demands have led to female infanticide and selective abortions. It was heart-wrenching to see a selective abortion advertisement which read as — ‘Spend five thousand now to save five lakhs later.’ The only way to overcome the problem of dowry is by educating girls and making them independent. According to the statistics, nearly 40% of women are married before the age of 18 and almost 63% women are illiterate in rural areas.

Social awareness programs can also prove to be useful. Bridegrooms must not ask for dowry and bride must make a firm decision to say a strict ‘no’ to families which ask for dowry. The likes of Kanchan, residing in the outskirts of Lucknow, who refused to go ahead with her marriage and asked the guests to leave her place and later lodged a dowry demand complaint, are very few. These may be insignificant beside huge statistics data but definitely worth applauding and stand to be examples for others. High dowry demands have sparked off numerous social and psychological problems such as female suppression, indebtedness and suicides. It is a shame for India that the father of the daughter has to bribe the bridegroom’s family to take off the ‘burden’. Dowry is a stumbling block for our developing country. When India is marching ahead aiming at social equality and improvement, women empowerment, dowry is definitely a curse.

Irony lies in the fact that many international peace pacts are being signed when numerous domestic violence cases are taking place within the four walls of the house.