“Your elder cousin is an Army Officer. He will have a huge amount of money when he gets married,” Arshad Ali, my uncle, opined while we were resting, having lunch at our elder stepsister’s marriage. I was thinking of how mean-minded he was, and the same for all my family members. Because it is, expecting a “handsome amount of dowry” from the parents of the bride is very a shameful act and practice.
Dowry means gifts in the shape of money, ornaments, luxurious goods, etc. to be given to the bridegroom by the parents of the bride. Marriage means a union of two opposite sexes, a union of two unknown families. Now, sacrificing her family, an unknown girl enters a new family, a family full of strange people. Is her sacrifice not great enough? Why can we not marry a girl perceiving her sacrifices only?
As an act, dowry has always been a weapon for wealthy parents and a cause for inferiority and frustration both for the parents who are weak economically and the ones with the responsibility of marriage. As is the trend and necessary, when her friends from wealthy families get married giving huge amounts of money to the bridegroom, she starts thinking of her family’s economic problems which may lead to stress.
If we take a look at history, in India, there was a time when worthiness of a woman was scrutinised on how much money she would bring to her in-laws’ house. And burdened with this insult, she had to get ready, with tears in her eyes at the thought of her poor bankrupt father. In such a situation, how can it be possible for the girl to have respect and honour for her new family? How can they expect it?
Parents start planning for the future as soon as a girl child is born. They start saving money for her marriage too. And if the money does not meet expectation, the girl in her in-laws’ house gets beaten and tortured. Some families go beyond the limits and kill her for not bringing enough money, or they make a way that leads to her death.
How heartless and mean-minded they are. They don’t think twice before taking a life for a monetary cause. And if the poor parents are not able to satisfy his claims by instalments, the rule is that the daughter must go back to her own house. And the person whom she was married to can marry another woman and no one can utter a single word against him. Why do the bridegroom and his family need money? Is it not shameful to lie to her, torture her?
The Hindu Code Bill was passed in Lok Sabha in 1956. It deals with marriage, divorce, the succession of daughters property, maintenance, adoption and guardianship. It included prohibitions on polygamy too. But it did not say anything about dowry. 5 years later in 1961, The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in Lok Sabha by the Congress Government.
Many meetings were held and signatures were collected during the debate on Anti-Dowry Law. The orthodox members fought tightly against the Bill. There was a difference of opinion among the members of the Congress Government. Women’s organisations started campaigns in favour of the Bill. But many housewives in towns and villages spoke against the Bill out of fear of not being able to get their daughters married. Among the ordinary people the Bill was unable to spread its impact rigidly. Parents did not dare to refuse to pay dowry.
The only way to get rid of this degrading custom lies in the hands of women. As long as they do not unite against dowry this practice will not diminish. Those ignominious boons who want to thrive on dowry can be brought to their senses if the brides force them to change their ways (as we cannot imagine a world without a woman). If women themselves do not stand up against such men and families, neither the society nor government can protect their honour or their lives. Hence the movement against dowry must be an essential item on the agenda of all women’s organisations.
Yes, marriage must be reformed. Conditions of marriage must be rearranged. Dowry, a barbaric act must be thwarted.