“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Roshan Ara sees no redeeming social value in an antiquated custom called dowry

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 45, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women’s Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. work underway titled ‘Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir.’ She is presently a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women’s Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

A Menace Called Dowry

Kashmir as the land of Sufis and Saints has remained mostly free from many social evils in the past. No doubt such evils were taking place in other societies of the world where it was almost institutionalized as it was a part of their custom and culture. Our society inherited this menace from those societies and slowly started to welcome such culture which has now taken the shape of a big social evil. Dowry is one of such social evils which is like a dreadful dragon which brings under its clutches the rich as well as the poor. It has consumed the lives of so many women yet its hunger has not gone. Dowry is a blot on the modern civilization and it is responsible for social and economic backwardness of the people. The word `dowry’ is termed as anything of value, the gifts which a bride gets along with her at the time of marriage to her husbands home. Thus dowry is a universal phenomenon and a generally accepted view. It crosses all borders, religions, colors and castes and travels free. Its roots are so deep that it needs lot of efforts to up-root it.

The daughters belonging to other communities were not entitled to any share of the property of their fathers and they were given some valuable gifts at the time of their marriage to establish their new homes and start a new life. Since according to Islamic law, daughters are entitled to a due share in the property of their parents they are not supposed to take any valuable gift to their husband’s home at the time of marriage. As against this, it is obligatory for the bride groom to pay Maher at the time of Nikah ceremony. The bride is fully authorized to demand any amount which has no limit and is to be paid at that moment. The terms and conditions are to be fixed by the bride herself and her husband has no right to ask for a single penny out of the amount of Maher. But mostly the religious laws are violated and customs are practiced. Maher is fixed by the parents of the bride and her consent is not sought while fixing the terms and conditions of Maher. She is kept unaware and bound to accept whatever has been decided. Usually the girl’s parents ask for a lesser amount of Maher in order to please their son in laws and his family members. They don’t dare to ask for more because it will bring disgrace to the family.

Living in the era of the 21st century, our daughters are educated, skilled and they are working in different capacities at par with men. They are teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, company executives etc. but still at the time of marriage they are weighed in terms of dowry that they can bring. It is really a disgrace for the whole women folk and the community at large. Dowry related issues are multiple which have an adverse influence on the economy and the society as well.

Some of the Social and economic implications of dowry are explained as under:

1. Dowry related deaths are reported in our newspapers daily. Women are burnt alive and compelled to commit suicide because they are not fulfilling the unending greed of their husbands and in-laws. Since 2006 there has been 15% increase in dowry deaths in India.
2. All other forms of violence against women like domestic violence, social violence, physical and verbal abuse, and psychological violence perpetuate from dowry itself. Dowry leads to conflicts among the couple and ultimately it ends mostly in divorces.
3. Late marriages are also the by-product of dowry. Those girls who do not have the capacity to pay sufficient dowry face the dilemma of delayed marriages which later on creates the adjustment problems and affects their reproductive functions. They don’t find a suitable match in the marriage market.
4. Dowry is responsible for the heinous crime of female- infanticide. Most of the parents who are not in a position to pay dowry to their daughters at the time of marriage prefer to get the female fetus killed as they don’t want to get their daughters killed by their in laws later for want of dowry. Many states of India present a skewed sex ratio. Haryana is leading them all. Thus female infanticide is going to make our society a bachelor society soon if the trend continues.
5. Because of dowry, girls receive a differential treatment from their parents since their early childhood. They face discrimination in every stage of life, they are fed less, preferred less in all choices including the medical treatment. They are always considered a burden on the shoulders of their family. The girls themselves feel this pain. They become guilty conscious right from their childhood as if something is wrong with their existence in this world.
6. Dowry acts as a great impediment in the way of education and development of women. Parents do not prefer to invest more in their education and training. The money they posses is to be spent for their daughter’s dowry. Thus they remain educationally backward which makes them again dependent on the men folk. The lesser education not only effects the personality formation of girls but also affects the strength and the development of the nation as a whole.
7. Dowry gives rise to the menace of corruption in the society. People follow unlawful practices to grab more and more wealth to accumulate it for meeting the dowry demands of their daughters.
8. Dowry widens the gap between the rich and the poor. The rich people get an occasion to dispose off their excess money in the name of dowry whereas on the other hand, poor people who are caught in the demonstration effect of rich have to borrow and repay for the whole life. Thus the rich become richer and the poor poorer.
9. Dowry gives rise to hoarding of money, precious metals and other valuables. It hampers the circulation of money and thus reduces opportunities of savings and investment.
10. Demand for dowry has caused an increase in unorganized female work force. Preparations for dowry compel the girls to work in any capacity in the unorganized job market where they work in uncongenial working conditions for long working hours for a meager amount of money. They are not governed by any rules or regulations and do not enjoy any privilege like their counterparts in the organized work force.

To nip this evil in the bud as early as possible, women have to wakeup to fight this war themselves. Women’s organizations need to be formed state wise, district wise, block wise and awareness camps regarding dowry have to be arranged. The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 which prohibits demand for dowry and contains stern punishment for the people demanding dowry needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. Women also need to show enough courage by rejecting such marriage proposals where they find people greedy and selfish and materialistic. This will boost other women to take strong decisions of their life. Also stringent laws regarding dowry need to be framed so that there will be no place for these culprits to escape themselves from it.

We need to educate our masses especially youth to understand the negative aspects of this evil so that they can imagine the relevance of their resources and their proper utilization from the economic, social and human perspective. We need to make them understand the concept of marriage and its importance in our life. A happy marriage without any give and take will help them live a good and a prosperous life. Dowry adds to the assets of one section of the society and the liabilities of the other, the balance sheet remaining the same. We need not to wait only for the government and its machinery to eradicate such evils but all stake holders need to take up the issue as a social responsibility.