The dowry system (Dahej pratha) has been prevalent in India since times immemorial. Exchange of bride for goods, in terms of cash, gold, motorbike, land and innumerable things displayed on the market appear to degrade the pristine morals of marriage. Whilst the sacrifices made by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Medha Patkar among the others did make certain changes for a limited time period, various movies and daily soap operas continue to telecast shows in which women are presented as typical housewives, working at home and taking care of children.
The disparity between boys and girls cannot be escaped by the naked eye. If the places between men and women are switched, where women shoulder employment responsibilities and men carry out various household chores, people would be shocked and would consider it grotesque. Coming back to the callous dowry system, a girl’s worth is measured in terms of the fortune she brings into her husband’s family. Besides, a girl is expected to marry someone within her community. Inter-caste marriages are considered as flagrant acts that brings shame to one’s family. In certain villages, couples involved in love marriages run the risk of being murdered by their own families. The quotation “Blood is thicker than water” collapses here.
If a girl’s parents wishes to hand her over to a well-educated and an economically settled man, they are expected to pay more through dowry. And the huge gifts and bounties presented to the son-in-law isn’t a one-time affair. The girl is expected to bring in wealth and luxuries throughout her lifetime. Well, Is that what a marriage is? If the girl fails to meet the demands of her in-laws, she is tortured and treated as a human guinea pig! No wonder, the rate of suicides, female infanticide, unmarried women are sky-high in the country. One woman dies every hour due to dowry related reasons.
A girl, who dreams of a charming prince, riding on a horseback coming to save her, is suddenly shocked by the harsh realities of her life. She is forced to do all the household chores that a housemaid does along with taking care of her children. Dowry is a one-way gift. If, by chance, the gifts from her folks stop flooding in, she is harassed inhumanly by her husband who uses her as a sex object and by her merciless in-laws. Fearing that her new born daughter would suffer the same fate, she kills her daughter and burns herself to death. Her husband would, in time, wed another bride and the cycle continues.
Dowry acts, bills and laws have all been crafted and passed but would it do any good unless they are implemented? Section 30-B of the Indian penal code lays down that when the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injuries or occur otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage, such death shall be ‘dowry death’ and such husband or relative shall be responsible for her death.
Women education, although frowned upon in a male dominated society must be preferred first rather than cooking. As a child, girls must not only be allowed to play with dolls but with balls too. Employment opportunities in various sectors of the society must be given to women making them strong and independent. Mere reservations of seats in buses and trains won’t solve the problem. Women need to form their committee, foster education and encourage girls to fight against such evil practices. If there is a desire to put an end to the dowry system, individuals should start taking the initiative themselves. Only then, would there be a ‘dowry free’ country.