Stop the scourgeWe must come together as a society to reject the woeful practice of dowry
The Parliamentary State Affairs Committee has finally begun discussing a new anti-dowry bill and is preparing to table it in Parliament in a few months. The much-awaited bill was prepared and forwarded by the National Women Commission to the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCS) in 2015, apparently in the wake of increasing dowry-related cases in the country.
But the bill was collecting dust since then despite the fact that domestic violence tops the list of abuse against women and many of the cases are linked to dowry. The Social Practice (Reform) Act 1976, which prohibits dowry, has been rendered practically useless due to the lack of enforcement.
Culturally, dowry—money, goods or land—that a bride gets during marriage was meant to provide the newlyweds with basic financial security, but its meaning has changed over time. These days, dowry has become a form of social evil, with many families of grooms making direct or indirect demands on the bride’s family. In extreme cases, women are beaten, tortured, burnt alive or driven to commit suicide because of the failure to meet dowry demands.
The bane of dowry is not confined to any one social class. Dowry has become an integral part of marriage and is generally accepted by all. For the rich, the size of the dowry is a status symbol, while for the poorer sections, it is conflated with a basic sense of honour.
The tradition of dowry is so prevalent and entrenched in the country that even our politicians do not hesitate to admit that they received it. Of the 31 ministers who recently publicised their property details, eight have directly or indirectly stated that they got some form of dowry.
A culture that conflates its women with property is reprehensible. Therefore, the government should waste no time in introducing a new bill with a heavy sentence for undertaking dowry transactions during marriage. If the past is any indication, simply having anti-dowry laws in place is inadequate; there should be urgent and strong emphasis on enforcement. And as a society, we must unequivocally come together to reject this practice and encourage people to invest in their daughters’ education instead of saving money for their marriage.