Scourge of patriarchyOffenders of dowry-related crimes continue to get away as most such incidents go unreported.
Police on December 15 arrested a doctor from Mahottari district on charge of domestic violence and dowry demand. Two days earlier, a woman in Nepalgunj was found dead at her husband’s house in an alleged case of dowry-related violence. These couple of cases illustrate the prevalence of violence in Nepal today as dowry continues to be an instrument through which a man’s family oppresses women. The dowry problem transcends class, caste and region, although a significant number of cases are reported from the Madhesh. As the Post reported on Thursday, several women have been killed in Madhesh, even after years of marriage, for failing to provide dowry to their husbands.
That a woman has to die or face regular torture in the name of dowry shows how backward Nepal continues to be as a society. This could partly be due to a lack of education and awareness, and a failure to go against a social tradition even if those who practise the dowry system are aware of its ills. But at the heart of the problem is the oppressive institution of patriarchy that diminishes a woman’s worth to no more than an object of transaction. For many women, the scourge of patriarchy, of which dowry is the major instrument, continues to turn a marriage into, as Simone de Beauvoir put it, “an oppressive and exploitative economic arrangement, which reinforces sexual inequality, and binds women to domesticity.”
As per the law, even demanding dowry—forget harassing or torturing someone in the name of it–is a punishable offence. The National Penal (Code) Act 2017 states that “No marriage shall be concluded or caused or to be concluded upon having asked for or on the condition of receiving or giving of, any type of movable or immovable property, dowry, or any property from the bridegroom or the bride side, except [ordinary gifts worn as per custom]”. Violating this law attracts a prison term of up to three years, a fine of up to Rs30,000, or both. The code also prohibits annoyance, harassment or inhuman or degrading treatment of the bride or her relative for failing to provide dowry after marriage. This in turn attracts up to five years of prison, a fine of up to Rs50,000, or both. However, legal provisions have failed to end the vicious cycle of violence that women face in the name of dowry.
Offenders of the dowry-related crimes continue to get away with them also because few of these incidents are reported. Such crimes are camouflaged by the facade of family prestige and social harmony even as survivors’ voices continue to be subdued. Solving the dowry problem, therefore, requires a transformation of the society where women’s right to self-determination and liberty is secured. The idea of a woman as a liability who seeks a husband’s support for livelihood and progress should change. For this, apart from implementing the legal provisions, the government should work to change the social dynamics of gender. The most effective way to do this would be to strengthen the local level to facilitate advocacy and sensitisation programs with regular monitoring.