The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), recorded around 7000 cases of dowry-related deaths in 2020 alone. That amounts to about 19 women every day, Although the act of giving or taking dowry has been banned since 1961, the practice of dowry persists, as has violence against women arising out of dissatisfaction over dowry.
However, it is worrying that the ugly curse of dowry (a large amount of money given to the bridegroom at the time of marriage) is also engulfing the Muslim society, where countless girls are counting the days of their lives without getting married.
Dowry is still a widely used practice in India. This tradition originally consisted of sealing a marriage by the allocation by the family of the bride of jewellery, silver, gold, or land to the family of the future husband. A custom that has transformed over time into a ruthless slot machine, leading today to murders and suicides.
Despite the dowry ban in India since 1961, this custom is tough. Often long after marriage, Indian women are hunted down by their “dissatisfied” husbands. Even if these wives no longer hesitate to file a complaint, many legislative loopholes or the few convictions (only 32% of crimes punished) discourage many. Women’s rights organizations have even denounced an increase in the number of homicides, many women being burned alive by their in-laws, for example, or suicides due to the practice of dowry.
Dowry system in India
The financial constraints that a dowry can place on a girl’s family, coupled with the increasing abuse of tradition by the groom or her family, has resulted in a shift in the public perception of dowry, the government intervening now to regulate its practice.
A World Bank study has found that the dowry system in rural India has remained largely unchanged over the past few decades. But the process continues unabated. Researchers studied 40,000 marriages that took place in rural India from 1960 to 2008.
They found that 95% of marriages involved dowry, while dowry has been illegal in India since 1961. Dowry is often described as a social evil, but it is also a drug that weakens the status of women and causes them to face violence, sometimes leading to their death.
According to the most recent source of dowry data, the 2006 Rural Economic and Demographic Survey, which studied 40,000 marriages in rural areas between 1960 and 2008, about 95% of marriages had paid dowry.
Saima Rashid (name changed), 38, an unemployed graduate, is engaged for the past four years, but the marriage has been postponed until her family can arrange for dowry.
Saima’s father is blind and his brother is the sole breadwinner in the family earning around Rs 10,000 per month. She says that her family is still collecting money to have a grand wedding.
In Kashmir the issue of dowry is common. “We are collecting items for dowry and saving for the many rituals and customs that take place in the traditional Kashmiri wedding ceremony,” she says.
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
Although the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in 1961, families continue to demand and offer dowry under the guise of “stridhan” or “gifts” to the bride and groom.
It is clear that dowry as a custom spreads across social hierarchies, educational status, and geographical regions. Most of the victims are either brutally beaten, burnt alive, or tortured mentally and physically, forcing them to take their own lives.
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Punishment for offenders is imprisonment up to 5 years and a fine of Rs 15,000 or the value of dowry, whichever is higher. Sections 304B and 498A cover dowry death and cruelty or domestic violence in relation to demand dowry under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Indian laws also make this offense non-bailable and non-compoundable, meaning the parties are not allowed to compromise.
Public awareness campaigns are essential in breaking down centuries-old thinking on this topic as well as in de-stigmatizing denouncing abusive husbands or their families. Positive media coverage of women who have approached the police after being threatened or abused by their husbands in connection with a dowry has been essential in encouraging other women to do the same.
Bad effects on women
Women are killed
- Each year, more than 7,000 women die as a result of the dowry system.
- Sometimes a woman is murdered by her husband or her in-laws when her family cannot afford the requested dowry gift
Women are abused
- Women who cannot afford the dowry price, or who will not be able to pay it in the future, are often victims of harassment and abuse. Sometimes husbands or in-laws sprinkle acid or immolate a woman.
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Dowries increase the likelihood of child marriage
- To avoid larger dowries, families often marry their daughters when they are minors. Globally, more than 700 million women alive today were married under the age of 18.
- By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 1.2 billion, according to the nonprofit Girls Not Brides, which fights against child marriage.
- India has the highest number of married children in the world, and part of this is due to the dowry system.
- The younger a girl, the lower the price of her dowry; to save money, families, therefore, marry their daughters from an early age.