Dowry is a social custom where a man and his family demand assets and money from the bride’s family. Even though dowry is declared illegal in India and other neighboring countries, the practice is still highly prevalent in these regions. In this post, I am going to explain what is dowry killing and how to prevent dowry killings. To know more about this custom, the background, and the consequences, read this post Dowry- The Leading Cause of Female Infanticides.
What is Dowry Killing?
Killing a newly married woman for dowry is widespread in India. Despite many state and national level initiatives, laws, campaigns, and educational programs, the murder of women by their husband’s families continues to happen. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 7,634 women died in 2015 – and 20 every day – due to dowry harassment. They were either murdered or took their own lives.
What is Dowry?
The origin of dowry lies in the patriarchal belief that a woman is a liability to her family. The tradition is that a man and his family are to be compensated for marrying a girl and taking care of her for the rest of her life. it’s a social custom in India to gift expensive jewelry, furniture, and other valuable items at the daughter’s wedding. It is deeply embedded in the culture. Families, relatives, and neighbors genuinely care about the gifts and assets a girl brings from her father. It’s also a matter of status and pride for both families.
Even highly educated and economically self-independent girls would not marry without bringing jewelry, furniture, and other expensive gifts from their parents. Breaking this tradition is almost impossible
In some cases, the groom and his family demand a huge dowry. Marriages are fixed on the family’s ability to meet those demands. Sometimes, the demand for money or expensive items does not end after marriage. Women are tortured and abused to bring more cash or other assets from their parents which often leads to murder or suicide.
In a nutshell, dowry is an oppressive social custom where a man and his family get paid or compensated for marrying a woman!
Dowry Killing: Why Does it Happen?
The answers to this question again lie in the patriarchal culture –
1. Once married, returning to her parent’s home is considered disgraceful for a woman. A failed marriage is a stigma for a girl and her family.
2. After marriage, women are expected to be submissive, be silent and compromise with everything that comes their way.
3. Girls do not have equal values and are not raised equally as boys. They are not raised up to be economically independent. Even in the face of torture, many women try their best to put up with it as they do not want to be a burden to their parents.
4. Women in India often have very little or no control and agency over their own lives. This makes them extremely vulnerable to injustice and oppression.
5. Despite dowry being illegal in India, very few actions have been taken to stop the heavy exchange of cash and other assets in marriages. It is a very common practice across all socio-economic classes.
6. The last, but the most horrific reality is, in many cases, the parents of a girl are aware of the torture and constant demand for dowry after marriage. Usually, they try their best to meet the demands, while pushing their daughters to ‘adjust’ and try to be a good wife. Saving the daughter’s marriage is more important for them than saving her life, and they continue to ignore many alarming signs.
I lost the count of the reported cases of dowry deaths, where I noticed this very similar pattern – the girl was scared to stay with her husband and wanted to return to her parents. But her parents sent her back and received the news of her death after a few days!
Parents often prioritize social expectations over their daughter’s safety and happiness. The stigma associated with the failed marriage of a daughter overpowers their ability to protect her life.
While combating a social evil like dowry killing is not simple and needs a proper strategy, every parent should ensure that their daughter is valued, cared for, loved, and empowered enough so that she doesn’t choose to endure torture or death over returning to her parents.
Practical Steps to Prevent Dowry Killings-
- Neither accept nor give dowry under any circumstance. Under Indian law, those who give and those who receive dowries are equally liable to fines and imprisonment.
- Stop teaching your daughters that remaining silent will make her marriage successful.
- Be alert of any unexplained or suspicious injury, bruises, or illness of a girl after her marriage. Don’t ignore any signs of physical or emotional abuse.
- Look out for possible red flags, especially if your daughter repeatedly asks for a large amount of money after marriage.
- NEVER force your daughter to go back to her husband if she shows resistance. Pay attention to the depressive mood or behaviour of your daughter after her marriage.
- Please be aware and look out for red flags of a new bride/girl being tortured in your neighbourhood. Take immediate intervention by informing the family or the local authority before it is too late.
- Help your daughter to become confident and independent rather than treating her as a burden. Invest in her education, not in her marriage.
- Create awareness in your community against dowry.