Dowry is the transfer of wealth from the parents to their daughter at her marriage. Dowry is practiced in many parts of the world, but is most prevalent in South Asia, especially in India and Indian subcontinents. Dowry may include cash, jewelry, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, car, and even land or house. Dowry, traditionally, is demanded by the groom and his family from the bride’s father. Dowry amount varies across different socio-economic classes. But irrespective of the financial condition of a girl’s family, taking a huge loan, and selling or mortgaging properties for dowry is very common in India.
Sometimes, the dowry demands keep increasing after marriage, failing to meet the demand by the girl’s parents leads to mental and physical torture and even murder of the newly married girl. Dowry and Female Infanticides in India are two interconnected social evils that are very difficult to eradicate.
Dowry Killing: What is It?
Dowry killing is the murder of a woman for not providing enough dowry. They are often severely abused and tortured before the murder. As per an Indian National Crime Record Bureau report in 2013, a dowry-related crime causes the death of a woman every 90 minutes, or 1.4 deaths per year per 100,000 women in India.
To know more, please read my post – Dowry Killings: Why Does It Happen and How Can We Prevent It?
Dowry or Gifts?
Because of increasing campaigns and awareness against dowry over the last few decades, nowadays, many families showcase that all the assets a girl brings to her marriage are ‘gifts’ from her parents, not ‘dowry’.
Even under this sugar-coated and sophisticated practice, the quality and quantity of the ‘gifts’ very much determine how a bride would be treated by her husband’s family. The amount of dowry received in their son’s marriage is also a matter of status for grooms’ families. Therefore, parents make all their efforts to give to the best of their abilities, to their daughter.
And, the ‘gifts’ could be quite diverse in nature, from sponsoring a destination wedding to an exotic location to buying and setting up a new home with luxuries furniture or gifting a high-end car for a son-in-law. It’s a very common belief in India that girls are treated by their husbands and in-laws based on the amount of dowry provided by their parents. It’s also a matter of social status and prestige for many.
In India, people start saving money and invest in buying land and jewelry as soon as a daughter is born. When multiple daughters are born, parents get upset and anxious about saving and spending a huge amount of money to get them married. Even though the dowry has been declared illegal in India since 1961, the practice continues in most parts of the country and sadly among educated and higher socioeconomic classes.
Dowry and Female Infanticide in India
Educating a boy is considered more profitable because they contribute to the family income and socioeconomic status of the family. There is also the expectation of receiving a huge dowry once they get married. Sometimes this amount is proportional to the academic degrees or kind of jobs they have. Having more than one boy in a family is considered a great fortune and is often considered a gateway to a huge economic gain.
The children’s rights group CRY has estimated that of 12 million females born yearly in India 1 million would have died within their first year of life. This forced the United Nations (UN) to declare India as the “most deadly country for female children”.
Dowry and Female Foeticide
Female foeticide is the abortion of a female fetus illegally. People with a very high preference for a boy often take extreme steps from not having a girl. Girl fetuses are aborted or killed after the gender was determined by ultrasonography. Pre-natal sex determination is illegal in India since 1994. But it is widely carried out illegally in many clinics and some people even travel out of the country to know the gender of the fetus.
The pregnant woman or the mother is helpless in most cases because her own survival may depend upon listening to the parents of her husband. The Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, has been underway in many Indian communities since the early 2000s. The campaign uses the media to raise awareness of the gender disparities created and resulting from, sex-selective abortion. Beti Bachao’s activities include rallies, posters, short videos, and television commercials, some of which are sponsored by state and local governments and other organizations.
What Can We Do?
Dowry is strongly embedded in the culture and tradition of India and a few of its neighboring countries. It is extremely difficult to completely abolish this system overnight. Even highly educated and economically self-independent girls would not like to get married without bringing jewelry, furniture, and other expensive items from their parents as a tradition. Breaking this tradition is usually associated with dishonoring one’s family and risking torture or humiliation.
That said, everybody in society holds a responsibility to end this social custom. A very practical approach could be if the groom and his family STRICTLY refuse to accept any gift from the bride’s family. Some young activists in India have set up online matrimonial sites like Without Dowry and Dowry Free Marriage to register for dowry-free marriage. Considering the far-reaching consequences, it is time for all of us to stand up against this evil practice.
We should also note that one can not expect to end dowry in isolation without addressing the root cause of dowry – patriarchy. We must be aware of all the systemic and social discrimination between girls and boys or women and men because of patriarchy. Unless society and institutions put equal values and power on both genders, it’s very difficult to change the mindset and culture overnight.
Every parent must ensure that their daughter is valued, cared for, loved, and empowered enough so that she doesn’t choose to endure torture by her husband’s family. Parents must raise their daughter to become confident and independent rather than consider her a burden. Please save and invest in your daughter’s education, not in her dowry.