In this research paper I attempt to explain the current Dowry crises in India, along with my opinion. The strongest parts of my paper are the explanation of female foeticide, where I explain why families do not wish to have girl children because dowry exerts considerable economic pressure on families. Also the dowry prohibition act and why it struggles to be enforced today. I struggled with finding why there is a religious aspect to the dowry system, I couldn’t find much sources on that. I try to bring strong arguments to the reader, which he/she absorbs.
The consequences of the dowry system for Woman in India
Today, Indian society is surrounded with many problems such as illiteracy, unemployment, population growth, delivery of social welfare and a very difficult and bureaucratic legal system. Among these struggles, which lie deep rooted in Indian society, is the problem of dowry, which is a series of payments from the bride’s family to the groom or groom’s family at the time of marriage (Kamayani 2005). The system has a long history in India and other Asian societies (Lee 1982). These gifts were traditionally given as small gestures of good wishes to the groom, however, based on the economy today, India is a growing country that wishes to be globalized and compete with the market, therefore, the dowry system has become a major factor in marriage negotiations because of the money that they bring in to families. Unfortunately, women are being mistreated for not providing sufficient dowry, because the groom’s family may be greedy and would like more gestures. “The most serious of these [abuses] being the mental and physical abuse of wives, and bride-burning or murder of brides due to the inability of a bride’s family to meet the dowry demands of the groom’s family (Dalmia 2005: 72)”. Legally, dowry is a banned practice and is supposed to be enforced by the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, but the act hasn’t resulted in sufficient prevention of dowry payments or punishment for offenders. India’s women are being mistreated with abuse from the cruel traditional system of dowry, preventing women from being equal to men. Fortunately there are solutions to this problem, such as globalization, that are beginning to change how women are treated and how they think of themselves.
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The dowry system has been in existence for thousands of years. Over the course of history, it has appeared in many different cultures in several different forms. For example, the Code of Hammurabi is almost 4000 years old and has regulations for the giving and receiving of dowry (Horne, “Law Code of Hammurabi”). Another example of the practice (but in a different form) is in Thailand where the dowry system requires a man to provide a payment showing his generosity and love for the bride (“Thai Dowry System”). This cultural practice is different from the system in India, with the man providing the gift as a way of showing respect and admiration. Varadakshina (voluntary gifts given by the bride’s father to the groom) is the root of the modern practice of the dowry system in India (Diwan, 1987; Van der Veen, 1972).Today in modern India the dowry is a gift of monetary value from the bride’s family to the groom’s family. This gift must satisfy the groom and his family in accordance to the family’s rank and caste.
As recently as April 19th, 2011 a 22 year old woman named Lalita was set on fire by her in-laws, and died of her burns in New Delhi Hospital. Lalita was burned because her father could not provide the sufficient dowry of a motorcycle and a RS 5 lakh. This is one of the many bride burnings that happen so often in India (Datta 2011). What does it say that a woman was burned to death for a motorcycle and 10,000 dollars? Sadly, Indian society doesn’t value women as much as monetary value. This is because women in India are not seen to make the same societal contributions as men; therefore the loss of a female life is not viewed as a loss to society.
Padma Srinivasan and Gary R. Lee say that “the frequency and severity of violence against wives who bring too small a dowry to their marriages, perpetrated both by their husbands and their husbands’ families, is a growing problem (Srinivasan 2004).” The National crimes records bureau of the government of India handles dowry-related matters along with its crimes. The Bureau statistics (2004) show that, from the year 2003 to 2004, dowry deaths increased by 13.26% over the preceding year from 7,210 deaths to 9,427 deaths. This data however, is only reported data (National Crime Records Bureau, 2006). There are many occurrences of bride deaths that are under-reported or are not reported at all. Most of these deaths are when the bride is set on fire. Sanghavi, Bhalla and Das, estimated over 176 000 fire-related deaths in 2002 in India. “These figures were seven times that reported by police. About 110 000 of these deaths were that of women, mostly between 14 and 33 years of age (Sanghavi, Bhalla and Das 2009, 1282)”. Not only are women in India still suffering at the hands of the dowry system, they also clearly don’t feel safe enough to come forward about it.
So why is it that the system is becoming more extensive and the values of the dowries are increasing? When seeking a mate, India has long been known as a country for its “hypergamy”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word hypergamy refers to “the action of marrying a person of a superior caste or class.” If a woman or a woman’s family that is “lower class” desires to arrange a marriage with an “upper-class” man, they must provide a sufficient dowry. Also, most grooms’ families will look at the bride’s family’s general capacity to “give”. If these are not sufficient, the wives may suffer severe consequences, such as abuse or even death.
Equality has always been an issue in India. There have always been clearly defined gender roles in Indian society. Women are expected to stay at home and perform the majority of domestic tasks such as cooking dinner and tending the house. These are not unfamiliar roles for women globally. The roles of women in western society are traditionally very similar, however, they are evolving much more rapidly than the Indian expectations. Because women’s roles are focused on the domestic activities, it is deemed unnecessary for them to receive a full education. If they do not receive a full education, they are not prepared to enter the work force and therefore cannot earn money to support themselves. This leads to their continued reliance on men. In this way, society continues to perpetuate the subjugation of women.
Sex determination in India for the foeticide of female babies is growing problem in India. The ability to determine the sex of the baby, by ultrasound scanning, has aggravated the female foeticide situation because once the sex of the baby is determined, the parents can decide whether or not to abort the baby. The reason for abortion of a female is the dowry system. Parents do not wish to pay a dowry, they wish to receive one, so they would rather pay for the abortion than the expense of a dowry. A recent article published by Indu Grewal and J. Kishore reported that there were advertisements in Bombay advertising sex determination that read, “It is better to pay 500Rs now than 50,000Rs [in dowry] later (Grewel Kishore 2004).” Families do not wish to have girl children because dowry exerts considerable economic pressure on families and they will use any means to avoid having girls. If the sex is determined to be male, then the parents will keep the foetus and be able to demand a dowry in the future.
Hinduism is a catalyst to the situation because it lowers the status of women. Religion in India represents the ideal woman as being submissive and obedient to men. Women in India often feel anxious to have a boy but they are always pressured to have the sex determination test. Most women suffer from psychological trauma as a result of the abortions of their daughters. There is an overall decline in fertility in India; however, the preference for male children still remains strong. This means that the number of marriageable women is declining, and men are now looking to marry younger women. This will eventually lead to a rise in population growth because the younger a woman is the more years of fertility she will have while married. The Indian government passed a prohibition of sex selection act (1994) that aims to prevent female foeticide. The act led to a “fine of 10,000Rs and up to three years in prison for a first offence, with greater fines and longer terms of imprisonment for repeat offenders (Grewel Kishore 2004).” Killing a child is wrong in general, it is not humane, and to kill a female foetus because it is a girl is unacceptable. Most clinics in India had serious failures in the implementation and knowledge of the act. If India wishes to prevent female foeticide they must move away “from religious teachings and the advocacy of a scientific rational and a humanistic approach. They must also publicise in the media and have NGOs take part in educating the public (Grewel Kishore 2004).
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The dowry prohibition act was enacted in 1961 and was amended because it didn’t work. It was later reinforced in 1985, and has not been enforced strictly. The original idea was to have a penalty for the giving or taking of dowry. If a person disobeyed the act by giving or taking a dowry, he would be punished with imprisonment for no less than five years and there would be a fine of no less than 15,000Rs. Note that these penalties are heavier than those parents receive for killing their children for being female, indicating that the exchange of money is more important than the life of a female. The dowry prohibition act is obviously not working because the practice is still active today.
Thousands of women continue to die every year in dowry related deaths. The reason for the continued practice of the dowry system is that it is a long standing cultural tradition and it is encouraged by families who wish to receive the added income of a dowry, especially in difficult economic times (Teays 1991). The act also states that the dying declaration of the victim should be obtained by or in the presence of a female officer, who may be more likely to inspire confidence in the victim (“Bhagwant Singh vs. Commissioner of Police, Delhi on 6 May, 1983.” 1983). The problem with this statement is that female police officers do not inspire much confidence in the court, because “there is probably greater concern by the legislature that police officers will be bribed and, hence, their reports not are in accordance with the facts (Teays 1991).” For example, “There is also the case of Manjushree Sarda who is reported to have been suffocated and given poison by her husband, Sharad Birdichand Sarda. Here not only did the woman’s sisters and friends supply written statements, but her father, mother, sister and friend testified about the husband’s abusive behaviour-all of which the court discounted (Teays 1991).”
Another way of dealing with the dowry related deaths is social pressure. The public needs to be aware of who is committing these crimes. They need to show a strong commitment to social boycott. Social boycott means that people would avoid social and business interactions with persons who were known to have participated in dowry transaction, bride burnings, or abuse of women over dowries. This boycott could take the form of not buying goods from the person, refusing to sell to them, or refusing to interact with them on a social level. This has been shown to be an effective means of social control.
The Indian government has serious issues enforcing the act because of women’s status. If women police officers and families have evidence of dowry acts, and the court doesn’t wish to accept them because of possible bribery, then the problem will continue. The courts must change how they handle dowry murders.
The people of India follow the arranged marriage system. Most women are raised to expect arranged marriages, and this is widely accepted. We know that women do not appreciate the dowry systems; however we also know that they are fearful for themselves, as evidenced by the unwillingness of bride burning victims to speak out against their assailants. The social custom dictates that women are inferior, and because of this, women are afraid to take a stand.
It’s a long standing fact that educating the citizens of a country vastly improves the lives of those living in the country. It has in fact been argued that women should be educated, so that they can better participate in the education of their children. Women nourish their children, instilling them with education would prepare them for the world, but the women have to be educated first. Knowledge is power, this is a universally agreed upon fact. In this case knowledge would give women the power to get high paying jobs so that they could support themselves.
The cruelty of the dowry system is one of many institutions preventing women from being equal to men in India. Women are human beings and they deserve social equality as well as legal rights in society and to be treated like any other human. They deserve the social equality and legal rights that any other person is guaranteed under the Geneva Convention. Women could be considered as second class citizens because of their statuses in India and they are treated as such. The Indian government needs to take responsibility and strictly enforce the laws they have made against dowries to prevent women from being mistreated. Many women can be saved from abuse if the dowry system is abolished, if the preventative laws are rigorously enforced, if gender and social inequalities are equalised and if women receive equal education. If India wants to continue to compete on the global scale, it needs to recognize and protect the rights of all its citizens. Women’s rights are human rights and like all humans they deserve to live with dignity.
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