The dowry is an ancient tradition found across cultures, religions, and time periods. It is not certain where dowries originated, but the custom takes place in wedding ceremonies even today.
So what is a Dowry?
A dowry is a gift of substantial monetary value given from either the bride or groom to their future spouse upon marriage. Dowry is a social evil in society that has caused unimaginable tortures and crimes towards women and polluted the Indian marital system. Dowry is payment made in cash or kind to a bride’s in-laws at the time of her marriage.
The History and Meaning of the Dowry
During the Roman Empire, the bride’s family would provide a dowry to the groom or his family to offset the cost of her living expenses. Dowry was always given by a woman to her future husband; it is the reverse in other cultures, where the groom offers a gift to the bride or her family upon marriage. The dowry can serve as a gift to in-laws or insurance for the bride should she choose to leave her husband. It is commonly referred as “bride price” or “bride wealth.”
As time passed, it became a usual practice for families to exploit the dowry system all over the world. What was supposedly meant to be a gift from one partner to another gradually became a financial demand that resulted in broken engagements or divorce, violence, and even death for unpaid dowries. It is for this reason that countries like India, Greece, and Kenya passed laws making dowries illegal in any capacity.
Nowadays, the government has come up with many laws (The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961) and reforms, not only to eradicate the dowry system, but also to uplift the status of the girl child by bringing in many schemes.
Impact of Dowry System
- Gender Discrimination: Due to the dowry system, many a times it has been witnessed that women are seen as a liability and are often subjected to subjugation and are given a secondary or lower treatment may it be concerned with education or other amenities.
- Affecting Career of Women: The larger context for the practice of dowry is the poor presence of women in the workforce, and their consequent lack of financial independence. The Poorer sections of society who send their daughters to work expect them to help them save up for her dowry. Whereas, the regular middle and upper class backgrounds do send their daughters to school, but don't emphasize career options.
- Many Women End Up Being Unmarried:There are an uncountable number of girls not only in the country but the whole world, despite being educated and professionally competent, remain endlessly unmarried because their parents cannot fulfil the demand for pre-marriage dowry.
- Objectification of Women: Dowry is seen more like an investment by the bride's family for plugging into powerful connections and money making opportunities. This renders women as merely articles of commerce.
- Crime Against Women: The dowry system has led to many crime against women, ranging from emotional abuse and injury to even deaths.
Recently a case regarding Dowry in Kerala evidently proved fatal, as a 24 year old medical student who was really competent enough to lead an independent life was found dead by suicide due to the abuse and torture given by her husband and in laws for only receiving lesser dowry amount from her family.
Measures needs to be taken:
- Educating Girls: Education and independence is one and only powerful and valuable gift that parents
can give to their daughter.
This will in turn help her to be financially sound and be a contributing member of the family, giving her respect and right status in the family. So providing the daughters with a solid education, and encouraging her to pursue a career of her choice is the best dowry any parent can ever give their daughter.
- Creating Social Stigma Around Dowry: Acceptance of dowry should be made a social stigma, and all
generations should be addressed. For this, social consciousness about the ill effects of the dowry system
needs to be aroused.
Youths are the only ray of hope to effectively combat the menace of the dowry system. They must be given moral value based education to broaden their minds and widen their outlook regarding dowry in the society.
- Multi Stakeholder Approach:Dowry is not a standalone problem, thus society should take every step
to bring gender parity. States should look at gender-disaggregated data across the life cycle – birth, early
childhood, education, nutrition, livelihood, access to healthcare, etc.. to address gender inequality.
There is an immediate need to expand childcare and safe public transport, reduce discrimination in hiring, and create affirming workplace environments.
- No law can be enforced without the wholehearted cooperation of the people.
- Enacting a law no doubt sets a pattern of behaviour, activates social conscience and renders some assistance towards the efforts of social reformers in getting it abolished. However, social evil like dowry cannot eradicate itself unless the people carry the basic ideology behind the law much further.
- To ensure that no other daughters of not only India but also the whole world never gets treated as a liability it is mandatory for the current generations as well as upcoming generations to build a strong conscience against dowry in the minds of children’s till the elderly.
- The practice of dowry is not only illegal but also unethical. Therefore, the conscience of society needs to be fully awakened to the evils of the dowry system so that the demand for dowry itself should lead to ‘loss of face’ in society for those who demand it.
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