A comment in a previous post wondered,
‘After all, no one can be FORCED to give a dowry. The people giving dowry do so by their own free will.’ The comment also compared dowry to gift.
But dowry (the way it is today in India) is more like ransom than gift. And it is not really seen as a choice by most of those who give or demand it.
What is seen as a choice is whether or not to have or to raise a girl child (sex selection, abandoning a baby girl, infanticide etc).
The radical option of raising a daughter as an equal citizen (with as many opportunities to seek and find happiness as anybody else) is beginning to be seen as a choice only now.
A paraya dhan‘s parents were (are?) considered irresponsible if they didn’t start worrying about her marriage as soon as she was born. And the first concern was not who she would marry, but her Dowry.
In fact, girl children even today are often not seen as children but as future daughters in law.
Which is why, the kind of education permitted, career choices, what they are allowed to wear, see, read, learn, earn, spend, save, eat or drink, the kind of social life permitted – all this was (is) decided with only one objective in mind – the future in laws’ approval.
Why did this approval matter?
Because there was (is) another rule – the father of an Indian paraya dhan must ‘give her away’ in kanayadan.
So traditionally a daughter’s parents had no option. If a daughter was born, she had to be raised as a paraya dhan, and had to be married off (by a certain age) with whatever dowry her future life partner’s parents agreed to accept after negotiations.
Before Dowry was made illegal, it was seen as a male child’s parents’ fair and assured entitlement. (Didn’t they raise him with their sweat and blood?)
Indian paraya dhan‘s parents acknowledged this.
There were justifications: The in laws ‘look after’ the ‘girl’, and dowry was a payment/compensation. Some saw it as her share (inheritance)- though the in laws/spouse owned and controlled it.
Dowry being made illegal has started changing the society’s attitude towards dowry.
Just like criminalising sex-selection has changed the way people talk about (many still think the same way) about having daughters. It also made it easier for parents to invest in their daughters’ self reliance instead of saving for their dowry (other factors also favoured these changes)
So, soon one heard magnanimous announcements about how much better than dowry was it to ‘bring’ a working (earning) daughter in law.
The law also lead to dowry related harassment being recognised as a specific kind of a very common crime/abuse.
Sadly the change is coming very slow. I personally know of women who have lost their lives to dowry related abuse. And dowry deaths are always connected with another social rule: that women must save their marriages. We glorify women who give up happiness to stay married to men who do not respect them. See what this mindset lead to,
[Link shared by Siddhesh]
HAZARIBAGH: A woman set herself on fire allegedly due to harassment by her in-laws despite donating one of her kidneys to her husband as a part of a dowry deal about six months ago in Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh district.
Six months ago her husband Sudama Giri fell sick after his kidneys failed. His mother gave Devi a written undertaking that they would treat her well and stop asking for another Rs 25,000 as dowry from her father if she donated one of her kidneys to Giri.
Why did she agree to give her kidney in exchange of dowry? She was buying peace, and she could not imagine a happy life outside this miserable and abusive marriage.
As it is abuse victims find it difficult to walk out, then if they find no support from family or society… there must have been so much loneliness.
How did she feel when the abuse continued even after she donated her kidney? And why did she think that abuse would stop if she suffered just a little more and made just one more sacrifice?
Wish there were media campaigns that spoke about abuse, that help victims recognise it, and that warned against wasting time trying to ‘win over’ an abuser’s respect.
And I wish women were encouraged to value their personal safety and happiness.
Three social rules that have begun to change and these changes can save many lives. If these rules continue to be defied there would be no dowry and sex selection.
1. Women must Get Married, preferably by a certain ‘marriageable’ age.
2. Women must save their marriages/relationships at the cost of personal happiness.
3.Women should see self reliance as an option and marriage as the sole purpose goal in their lives.