Dowry and the Fate of Indian Women

Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim figure in India, recently in his Friday sermon issued a strong statement regarding the practice of dowry in India.

One of the two brothers who heads the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Muslim organization, said men’s crackdown on women, especially their wives, was not masculine.

“Harassing and beating your wife, demanding a dowry is forbidden in Islam. Torturing a wife, asking for money or any financial transaction is not manhood. Men’s families should be ashamed of forcing women to take extreme steps,” Owaisi said.

A couple performs a ritual during a mass wedding in Surat, India, Sunday, December 24, 2017. (Photo: AP/Ajit Solanki)

A couple performs a ritual during a mass wedding in Surat, India, Sunday, December 24, 2017. (Photo: AP/Ajit Solanki)

He also said, “No matter what your religion, end this greed for dowry. How many more women have to suffer? What kind of man kills women?”

Owaisi’s harsh remarks came shortly after the Indian state of Kerala launched a crackdown on dowry payments in connection with the deaths of four young women.

Before being found dead at her home last June, Ayurvedic medical student Vismaya Nair, in her early 20s, had sent messages and photos to her cousin about the beatings her husband had made on her. Local media reported that her death was related to the car the woman’s parents gave her husband as part of her dowry.

Police could not confirm whether Nair died by suicide or was murdered. They are investigating a dowry-related harassment complaint filed by Nair’s family against her husband’s family.

A Muslim bride awaits the start of a mass wedding ceremony in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.  (Photo: Reuters)

A Muslim bride waits for the start of a mass wedding ceremony in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. (Photo: Reuters)

A few days after Nair’s death, the body of a young married woman was found and two other newlyweds died by hanging themselves at their home in the southern Indian state. Their families have also lodged complaints about harassment related to disputes over dowry payments.

In the past, dowry was defined as gold jewelry that parents gave to the groom’s family when their daughter married. Now the dowry can include a variety of expensive gifts for the groom’s family, including a house and a car, placing a burden on the woman’s family.

Even though it was banned 20 years ago, this custom is still widely practiced. Not infrequently, disputes over dowry lead to quarrels and harassment that sometimes end in death.

The demand for dowry often continues for several years after the wedding. Every year, thousands of young Indian women are doused with gasoline and burned to death because the groom or his family feel the dowry is inadequate.

Women’s rights activists say that loopholes in dowry prevention laws, delays in handling and low prosecutions against perpetrators have led to a rise in dowry-related crimes.

Dowry demands have become more urgent and expensive to follow booming India’s economy, says Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights activist and researcher at the Indian Center for Social Research. He blamed the growing culture of greed and the flood of imported goods making the younger generation charge a high dowry.

A bride is seen during a mass wedding ceremony for members of the Thakore community in Bhuvaldi village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.  (Photo: AFP)

A bride is seen during a mass wedding ceremony for members of the Thakore community in Bhuvaldi village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. (Photo: AFP)

“It’s not just the very rich who do it to make it look like a status symbol, but also the ordinary family or the newly rich. They do this to show that they have a certain economic status. in society. The impact is very bad for women. The practice of dowry, which should be stopped altogether, continues to grow,” said Kumari.

Jayakumari Devika, a feminist scholar at the Center for Development Studies in the state capital Kerala, said these women’s deaths were an endless cry for help.

“This is not a one-time gift. The demand for the dowry will continue after the marriage is over. If the demands are not met, the woman will suffer. This is a social habit. If it’s voluntary, it doesn’t matter, but this is no longer voluntary,” he said.

According to government records, there were more than 13,000 registered complaints under India’s anti-dowry laws in 2019. Women’s rights activists say the actual number of cases is much higher.

Kerala alone recorded 66 dowry-related deaths, including suicide, between 2016 and 2020 and more than 15,000 cases of cruelty by husbands and relatives over the same period.

Women’s rights activists are demanding additional measures such as government audits of lavish weddings and harsh penalties for anyone found to have given or received dowry.

“This is ridiculous, this is concerning. This is very humbling. I mean, how do you ask money from a girl’s family when that family has already given up their daughter. We have proposed several amendments to the existing law to close loopholes and ensure more effective implementation of the law,” said Usha Rani P, secretary to members of the Kerala Women’s Commission. [ab/uh]

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