A Hopeful Tomorrow

While dowry has proven to be a continued issue faced by women and their families throughout India on a daily bases, there is still hope. A great article that I have referred to in this blog before is “The Origin of the Dowry System” by Sanskriti. In the article, Sanskriti mentions one mention which he/she believes can resolve the problem entirely. It is a sort of “anti-dowry cell” of law enforcement that will work in a sort of ‘sting’ operation style of catching the groom and in-laws in the act of accepting or demanding dowries. It could instill fear in families whom hope to gain wealth through marriage in the manner of dowry, and give brides and their families a greater sense of security from mistreatment.

At the end of the day, Sanskriti also mention that “there can be no solution without victims refusing to be victimized.” I do agree with this, in a sense, but I also strongly believe that there can be no solution without the intervention of people from around the world who are not necessarily involved with Indian culture. It will take the help of people from all over to bring a complete end to the practice of dowry and dowry deaths in India. So I will leave you by saying that it is up to us to help make a change for tomorrow.

Cases in the News

Here, I am going to list a couple of the news articles of recent dowry deaths or harassments in India. These cases demonstrate the severity of the issue that many women face in India, currently. Even with laws in place to protect wives and their families from being victims of this terrible practice, its existence is still persistent and common across the country.

  • “Shattered dreams: the women tormented by dowry abuse” by Neelima Choahan (4/8/16)
    • After an arranged marriage, which included dowries and costs upwards of $100,000, a young woman was still physically and emotionally abused by her husband and in-laws because they demanded more. The young girl eventually fled from her new ‘family’ and sought the protection of the law as she feared for her life. The young girl is now forced to live in a safe house in Melbourne, Australia. This is the perfect example of a case in which a young girl and her family are forced to give-up so much during marriage, yet are then expected to give even more in the ensuing months or face severe punishment.
  • “Man, father held for dowry death” from The Times of India (4/17/16)
    • This is a short article that mentions a man and his father who are being held under custody after a young, 26 year old wife committed suicide by hanging last Friday. The two men physically and emotionally harassed the woman so much for an increased dowry that she took her own life. This is absolutely despicable and cannot go unpunished. The saddening thing is, there are cases like this that occur everyday throughout India. Yet they are not brought to the media because they many times don’t get reported as dowry related because the family of the wife is too scared.
  • “Police constable arrested for bribe demand in dowry case in Barmer”
    • Slightly off topic, but I believe a critical point that has to change if there is going to be hope in bringing a complete end to the practice of dowry in India. Even though dowry is illegal, corruption in government and law enforcement can make for reporting cases or bringing about justice difficult for many wives and their families.

I could have continued to make a list even longer with different examples of dowry’s continued practice, today. But I feel that this three articles can give a person a pretty good understanding that this is a major issue facing thousands of women and families on a daily basis in India, and around the globe.

Its Origin

After quite a bit of research aimed at pinning down the origin of dowries in Indian cultures, I have not been able to discover one unanimous answer. There are many different speculations as to where the dowry system might have begun as a practice — some of which I will mention in the post.

One speculation that I came across was that it started in 300 B.C., when Alexander the Great and his armies ventured into the Indian subcontinent during their conquests. It is believed that the practice might have been a result of Alexander’s “mass marriages”. (see first citation)

Another hypothesis is that the practice of dowry is hinted at in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the Manu Smriti. In the Manu Smriti, there are a number of different methods of marriage, and one of which seems very similar to the practice of modern day dowry. As the family of the bride looks for a husband, they are forced to try and win over the hearts of the husband through gifts and other forms of wealth. (see second citation)

Lastly, and the origin theory that I personal credit for the modern-day practice of dowry, is that everything began to start going down-hill when British colonialists took control of India in the late 18th century. Traditionally, women had been allowed to own their own property and maintain the gifts and land that had been given to them by their family at the time of their marriage. But because the British were so against women being able to own property, they made it so all gifts and property given to wives during marriage went immediately to the husband and his family. Thus the modern-day dowry system was born. This eventually spun out of control when husbands and in-laws demanded greater dowries because it basically functioned as a source of income. (see third citation)

When it is all said and done, there is still no one root cause of the dowry system that has necessarily been discovered, so its origin is more up to interpretation. But one thing that is for certain is that we must all come together to bring justice for women that have been treated unjustly for many years.

“Dowry.” New World Encyclopedia. August 24, 2013. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Dowry.

“8 Types of Hindu Marriages According to Manusmriti.” Indian Weddings. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://mymarriagewebsite.com/8-types-of-hindu-marriages-according-to-manusmriti/.

Sanskriti. “The Origin of Dowry System.” Sanskriti Indian Culture. February 03, 2014. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.sanskritimagazine.com/india/the-origin-of-dowry-system/.

An Unexplained Contradiction

Okay, to begin this segment, I would like to mention that this has probably been the most prominent reason as to why I don’t understand the practice of harassment or murder by family members because of dowry. At the beginning of the year, we learned about the family systems in India, and that a joint family was far more favorable than a nuclear one. Wait, really quick, the basic definition of a joint family is “an extended family arrangement prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, consisting of many generations living in the same household, all bound by the common relationship.” Its basic purpose is to keep a family very close together, even after marriage, so that it can more easily maintain property, income, and unity. This really struck a note with me while I began researching dowry harassment and other issues caused by its difficulties. I couldn’t understand how a society that emphasizes the importance of sticking together and working with one another could also contain practices that effectively isolate and torment a member of its very own households. I understand that not everyone in India supports or takes part in dowries. But still, how can a culture so eager to promote unity in the hopes of preserving strength and stability so blatantly contradict itself by also containing a practice that isolates the wife because she is not able to meet dowry demands?

In reading an online article about the family system in India, I came across one quote that stuck out like a sore thumb. It stated that one benefit of a joint family is that it “fosters great virtues like sacrifice, affection, co-operation, spirit of selflessness, broadmindedness among its members and makes the family a cradle of social virtues.” This does not seem to be the case to me. Many times, it is these very large families, which are run by the parents or grandparents, that are the biggest offenders of dowry harassment and death. If I had to take a guess as to why this blatant contradiction has become so prevalent in Indian culture, I would have to venture to blame Westernization and its pursuit for economic stability. Because women are not generally capable of earning an impactful income in Indian society, they are (illegally) expected to do so when they enter the family during marriage. But still, this is no excuse for the existence of the harassment and abuse of these wives when they are not physically able to meet their new, joint family’s expectations.

I have no problem with the joint family system that has been set in place in India for many, many years. But I struggle to understand how a system with the intentions of creating cohesion and unity can also, in so many cases, nurture such a terrible and destructive practice in dowry.

Wikipedia contributors, “Hindu joint family,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hindu_joint_family&oldid=716220271 (accessed April 21, 2016).

Shah, Shelly. “Joint Family Culture in India: Meaning, Characteristics, Merits, Demerits.” Sociology Discussion Discuss Anything About Sociology. 2014. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.sociologydiscussion.com/family/joint-family-culture-in-india-meaning-characteristics-merits-demerits/2256.

Dowry Deaths

Since 2012, there have been nearly 25 thousand dowry related deaths in India, alone. On average, roughly one married woman dies every hour because of a dowry-related incident in India. By definition, a dowry death is “the murder or suicide of a married woman caused by a dispute over her dowry.” This is to say that the groom and his immediate family value the gained wealth and ‘gifts’ received from the bride’s family so much that they are actually willing to commit murder or drive the wife to commit suicide because her family was not able to pay a sufficient amount. This is sickening! In a country whose culture is often thought to be so incredibly beautiful, it is difficult to think that there can be a tradition that places such greater value in material possessions than in the life of a wife.

PTI. “24,771 Dowry Deaths Reported in Last 3 Years: Govt.” The Indian Express. July 31, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/24771-dowry-deaths-reported-in-last-3-years-govt/.

Wikipedia, Source. Oxford Dictionaries: A Greek-english Lexicon, a Latin Dictionary, Brave New Words, Canadian. Place of Publication Not Identified: University-Press Org, 2013.

PTI. “Dowry Deaths: One Woman Dies Every Hour – Times of India.” The Times of India. September 1, 2013. Accessed April 17, 2016. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Dowry-deaths-One-woman-dies-every-hour/articleshow/22201659.cms.