Editorial: August 2012
A recent report in The Times of India was as follows: “Pooja Singh (27), who was seven months pregnant, died of burn injuries. She committed suicide by setting herself ablaze in Kalyan, a suburb of Mumbai. Her father has lodged a complaint alleging that his daughter committed suicide due to dowry harassment. According to police, Pooja's husband, mother-in-law and four others had been allegedly demanding Rs. 2 lakhs. "She was thrown out of the house and was not allowed to take her two-year old daughter."
Newly married Sangeeta was allegedly burnt alive by her husband and in-laws for dowry in Meerut recently. The victim's brother has filed a police complaint alleging that Sangeeta was set on fire by her husband Gaurav and in-laws. They were married in December last year. "A few days after the wedding, Gaurav and his family members started harassing her for dowry."
A 48-year old man was arrested in Tamil Nadu recently on charges of harassing his wife, 25 years after their marriage, for an additional dowry of Rs. 10 lakhs. When they got married, he was given gold ornaments weighing 42 sovereigns and some cash, as dowry.
Killing of women for dowry is no longer a rural phenomenon. The menace is fast catching up with the metropolitan elite-those who are considered educated, civil and well to do. It is not confined to arranged marriages, but is afflicting matrimonial bonds that emerge out of years of courtship and love.
Manjeet Kaur, who was pursuing an MBA from Symbiosis, Pune, hanged herself from a ceiling fan at home in Delhi. This 26-year old manager in a private firm, committed suicide after Saurabh Gugnani allegedly refused to marry her as his dowry demands were not met. Gugnani allegedly told Manjeet, during an internet chat, to marry someone else or commit suicide. Gugnani is alleged to have demanded a Honda City car and Rs. 5 lakh as dowry. Despite the wedding date and venue having been fixed, Gugnani refused to marry Manjeet as his dowry demands were not met. Gugnani and his mother are reported to be absconding. It seems that despite giving in to every demand that Gugnani's family had set for the engagement, the greed of the boy's family had no end.
The fact that 12 women are either killed or forced to die for dowry every month in the national capital would bring the gravity of the situation in focus. According to the statistics provided by the Delhi Police, Delhi reported 142 dowry deaths in 2011. There were 143 such deaths in 2010. 8391 dowry deaths were reported in the country during 2010.
After handing over her female child for infanticide, a mother gave the following justification: “Being the only daughter in the family, I witnessed the struggles my mother had undergone. Without the support of my father, she incurred debts, sold her belongings and got me married. After the marriage, my husband started harassing me, demanding dowry. When we could not fulfil his demands, I was tortured, assaulted and thrown out of the family. My mother is now old and helpless; she endured all the sufferings and misery due to this dowry harassment. She sold everything she had so that I could lead a peaceful life. The male dominant society did not let me live in peace. I am abandoned with my two kids. I do not want the same horrible situation to happen to my children. A male child would somehow survive. But the female child, like me and my mother, would be physically and mentally battered. Rather than letting my daughter live in misery and cruelty every day, it is better to end her life now itself…"
This shocking episode is repeated regularly in the different States of our country. Due to the preference for the male child, female foeticide is on the increase. This child gender ratio has dropped to the lowest since Independence-914 girls to 1000 boys in the 0 to 6 age group, according to the 2011 Census. It was 976 in 1961. According to a study, about 500,000 female foetuses are aborted annually in our country. This is intrinsically linked to the dowry system. The thinking that education and better socio-economic conditions will automatically translate into equality for women is seen completely shattered. Educated and wealthy people go to great pains to get rid of unwanted girl children.
The mistreatment of women begins before birth and is perpetuated throughout their lives. If a girl is lucky enough to be born, chances are that she will not be wanted. If she survives infancy, she is subjected to all sorts of deprivation from food to education to basic human rights. As a daughter-in-law, the subjugation continues in the form of harassment for dowry to the extent of murder. Those who survive their husbands are treated with contempt and are considered a burden to be dispensed with at the earliest.
Statistics reveals that one woman is killed for dowry harassment every 30 minutes in our country. Human Resources Report 2010 states that every 15 minutes one woman undergoes dowry harassment. One woman is compelled to commit suicide because of dowry harassment every six hours.
Dowry is any property or valuable security given by the bride's family to the family of the bridegroom, during or in the course of the marriage. When dowry is demanded, followed by harassment, physical torture and different pressure tactics, the exchange becomes inhuman and illegal.
In this situation prevalent throughout the country, it is good to see that some brave girls have shown determination to fight against the practice of dowry. A bridegroom in Tamil Nadu demanded a dowry of Rs. 10,000. The girl's parents agreed to pay the amount within a week. The boy's parents insisted on immediate payment. The girl got up from the marriage pandal, rushed to the police station, filed a complaint against the boy and his family. The 'bridegroom' and the members of his family were arrested. It is hoped that more such girls will come forward in the days to come.
India has very progressive laws to protect the rights of women. The law prescribes severe punishments for harassment of women within a marriage or outside. For example, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 stipulates as follows:
- If anyone gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he/she shall be punishable with imprisonment for not less than five years and with fine not less than Rs. 15,000 or the amount of value of dowry, whichever is more.
- Whoever causes dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years and may extend to imprisonment for life.
- If any person demands, directly or indirectly, from the parents or other relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom any dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months, but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to Rs. 10,000.
- When the death of a young woman occurs unnaturally in unusual circumstances, within seven years of marriage, it is deemed to be a dowry death.
- If anyone committed suicide, persons who caused it and supported it, he/she will be punished for a maximum period of ten years of imprisonment and a penalty.
The problem is with the enforcement of the laws. The laws have to be implemented rigorously. Presently, too many offenders get away scot-free encouraging others to violate the law. This must change.
People are aware of the fact that giving and taking dowry is a crime. (In any case, ignorance is not an excuse). But many people still dare to press for dowry under the guise of social practice, custom and security. It is unfortunate that Christians, even those who claim to have forsaken the world and are looking forward for the imminent return of our Lord, are also heavily bargaining for dowry, when the occasions arise. It is reported that some churches get a cut on the dowry paid! It is good for all concerned to remember that the Lord is coming to execute judgement on all, to convict all who are ungodly, of all the ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way…" (Jude 15).
How did this practice become prevalent among us? Obviously, this is another example of the world getting into the church. We have conveniently adopted the practice of other religions, to satisfy our greed for filthy lucre.
When girls were betrothed in Old Testament times, by their parents to their prospective husbands, the grooms paid a dowry or marriage price. Each girl represented potential wealth to her father. The girl was considered as a part of the family wealth.
The Bible mentions the word 'dowry' in four different places: twice in Genesis (30:20;34:12), once in Exodus (22:17) and once in 1 Samuel (18:25). Briefly, the situations were as follows:
- Leah called her son Zebulun recognising God's bounty to her, "God has endowed me a good dowry." She was delighted to welcome Zebulun as God's endowment for her.She reckoned a family of children as good dowry.
- Shechem, the son of Hamor, said to Jacob, "Ask me even so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife." He promised to pay whatever marriage price and bridal gift Jacob and his sons might impose.
- In Exodus 22, the law stipulated that if a man enticed a virgin, he should surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. This law put honour upon marriage.
- King Saul sent word to David, "The king does not desire any dowry, but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines." David paid the dowry for Michal, as demanded by King Saul, his would-be father-in-law. Saul demanded it in kind, instead of cash. It was intended to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.
In course of time, we have turned the practice upside down, to put a price tag on the boys. They are sold for a price in the marriage market.
When did the system change? Is it a reflection of the deterioration of the place of women in society? Educational programmes encouraging parents to view daughters as no less valuable than sons should be mounted. The girl child should be turned into an asset, instead of an economic liability. The practice of undervaluing girls must stop. Sons and daughters have equal rights to the assets of their parents.
It is past time we get rid of this evil dowry practice. It is illegal and shameful. In many situations, it has disastrous consequences. Many parents are led to indulge in female foeticide because of dowry. The declining gender ratio in our country is clearly indicative of this malady. It should not have a place in our society, especially among Christians.