It was 9 A.M on a Wednesday. I was drinking my morning tea scrolling through TikTok when I came across a heartbreaking video of a young Indian woman named Ayesha Banu recording her last few words before taking her life. The suicide was due to her husband’s domestic abuse, whom she married in 2018. She said her finals goodbyes with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. She sounded as if she lost all hope in humanity and was fighting a battle she would never be able to win. If only people had reached out and shown her support, she might still have been alive, and her story would have been something else that her future generation of women could have learned from. Her final call was to her husband, who told her “she should kill herself and send him the video” rather than stopping her from taking such a harsh step. As tragic as this looks, this was not the first dowry death in India, and if people don’t change their mindsets, unfortunately, it won’t be the last. About 20 women die daily in India due to harassment over dowry, either by murder or made to commit suicide. From 2005 to 2019, the death amounted to more than 7.1 thousand. Many times arrests are not made due to the lack of evidence, and criminals walk freely to find their next dowry victim.
“Why take your life? Why not leave the abusive marriage?”
To answer this question, we must first understand how the dowry system came into existence. The dowry systems started a century before the partition of India and Pakistan. That is why the dowry problem resides not just in India but all South Asia. The rich business class handlers started by giving their property as inheritance to their sons, and some of that amount was given as a gift to their daughters. Dowry was seen as a way for the family to give women their share. The dowry system has always been complex and deep-rooted. During the Colonial rule, it was the only way to get married because the British had made the practice mandatory. As time went on, it became more of a demand from the groom’s side than a gift. A few of the reasons dowry is demanded 1. it has been going on for generations in the groom’s side of the family, and no one is willing to break the cycle due to family pressure 2. The groom’s parents have spent a lot on their son’s upbringing, from paying for his education to helping him get a house. After marriage, that luxury lifestyle will be shared by his wife. 3. The groom’s side needs to maintain a status in front of relatives and friends. The more educated and wealthy the groom, the more money he will demand, the more he will display.
The Dowry prevention act of 1961 made it illegal to demand and receive dowry in India and recommended imprisonment of a minimum of 5 years. Even if the groom’s side does not demand dowry, at times, the bride’s side pays it to show pride and a symbol of social status. Instead of downright asking for dowry, the groom’s family may ask for it by saying, “We don’t want dowry; you may give your daughter any gift you want.” and just like that, the burden of dowry is placed on the parents. So legally, it will no longer be dowry but a gift given by the bride’s parents to the couple. Even if the dowry system is a threatening reality, the girl’s parents have no choice but to give dowry due to the fear that no-one will marry their daughter if they don’t.
The majority of females that are victims of dowry find it a little easier to stay in an abusive marriage than to leave. Since divorce is still taboo in the South Asian community, divorced females are often looked down upon. One reason for that is in South Asian communities; family reputation is put first. South Asians have closely-knit communities, which have a huge influence, and their opinions matter. When a daughter gets divorced, she is believed to have shamed the family’s reputation and lost respect. It’s actually worse for women seeking divorce while having paid a huge dowry amount. The husband doesn’t want her unless she brings more dowry. The girl’s parents abandon her because they don’t want to hurt their family’s reputation. The girls’ parents often tell their daughters to stay in an abusive marriage because of the amount of dowry that is already given, which cannot be taken back. They don’t want to be humiliated in front of their community and go through a difficulty of financial struggle at the same time. This leaves the girl with no emotional and financial support.
What can be done to help fix this issue?
If you or someone you know is being harassed for dowry, you could reach out to many mutual and legal support groups that help. We need to educate our daughters and help them become financially independent. If you as a parent are saving for your daughter’s dowry and not investing in her education, you are putting a price tag on your child, and she will never be able to defend herself. Getting rid of the dowry system can help fix many other problems, such as female infanticide. If possible, it’s better to get a prenuptial agreement before marriage and always know your marital rights. In India, Hindu marriages don’t consist of a contract, unlike Muslims. However, a prenup is still governed by the Indian Contract Act and has as much sanctity as other contracts, oral or written. Parents also need to realize you can always fight to get your money back, but nothing will bring back your daughter once she is gone. Stop worrying about what others might think and support your daughter who needs it the most. It’s about time we break the toxic cycle of dowry and show love and respect to our women and not put a price on them.
By : Mubina C