Recently, the gruesome murder of a young woman by her husband in Delhi for dowry has sparked shocks across the country. The 38-year-old husband, an assistant professor at Delhi University, felt “cheated” after a check for 5 lakth presented to him by his wife’s family as a “wedding gift” bounced back. That a teacher who is supposed to be a role model for his students chose dowry should be a shock to all of us. The pathology of greed has infected our society.
A while back in Kerala, a man killed his wife with a cobra – again as a dowry. During his marriage he got a hell of a new car, property, 10 lakh rupees cash and 100 sovereigns gold. But that wasn’t enough. He and his family yearned for more.
No wonder sons and daughters-in-law are treated as investments for financial gain. The law can catch up with the perpetrators of these crimes; But can we bring these two innocent women back to life?
The actual institution of marriage seems to be on shaky ground. We may wonder why, despite so many advances in technology and science, our society continues to indulge in such barbaric and backward practices as dowry that kill helpless and vulnerable women every year?
Women in our society, like men, deserve dignity and self-respect. Despite the introduction of the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act, not much seems to have changed locally in recent decades. There have been few instances where women chose to divorce because of dowry. Most shockingly, many parents give in to the groom’s dowry demands to avoid social embarrassment and save their daughters’ marriage from failure. Fearful of offending the groom, they do not have the courage to seek legal counsel for their daughters.
It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that at the heart of this ingrained social malaise is a disrespectful attitude towards women. No marriage can survive if it is based on greed and self-interest. Women continue to be victims of a toxic culture that encourages violence and misogyny. This can be attributed to the excessive importance our society places on the birth of a boy. The birth of a girl is rarely celebrated in the family.
A husband has neither the right nor the authority to molest his wife physically or emotionally for dowry, or to treat her with contempt and condescension. Mahatma Gandhi believed that the male will to power was fueled by a fantasy of the female other as a regressive being – someone to be controlled and dominated. The Napoleonic code that women should stay at home and procreate also resonates in our society under the facade of modernity.
Simone de Beauvoir once said: “One is not born, one becomes a woman.” By this she meant that a woman is shaped by her upbringing. A woman is not born passive, but all the forces in the outside world have conspired to make her so. Parents need to stop telling their daughters that marriage is their ultimate destiny.
Whenever the groom’s parents ask for a dowry during a marriage negotiation, the girl must immediately refuse to marry into that family. This is real women’s empowerment. A groom who respects a woman can also make a difference by refusing to marry if her parents ask for a dowry. So the male mindset needs to change now.
As long as the greedy, shameless, and selfish grooms use marriage as their passport to wealth, and the malleable parents of the brides continue to succumb to the dictates of the grooms’ families, the dowry question will rear its ugly head from time to time.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
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