Friday, July 15, 2005
Till dowry do us part
”Raju I hope, with our generation the evil of dowry will end”.
Bahadur was the quintessential Indian comic book hero, and the Indrajal comics (Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Flash Gordon) were something I grew up with and still love. This picture is from an old Bahadur comic (courtesy The comic project). I must have read this particular issue “The seeds of poison” way back in 1985 or ’86, and even then it was at least 4-5 years old (handed down to me by a cousin).
Wishful words. It’s about 20 years since I read that comic. The generation (starting a few years before me) is now mostly married, and many even have children.
In 1994 there were nearly 6000 official deaths due to dowry related causes. The number for 2004 was an estimated 9000.
The numbers of women suffering from domestic violence due to dowry demands are many fold that number.
This chilling article talks about the need to import brides, because the female:male ration has dropped so much in Haryana that brides are hard to find.
Most of my Indian friends are the so-called “intellectual cream”, who went to top Engineering colleges (IIT, BITS, REC/NIT, Anna University) or Medical colleges, or Law Schools (like NLS) and B-schools. Many of them are studying or working in the States.
Many of them do not think about dowry, but a surprising number (small majority) do not think there is anything wrong with dowry. Here are some real responses to my queries (I sometimes bring up uncomfortable topics in dinner conversations) that some of these friends come up with.
“Taking dowry itself is not wrong, but if you abuse your wife, then it’s wrong”
“I’ll take dowry if I have an arranged marriage, and if my wife is less educated than I am and earns less. Why shouldn’t I? It’s a good investment for her anyway”
“I don’t want to change any customs, it’s been done for many years, so why should I change that?”
“I can’t say no if my parents ask the bride for dowry. Maybe I won’t ask dowry for my kids’ marriages.”
The ink that wrote those words of hope in that comic have been smudged and erased a long time ago.
The Adivasis of India are dubbed “backward” and “primitive” by many people (especially in the cities). In a majority of these Adivasi societies, women have the complete right to choose whom they marry. The man has to pay her family a dowry. She is considered an economic asset to the family.
She can leave a marriage whenever she wants to, and marry some one else. Marriages before girls reach puberty are almost unheard of. Couples can also live together before marriage if they so desire.
Primitive and backward?