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?


Anonymous said...

Sunil, you really have a way with these uncomfortable topics don't you - caste and now dowry. I have seen and know a lot of men educated, well-off and many working in the US who do not directly agree to it but turn a blind eye to it when their parents insist on a dowry... "I didn't know till the last minute, then what could I do?" I even know of a spineless jellyfish who offered to pay back some of the dowry amount to his wife's parents after the wedding but not stand up to his parents.

gawker said...

I used to think once the previous generation is gone, India could have a fresh start with the progressive ideas of this generation. But I guess I was giving this generation too much credit. Who knows how many generations India has to go through before coming out of the midieval age.

Anonymous said...

Sunil, maybe I should read more Bahadur comics, at least for the "moral of the story"!

"Intellectual cream", eh? The comments show their real intellect. If you hear what some of the "cream" has to say, I don't know what would you call them. I'm happy that some women are bringing into light instances of dowry demands these days. Maybe this is a new hope.

Charu, I also know one "spineless jellyfish"; I am sad that it is a friend.

Sunil said... really saddens me to see such complete failure of "education."'re right.....their comments show their reall intellect....but these people are really going to be amongst the most visible people in their chosen fields. I actually know a guy from National Law School (considered to be the best law school in Asia) who shrugged when I asked him about dowry. Law school, damn it!

Gawker....I'm still waiting to see the "progressive" ideas of this generation. I really feel some of our parents were more "progressive" for their times than we are for ours.

Veena said...

Hi Sunil,

I know exactly what you mean. Two of my best friends(one of whom isn't really a friend anymore) were supposed to get married to each other until the groom's family brought up the issue of dowry. Thankfully, the wedding did not happen and she is married to a really nice guy now.

I don't think education has anything to do with this phenomenon. There was a time when I used to think education plays an important place in social evolution but I have come to understand over the years that education(the way we have it today) is probably one of the most overrated ideas ever!

Anonymous said...

This inspired a post.

Sunil said...

The bride.....I disagree. Education does play a role....but what is largely dished out today is not really "education", it's just degrees which get you a job. But I think some of us have been fortunate to receive an education :-)

I'm happy for your friend who's married to someone nice now.

Srikanth (I'm cross posting this in your blog also)....

The malice of dowry is spread across India. Not just in Andhra (though it is common there). One of my Telugu speaking friends working in Microsoft, who is fanatically against dowry (and has had plenty of arguements and fights with parents and relatives about the issue) says the typical "dowry" demand of a Telugu software engineer working in the US is Rs. 25 lakh to 1 crore (2.5 million rupees to 10 million rupees).

Now, why would a software engineer working in the US (average salary exceeding $ 80,000) even want to consider taking a dowry of this sum? The mind boggles, while reeling in disgust.

Anonymous said...

sunil, my comment on srikanth's post -
Srikanth, like sunil says, the dowry problem is not restricted to AP - but I know that in AP, there are dowry slabs / rate cards - you can command so many lakhs depending on which category you fall under - for instance, an IAS officer gets the most (I dont know the current market rate though) followed by doctors and so on - also if you are in the US, then you can charge a premium.
and all these are decided based on the education level of the groom. can anything be more ironical?

greatbong said...

And here is an interesting Telegu friend told me that dowry is so prevalent in Hyderabad that if he does not ask for dowry then people will think that there is something "wrong" with him (past marriage, impotence etc).[ In other words, noone buys the "on principle" argument] When his elder brother got married, their parents told everyone they took dowry when in reality, they took nothing.

Sunil said...

Arnab.....that's really one of the aren't considered normal in some societies if you don't take dowry! Like I mentioned in my earlier friend has had arguements with everyone on this issue, and now has said that he's not going to get into an arranged marriage if such thoughts persist (I just hope he finds someone whom he likes, and who likes him, on his own)

And Aditya, like I said before, it's a failure of education (and only an accumulation of degrees) if you cannot stand up to these issues. Somehow, I think our children are going to face the same issues. The comic was just as hopeful as you....25 years ago!

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
I think dowry originated from an attitude that girl were a liability and the parent were offering a bribe to get rid of the girl. Actually, in many places in India, girls as young as 9 or less got married, so it wasn't surprising that the parents had to pay the groom a subsidy to take care of a child. My wife's grandmother got married at 9.

I don't see how this system persists. I would think women would just say, if you don't want me, I'll choose the next guy. The supply of marriagable women cannot exceed the demand, can it?

Sunil said...

With child marriages, it's a little more complex. After marriage, the children would continue to live with their parents, and would go to their new families only after puberty was reached.....not as children.

Well.....I would wish that more women would tell guys to take a hike....but it doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. There are too many social pressures (including pressure from their own parents, and a question of "family honor" which keeps this system going).

Sourin Rao said...

No, the origin of dowry did not start off as a bribe. In fact dowry,"dahej" or "meher"(if I remember correctly) as it is colloquially, was an allowance provided by the parents when the daughter got married. This was not only cash, but also came with land, jewellry even servants. This allowance was just means to make the girls life comfortable in her husbands house. If you get an opportunity, watch an old Hindi movie called "Dahej", starring Prithiviraj Kapoor, which exemplifies the negatives of the dowry system quite well.

Over a period of time, this was institutionalised as a mandatory custom. I remember chatting with a programmer from AP at a social gathering and he casually mentioned that he took only "Rs. 8 lacs" in dowry. When the rest of us started berating him for this dastardly act, he retorted " Well there are programmers from the US who take 1 crore in dowry". And this from a guy who was making well over $100,000 in the US!!!

Sunil said...

true, so true.

Shivam...don't berate the country......if enough people stand up to it, it will be overcome.

अनूप शुक्ल said...

दहेज का कारण समाज में बढ़ता 'कन्ज्यूमरिज्म' भी है। लड़के जो अभी पढ़कर निकले वे तुरन्त सब कुछ हासिल कर लेना चाहते हैं।कार,बंगला आदि-इत्यादि।शादी के बाद खुशहाल रहने के लिये कहीं
-कहीं लड़कियां भी चाहती हैं कि उनको दहेज के साथ विदा किया जाये। लड़के आश्चर्यजनक रूप से 'गधे' होते जा रहे हैं। वे शादी में लड़की खुद देखकर पसंद करेंगे लेकिन बाकी बातें बाप पर छोड़ देते हैं।अचानक वे श्रवणकुमार बन जाते हैं। खुद निर्णय लेने का जोखिम नहीं उठा पाते। इसमें बुरा क्या है वे तबतक नहीं तय कर पाते जब तक खुद वे शादी करने लायक लड़कियों के बाप नहीं बन
जाते। मेरी एक मित्र अपने चाहने वाले लड़के से शादी नहीं कर पायी क्योंकि लड़का अपनी मां की भारी दहेज की मांग का विरोध कर पाने में असमर्थ था। बाद में लड़की ने अपने दूसरे समझदार मित्र से शादी की जिसमें केवल मंदिर में दो माला,पंडित की दक्षिणा तथा रजिस्ट्रेशन का खर्चा लगा। दोनों खुश हैं। दहेज तब तक खत्म नहीं होगा जब तक लड़कियां अपने पैरों खड़ी होकर अपना महत्व नहीं समझेंगी तथा लड़के यह नहीं समझेंगे कि जीवनसाथी तथा 'कमोडिटी' में अंतर होता है।बहरहाल पोस्ट अच्छी लगी।

Anonymous said...

Let me play the devil's advocate on this list where everyone seems to be agreed that dowry is evil. Maybe my moral compass is screwed up, but I see marriage as contract between two people, insofar as it has legal sanction (otherwise the issue is does not arise). I really dont see why the government should be circumscribing the right of parties to whatever contract they fell like. After in the US, people do have pre-nups. It is high time we dropped some rose-tinted view of marriage. People choose the best possible spouse they can get (assortative mating). That is afact of nature. Do you find it all surprising that rich and succesful mean around the world end up with beautiful wive(s)? In India's peculiar arranged marriage dynamic assortative mating find its expression in the form of dowry.
BTW, there were many communities in India which did not have dowary 50 years back and many in fact had bride price (reverse dowry). Bride price was a recognition that the woman was an economic resource (typically in working class families). Many of these communties have seen a reversal from bride-price to dowry. Several factors have pushed women from these families out of the workforce. The questuion of dowary is complicated and beyong the scope of this comment. Acting sanctimonious is hardly constructive.

As long as women seek stable families (hard0wired in their genes) and as long as men prefer to sow their seeds around, there will be a large number of women chasing few powerful, rich men. In different socities that chase will take different forms.

Ley me state that i did not take dowry nor did anyone I know closely. I dont think I need to state this but I will cl;arify just in case. Bride burning or tortue or anything that is against the law should of course be dealt with strictly. I know that there is alaw against dowry, but I see that law as flawed and basically against the spirit ofn freedom of contract.

Sunil said...

अनूप, मुझॆ खुशी है कि आप की मित्र अब सुखी है|

Anonymous, I disagree with you, but you are welcome to have your opinion and play the devil's advocate.

Anonymous said...

If rich people want to exchange dowry (in lakhs and crores), it's their problem. i don't think it's a big deal. really. it's all strictly business. that kinda money usually circulates. atleast they can afford it.

i think it's absolutely wrong when people demand money from poorer parents (of the bride), even though they justify it by saying it's for your own daughter's better life or whatever.

Also, I know instances where moms are more prone to ask dowry for their sons. whereas the dad might be usually impotent, weak and old (retired?) and lays low during the negotiations and his wife runs the show. that's really sad.

IndianHusbands said...

Dowry is BAD. And I support the eradication.

But there are Sequels to such stories. yet unknown and not documented.

Raju and his sister files a false Section 498A, and related sections on vikram, his siblings and his family members including his old parents. Reasons erratic demands of vikrams wife unfulfilled by him and his family.

visit and related links to find out the cry of the indian family victimised by the daughter in law.

Anonymous said...

Indin males are not human being, they are perceived as beast. when an Indian male commit suicide, then it is of course owing to the following causes:-
1) Intolerable Debt.
2) Alcohol
3) Illicit relationship
4) Depression.
when an Indian woman commit suicide, then it is of course owing to the following cause

Do you know that suicide rate in India Man:woman=2:1

Actually your perception is all women are from raja harichandra's family and all men are born criminal.
You ern & rule on male tax payers' money and in turn put 498A & DV act.You have created a good money erning business for Indian women. Carry on. May god Bless you for this gender war.
One thing is assured. The future indian generation will be full of educated criminals, depressed people and drug addicts emerging out from these broken families. Its impact on Indian economy will be huge and long lasting.
I have a suggestion to you. Why don't you make a bill that all indian Indian husband will be hanged if allegation is made by wife.
Maintenance of wife is a legal binding but keeping home well is not at all a legal binding for married women. Actually our mothers and grand mothers were so fool that they choosed peace and sacrifice instead of violence & denial of keeping home well . let us feel pity for them.

Anonymous said...

My teacher told us in our childhood not to take dowry and be like real men. Yes, but I cant compromise on the outer and inner beauty of a woman. Hee hehheh ehe.............. It is the stupidity of some girls parents, thinking that their girl is ugly , even if she is really ugly they use lot of money to get her married off to a guy in a good position or fall for abroad settled guys like dogs and fools. It is their mistake. They must know what the girls want. Also when the son is in a big position, the mother of the groom goes off proudly and starts making dowry demands, forgetting she is a woman. The future generation will see man giving dowry to get married, that's fine , then we'll see how people react.

anjalirego said...

I am a journalist and I am working on a story. Do you know about groups that like to read and exchange Phantom and Mandrake comics. These comics were a rage in the 80s and are published even today. currently, vendors tell me that these comics disappear as soon as they land at their shops. There are collectors in Mumbai who have trunkful of these comics and who refuse to let anyone know that they have it. Im trying to locate these loyal fans. Btw, they call themselves Phans. Pls reply asap with contacts of such people on

Anonymous said...

Listen people. I have two perspectives of this so called "dowry" system. Decide yourself why it is still there in Indian social system.

Girl's perspective: If I am a working woman and I stand as equal to my man, what is the point of giving a dowry? But, what is the social status of my family if I get married to a man without dowry. We are nowhere poor (and friends nobody is poor according to their values and beliefs). And, what would people think if he is a "Man" or not if I don't give dowry. I buy the man and he doesn't complain later in my married life that he didn't get benefit from my family. I'll pay the dowry. After all it will support me only in my married life.

Boy's perspective: I am earning so much money and I am well qualified (though he is just one among the millions) I would lead my family, my wife, my children. After all I take care of her for the next 75 yrs more to come. Why don't I take a little dowry after all it is for their daughter's future only (It is one of the best ways to get rich very quickly) And, if I don't take, they would think I am asking more favors from them because I didn't take dowry later. Ask more now itself.

My perspective: I say that dowry is just a token of small gift to the newly married couple for their future, no where it is perennial nor a life changing treasure. Those who cannot afford, you should never give. Those who understand this should never demand. After all, marriage is made for love not money!

- Nath V.G.

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