A thin line divides dowry and gift of love


The initial purpose of dowry was to help the husband feed and protect his family and to give the wife and children some support in the event of his untimely death. In some parts of Europe land dowries were common. And in the absence of sons the land was given to the son-in-law on condition that he takes the wife’s surname, to continue the family name.

In Victorian England, dowries were seen among the upper class as an early payment of the daughter’s inheritance. If given at the time of marriage the girl could not claim another share of the inheritance at her parent’s death.

In generations past, in India too dowry was the noble custom which had its origins from ‘streedhan’ where the daughter was given a share in the ancestral property to which she otherwise had no inheritance rights. But today, dowry has morphed into an evil practice that breeds mental and physical abuse and economic exploitation of the bride and her family.

In the lower income category there is a blatant demand for dowry and the resultant consequences have grown tragically familiar. Beneath the placid surface of the upper middle class and the landed gentry, subtle forms of dowry harassment resonates within the silent walls of the marital home.

Nevertheless blatant or subtle the disastrous consequences of this evil practice is infecting the country’s social fabric. The spiralling statistics of dowry related deaths, female foeticide and infanticide stands testimony to this.
The Dowry prohibition Act and the Indian Penal Code have prohibited the payment of dowry. The giving or taking or even abetting to give or take dowry amounts to an offence which is punishable with a fine and imprisonment. The supreme court has expanded the scope of the Anti Dowry Act to cover women harassed in live-in relationships too.
Universal

Despite a slew of protective legislations, the practice of giving dowry is rampant in India. It is the common thread that runs through all cultures, religions and the distinct rungs on the socio-economic ladder. Dowry is perceived as the metric to measure the wealth and status of the families concerned.

Every now and again the nation celebrates a ‘dowry heroine’ who stands up to the outrageous demands and breaks off the financial contract to marriage at the negotiating table. She is then overwhelmed with offers of marriage from all quarters of the country from men in admiration of her courage. Unfortunately this reaction to the tempest of the moment will not suffice, we need a sweeping change in attitude towards dowry.
There is a strong view that those guilty of bride burning should be awarded capital punishment, hoping that it would work as a deterrent.

The enforcement of the Dowry Prohibition Act is a lost cause unless and until civil society decides to take a responsible role and refrains from giving dowry to their daughters or taking dowry for their sons. There is a thin but distinct line drawn between dowry and a gift of love.

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