Recently, the gruesome murder of a young woman by her husband in Delhi for dowry sent shock waves throughout the country. The 38-year-old husband, an assistant professor at Delhi University, felt “cheated” after a cheque of ₹5 lakh, given to him by his wife’s family as a “wedding gift”, bounced. The fact that a teacher, who is supposed to be a role model for his students, chose to go for dowry should be a wake-up call for all of us. The pathology of greed has infected our society.
Some time ago in Kerala, a man killed his wife with a cobra — for dowry, again. During his marriage, he got a spanking new car, property, Rs 10 lakh of cash and 100 sovereigns of gold. But that was not enough. He and his family craved for more.
Little wonder, sons and daughters-in-law are treated as investments for financial gain. The law may catch up with the perpetrators of these crimes; but can we bring those two innocent women back to life?
The very institution of marriage seems to be on shaky ground. We may ask, why, despite so much technological and scientific advancement, our society continues to indulge in such barbaric and regressive practices like dowry that kill helpless and vulnerable women every year?
Women in our society deserve dignity and self-respect just like men. Despite the introduction of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, nothing much seems to have changed on the ground over the past few decades. There have been only a few instances of women opting for divorce because of dowry. The most shocking aspect is that many parents, in order to avoid social embarrassment and save the marriage of their daughters from falling apart, give in to the groom’s dowry demands. They fail to muster the courage to seek legal assistance for their daughters for the fear of antagonising the groom.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that at the heart of this deep-rooted social malaise lies a disrespectful attitude towards women. No marriage can survive if it is predicated on greed and self-interest. Women continue to remain at the receiving end of a toxic culture that promotes violence and misogyny. This can be attributed to the excessive importance our society puts on the birth of a boy. The birth of a girl is rarely a matter of celebration in the family.
A husband does not have the right or authority to physically or mentally harass his wife for dowry or to treat her with contempt and condescension. Mahatma Gandhi believed that the male will to power was driven by a fantasy of the female other as a regressive being — someone to be controlled and dominated. The Napoleonic Code that women ought to stay at home and procreate finds resonance even in our society beneath its veneer of modernity.
Simone de Beauvoir once said, “One is not born, but rather 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 external world have conspired to make her so. Parents must stop telling their daughters that marriage is their ultimate destiny.
Whenever during a marriage negotiation, the groom’s parents demand dowry, 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 when his parents demand 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 brides keep succumbing to the dictates of the grooms' families, the dowry issue will keep rearing its ugly head from time to time.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
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