Kerala dowry deaths a worrying sign

Kerala dowry deaths a worrying sign

It is not just textbooks that need to be sanitised to inculcate in people the ideas of gender equality and respect for women

Representative image. Credit: iStock Photo

A slew of deaths of young women in Kerala in the last few days have again put the focus on the continuing practice of dowry and its terrible impact on the lives of people, families and society. In a span of one week, a young woman was found dead, another died of burn injuries, and a third was found hanging, and all of them had a history of harassment by their husbands or in-laws.

There are reports of other incidents also, and for every death, there may be many other women suffering harassment and torture, living in separation or trying to get a divorce. In all these cases, the price is paid by women for the greed of their husbands or their families, and the greed thrives on an entrenched practice that is even considered legitimate by large sections of society. Though cases are registered, many of them are not followed up and the culprits often escape.

Read more: Kerala Women's Commission head tells woman in distress to 'suffer'; apologises later

While efficient investigation and prosecution of such cases is necessary, that would only ensure that the accused are punished. But it is more important to bring about a change in social and individual attitudes, and education and awareness campaigns are needed for that. Most importantly, economic relations and the role of women in society need to change. The Kerala government has decided to revise textbooks and remove words and phrases that are disparaging of women. The narratives, stories and the language that are in common use and are taught in schools are laden with and represent the values and attitudes of a patriarchal society. They project a picture of women created by that society and that influences the attitudes and conduct of both children and adults.

It is not just textbooks that need to be sanitised to inculcate in people the ideas of gender equality and respect for women. Wrong images of and ideas about women are projected in the media, advertisements, film dialogues and other forums. It is necessary to ensure that wrong and negative images of women are not created in these forums through words and images. The chairperson of the Kerala Women’s Commission had to resign after she made an insensitive remark to a woman who complained to her in a television programme about harassment by her husband in the wake of the recent spate of dowry deaths. Even those who are at the helm of institutions that are expected to protect the rights of women have to unlearn old values and practices and learn new ones. All this is relevant for the entire country, not just Kerala, because women everywhere are victims of the dowry system.

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