The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term “dowry” as “an amount of money or propriety that a woman’s parents give to the man she marries.” It is an ancient practice that has its roots long before the Babylonian civilization, and has been practiced all around the world for centuries afterward. During the 20th century it was still common in some regions of both Europe and Asia, but since then, this phenomenon has been slowly fading from the world until it disappeared from almost every country. Unfortunately this practice is still very present today in some South-Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and especially India. In arranged marriages, the groom’s family dictates the amount of dowry to be paid, while the bride’s family is forced to pay whatever amount was dictated, even if it goes beyond their actual wealth. The dowry can take form of money, jewelry, furniture, land, possessions, or anything that has monetary value. It places the family of the groom in a very powerful position as it can keep asking for more dowry even after the payment has been made.
If the groom’s family does not deem the payment to be adequate, or if the bride’s family is incapable or refuses to pay, then the bride’s life can be in serious danger. In fact, if the payment is incomplete or insufficient, the groom’s family will try to extort money with threats and violence, often resulting in the bride’s death, usually by acid or burning alive. It is hard to escape dowry because sometimes the groom’s family waits until the end of the wedding to demand the payment in order to assure the
success of the marriage.
A study from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says that in the year 2013, this tragic death was the faith of 8.233 women across India, and less than 2.000 cases were convicted. However, different sources say that the dowry victims each year are actually 25.000, and others even over 100.000. This conflicting data is probably due to the countless cases filed as victims of “domestic accident” or mere “suicide.” In reality these “accidents” may well be covered-up murders, or induced suicides. This injustice has been going on for decades despite the Dowry Prohibition Act passed in 1961, which was meant to protect Indian brides by declaring the act of demanding, giving, or taking dowry illegal and punishable with “no less than 5 years of prison” and, in case of a victim, the imprisonment could be extended for life.
One might ask why it is so difficult to eradicate dowry. The answer to this question lies in the history of the country itself. As a matter of fact, the dowry system is now deeply rooted into Indian culture, and it is extremely difficult to eradicate a seed that has already sprouted. One of the factors responsible for the existence of dowry in the Indian society is the inheritance system, which placed women in a position of disadvantage since they were not entitled to their parents’ wealth after their death. Despite the law has changed in 1956, placing sons and daughters on the same level, the dowry system has continued undisturbed. Probably, the most influential factor is the social one: in countries like India, women are often considered inferior to men, thus not worthy of an education. This makes a woman incapable of finding a job and providing for herself, making her feel like she must depend on a man if she does not want to represent an economic burden to her family. Furthermore, divorce is not an option to escape dowry, as it is not socially accepted and considered a taboo and a dishonor by many Indian families; in fact, the family of a divorced bride must bear the social stigma for life.
This ruthless practice is detrimental for the Indian society, and it has even led to a preference for male children over girls, creating a gender disparity as some desperate, pregnant women kill their female fetuses before they have a chance to see the world, in order to protect them from such dreadfulness. The dowry system represents a net of corruption, threats, and killings that seems to be very hard to stop as it is an integrating part of the Indian society. However, it could be easily prevented starting from the girl’s home. In fact, it is usually the girl’s family that puts her in the hands of the extortive in-laws. Instead, if she got educated and a job, she would no longer represent a burden to her family, becoming more independent, thus not succumbing to a potential violence from the groom.