Dowry system is one of the social evils that prevails in the Indian Society.To eradicate this evil dowry system from India,it requires sustained and concrete efforts in the right direction.
Dowry system in Indian Society: Origin, impact and remedies
Among the social evils that prevail and plague Indian society, the dowry system plays the most devastating role. It has spread out its tentacles far and wide in the society affecting almost every section of the society.
Origin of Dowry:
The system of dowry had its origin in the Vedic period which began only as a formal rite in the institution of marriage. Among the various types of Hindu marriages, ‘Kanyadan’ played a significant role in the evolution of the dowry system. During Kanyadan, a bride was given as a gift to a bridegroom by her father. As stipulated in the Dharmasasthra, Kanyadan is a meritorious act and it is not complete until a bridegroom is given a dakshina while performing and solemnizing the ceremony of Kanyadan.
In other words during Kanyadan form of marriage, the bridegroom has to be given something in cash or kind which constitute Varadakshina.Thus Kanyadan form of marriage became associated with Varadakshina,i.e the cash or gifts in kind to be paid by the parents or guardian of the bride to the bridegroom. Thus Dakshina or Varadakshina was offered out of affection and did not constitute any kind of compulsion or obligation or consideration for the marriage. It was a voluntary act or practice followed in those days to comply with the stipulations enjoined in Dharmasasthra without any coercive overtones.
However, in the course of time, the voluntary element associated with Varadakshina during Kanyadan marriage has disappeared and the coercive element has crept in. It has taken deep roots not only in the marriage ceremony but also extended to the post-marital relationship.
Thus what was originally intended as a token Dakshina for the bridegroom has now gone out of proportions and has assumed the modern nomenclature ‘dowry’. Considering its ramifications and the impact it created in the society, the dowry system has grown into a greedy monster, which is constantly looking out for hapless preys especially from feminine gender.
Consequent to the monstrous growth of dowry system, it has become a part and parcel of the institution of marriage. In other words, without dowry no marriage is solemnized. In the caste ridden Hindu society, the top three castes and its sub castes invariably follow the dowry system. In fact before fixing a marriage or engagement, dowry is demanded as a precondition. When the demand for dowry is not accepted, a disagreement is reached and the marriage proposal gets foiled even at the preliminary stage. The personality of a bride or bridegroom, their willingness for the proposed marriage etc which are normally considered as the essential prerequisites of a marriage take the backstage.
Another salient feature of the dowry system is that it is always associated with the status of the parties to the marriage. In particular, in the arranged marriages, the bridegroom’s parents demand a sum in cash or in kind, in the form of jewelry, material things like household articles, car and house etc. The irony is such demands are made befitting the economic status of the bridegroom’s family or the position held by the bridegroom or the actual amount that he earns as salary or in his business or profession. If the agreed amount of cash or kind is not paid before the marriage, it even leads to the termination of the contract of marriage and the marriage is not solemnized.
The system of dowry has also become a primary source of post-marital disputes. When the agreed amount of dowry is not paid or it is partly paid and partly promised, some times the marriage is solemnized and even consummated. When the bride’s family is not able to fulfill the promise of dowry due to poverty, the strife begins at the marital home, in which the entire family members of the bridegroom is pitted against the bride. Going further, the bride, for no fault of her, is verbally abused in a vituperative language, assaulted or violently beaten by her husband, in extreme cases the bride is strangled to death or put to flame using petrol or kerosene. The bride is not spared even when she is pregnant or a mother of a baby.
Unable to fulfill the dowry demands of the marital home, the bride is mostly driven back to her parent’s home. Somehow or other, the brides parents should fulfill the demands for dowry, so as to ensure a better future for their daughters at their marital homes. In the result, the bride’s parents become heavily indebted and wallow in poverty or struggle to have their both ends meet throughout their life.
In the modern days the Dowry Prohibition Act, specifically makes the act of demanding or taking as well as giving dowry during the marriage, a crime. Consequently, there is a long queue of hapless women standing before the women police stations as well as the courts to prefer a complaint against the members of their marital home. In some cases, harassment for dowry results in deaths of women leading to a protracted trail against the members of the marital home.
Sometimes, hapless men are being harassed by women misusing the provisions of Dowry Prohibition Act, preferring false complaints against their husbands. Hence, courts have begun to consider such cases sympathetically and even issued instructions accordingly. If a woman prefers a complaint against her husband on the ground of harassment for dowry, the police authorities need not automatically arrest him unless a prima facie case is made out on enquiry.
Thus the dowry system creates a chaos in the society, by promoting violence and strife among the members of the families and thereby dismembering the families.
Remedies against the dowry system and its evil effects on society:
As early as 1939, the evils of the dowry system were felt. Sporadic State legislations were not do to prevent the widely prevalent dowry system. Subsequent to independence, the Government of India began to enact legislations empowering women in India.
1) In the Hindu Succession Act, 1955, a woman was placed on equal footing with men, entitling them to have property rights. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, tries to do away with the system of dowry by declaring that both taking and giving dowry as a crime. It stipulated punishments up to 2 years for dowry harassment and up to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for deaths caused by dowry harassment. Certainly, these enactments act as a deterrent against the system of dowry. However, by and large still the system of dowry prevails and the culprits go scot-free since no body comes forward to prefer a complaint against them.
2) It requires concrete and sustained efforts to campaign against the system of dowry and eradicate it once and for all from the society:-:
i) It should begin from the schools and colleges in which the student community should be properly educated against the evils of dowry system and they should even take a vow that they will not give or take dowry from their prospective spouses.
ii) Promoting love marriages on the one hand helps to abolish the caste system and on the other hand it helps to throw away the dowry system into the dust bin.
iii) Spreading the message against the dowry system by conducting periodical legal aid camps and offering counseling to the victims as well as the general public will help to spread the awareness among them against the dowry system.
iv) Creating more stringent provisions in the dowry prohibition act like awarding a higher punishment to those who take or give or even demand dowry. Imposing punishments like imprisonment to those who cause the death of the victim by dowry harassment is a way of giving stringent punishment.
v) The root cause for the existence and continuation of the dowry system is that parents of the bride despite being poor agree to the unreasonable demands for dowry made by the parents of the bridegroom. Therefore, they should make it a policy that they will never agree or make any compromise on the issue of giving or taking dowry, how long their daughter may remain unmarried.
It requires commitment to eradicate the system of dowry. Perhaps a whole generation may have to suffer to get rid of this evil system. Instead of suffering from dowry harassment or losing your precious lives, it is better to remain unmarried for a common cause and for the benefit of the posterity.