"To our information, in no other civilized country similar problem of this magnitude exists. This is indeed a slur on our great heritage, ancient culture and civilization." The division Bench comprising Justice S B Sinha and Justice Dalveer Bhandari in their judgment dated August 21 2006 commented and voiced their concern over the alarming rise of dowry-related deaths, upholding a Patna High Court judgment of convicting a victim’s husband and father-in-law for poisoning her to death.
The evil of dowry is existent in India since ancient times. The custom first originated in Vaishya Hindu community that later crept in to other Hindu communities. Subsequently, with passage of time when Muslims and other communities grew in India this social curse kept on spreading almost in all considerable communities. Now, this practice has affected the entire fabric of our society, especially the poor, backward and middle class families whose economic and financial resources are limited.
There is a whole mindset behind the dowry system. Since the Hindu religion regards boys superior to girls and grants them more rights than the poor girls. The tradition of sati in past and dowry custom in present take their root in this history of discrimination and prejudice. The widows were denied social status and remarrying right; therefore they were forced to torch themselves with the corpse of their husbands so that they no more are alive to feel the bitter taste of discrimination, hatred and seclusion.
Also, the girls were denied any share in the property and wealth of their deceased father and other family members. The girls were considered a burden to be disposed off in marriage with dowry. All the things that they were had right to receive from their father’s property was only dowry, as if this was their part of inheritance that they may get. After marriage, the parents and brothers had less relations with them, even today a custom prevails that the parents do not take even a drop of water or a bite of bread from their daughters’ houses. The custom of marrying away a daughter in Hindu communities is called ‘Kanyadaan’; ‘kanya’ daughter and ‘daan’ means gift or donation.
In the modern India of the New Millennium, the dowry custom is outlawed and demanding dowry has been labelled a heinous crime, even though the menace of dowry is growing. Across the country nearly in every community the dowry custom is prevalent, practiced and even there are cases of prospective bridegrooms' families demanding a dowry from the bride’s family. In most of the cases, the parents, desperate to get their daughters married, are compelled to meet the dowry custom or demand even though they are not able to lift such a huge burden. Usually, people are apt to accept dowry as a custom and have no courage to object or reject it outright. In some areas the dowry demand takes place as bargaining and bridegrooms are valued and auctioned as they are saleable commodity.
The dowry custom is one of the biggest social evils in India. It has eaten into the moral fabric of our society. It is believed that the practice of dowry has spread far more widely among communities and regions where it was virtually non-existent until four decades ago. The committee on the Status of Women in India and the Women's Movement, in the mid-1970s, had noted that dowry had spread much beyond the Hindu upper castes, among whom it had traditionally been practised, it deepened its tentacles and spread to more groups of middle and lower castes among Hindus Muslims Christians and tribals.
The Havoc of Dowry
The dowry system involves many unholy and dreadful results. Because of the dowry even today the birth of a female child is viewed as a curse and the girls are considered as burden. The dowry custom prompts many parents to go for female foeticide. Thousands of girls do not get a chance to live and are silenced in the wombs of their mothers. With the used of widespread gender tests some parents choose an abortion to avoid the burden of an unwanted female child. A study has revealed that an estimated one million (1,000,000) female foetuses are being destroyed every year in India alone. A century ago, the female population ratio in India stood at 972 for 1,000 men. Now, it is steadily declining and in some states it has dropped to less than 750 to 1,000.
"If I don’t kill her today; tomorrow she will kill me financially or some one else will burn her for the sake of dowry," This is the rationalization of a would-be-father of an unborn female child, at the time of deciding a premature end for her. Such is the evil of dowry, rampantly prevailing in Indian society.
Due to the curse of this dowry system many girls remain unmarried because of the financial problems of their parents. Some of such girls take recourse to suicide while few of them enter flesh trade. The evil practice of dowry has turned the sacred relationship of husband and wife into a commercial relation making the life of girls and their parents a hell. It has given rise to suicide, corruption and moral degradation.
The dowry custom motivates many inlaws to commit horrendous crimes of burning, poisoning or murdering the brides. Even in cities such as the capital, New Delhi, "bride-burnings" are reported every day. A report from the federal Department of Women and Child Development—published as Violence Against Women—stated that registered dowry deaths rose from a total of 1,912 cases in 1987 to 5,157 in 1991. But women activists claim that at least 10 times as many cases are never registered. And, not to speak of the physical and mental torture by inlaws that often go unreported and unregistered. Some brides commit suicide because of the constant pressure of fetching demanded money, car TV etc from their fathers’ house whereas they have already supplied abundant dowry beyond their means.
In many cases, the poor parents get loan on interest for getting their daughters married away. Later, this loan proves such a load that multiplies and holds the entire family into its cruel grip.
Social Awareness: Start it with yourself
The Supreme Court, in its verdict on Aug 21, 2006, said that for eradication of social evil of dowry, effective steps can be taken by the society itself. A vigorous national campaign is needed to create social awareness and social consensus to abolish the dowry system. Our younger generation should come forward to rectify this trend. They should set an example by neither demanding nor offering dowry. Those who demand dowry should be socially boycotted. Unless the younger generations volunteer for such noble tasks, no such reformatory projects can succeed.
At some place or the other, we have to put an end to the cycle of taking and giving dowry. Sometimes, it is seen that even people who have undergone the traumatic experience of having to pay dowry on the marriages of their daughters, are keen on getting dowry on their sons’ marriage. The abolishment of such social curse requires sacrifice and determination.
Moreover, an effective implementation of the law is needed to tackle the problem. According to the apex court more severe legislative measures are urgently required to curb dowry-related deaths. Also, dowry will have to be tackled through the united efforts of NGOs, and religious bodies. Media may play a vital role to mobilise public opinion against this social evil.
Islam and Muslims
As soon as a daughter is born, Muslim father are given glad tiding by the Prophet (peace be upon him) that one who is bestowed daughters or sisters, and he brings them up, educates them and marries them away, he will enter paradise. (Tirmizi, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah)
Islam made Nikah (marriage) so easy and simple. Islam does not put any financial burden on the father of the girl. A Muslim father is told to get her daughter married away in a most simple ‘Nikah’ ceremony solemnized by a ‘Qazi’ (priest) in a mosque with two witnesses. He is not even required to give any feast to the handful of invitees assembled for this occasion. In fact it is desirable on the part of the groom that he offers a Waleema to his relatives and friends. Later, it is husband who is responsible to arrange accommodation, furniture, food and all expenses for his wife.
The example of such a simple marriage was set up by the Prophet (pbuh) himself. He got his daughters married in the simplest possible manner. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "The best of the marriages is one which is least burdensome in the financial sense.” (Musnad Ahamd, Abu Dawood)
A Muslim father does not have to bother for dowry for his daughter. On the contrary, Islam enjoins the groom to give a ‘bridal-gift’ or ‘Dower’ as a token of love and assurance to his would be wife at the time of marriage. In fact without payment of this sum, the marriage cannot be completed. The Holy Qur’an instructs the Muslims: "And give the women (whom you marry) their dower (obligatory bridal gift) happily" (Al-Quran, 4:4)
It is regretful that Muslims who were given such a noble and simple way of life have gone blind and are following the evil practices of dowry. Instead of having an influence of the countrymen and tailing their footsteps, it must have been their duty to strive hard to eradicate this bane of Indian society.
(Published in monthly Eastern Crescent, Mumbai, Nov 2006)
Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org