Dowry harassment: Don’t ask your daughters to ‘adjust’ to abuse | columns | Hindustan Times
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Dowry harassment: Don’t ask your daughters to ‘adjust’ to abuse

The most worrying part is that despite all the laws in place, dowry is still socially acceptable. It is demeaning and devalues a woman’s worth. Once parents become a support system, dowry deaths will lessen

columns Updated: Aug 05, 2017 18:09 IST
Lalita Panicker
It cannot be that parents are not aware that in giving what they cannot afford, they are opening the door to many more demands. The more they give, the greedier the receiving party becomes.
It cannot be that parents are not aware that in giving what they cannot afford, they are opening the door to many more demands. The more they give, the greedier the receiving party becomes.(Reuters)

This is a story which is familiar to all of us. In 2013, a young CA, Divya’s parents thought they had found the match made in heaven when a doctor Elan Cheran was found suitable to be her husband in Tamil Nadu. The family asked for nothing but the beautiful bride. As the wedding date approached, you can guess this, the demands began. The family gave in, showering the doctor’s family with whopping amounts of money, gold, cars and other items. The marriage takes place, the demands grow. The parents kept giving in even as violence against Divya grew. Every time she went back home covered in wounds and bruises, she was sent back and told to adjust, that hideous word under which a multitude of sins can be hidden. Eventually, no surprise, the young woman was murdered by her in-laws with the father saying he had no idea this would happen.

This is the common refrain from the families of many women murdered for dowry. We have had the Dowry Prohibition Act since 1961, we have stringent laws on punishment for the groom and in-laws if a woman dies within seven years of marriage. Yet, the killings and harassment continue. Once upon a time, dowry was a share of parental property given to a woman at the time of marriage to ensure her economic equality in her new home. Today, it has become an instrument of oppression. And this has no bearing on education or economic status. The greed for money and material seems endless when it comes to marriage. In 100% literate Kerala, I have actually learnt of cases where a groom scheduled to appear for the civil services examination is booked by the woman’s family as they will have to pay less dowry than when he actually passes. If he fails, then tough luck, that is a chance many are willing to take to secure a bureaucrat son-in-law.

It cannot be that parents are not aware that in giving what they cannot afford, they are opening the door to many more demands. The more they give, the greedier the receiving party becomes. When a woman is subject to violence, it is incumbent upon her parents not to send her back for more of the same armed with more goodies. I simply cannot have sympathy for parents who feel that their social standing is more important than their daughter’s life. I have read heart-rending accounts of girls begging to be taken back into their parental home, but are pushed out to their death for fear of loss of face for their families.

The most worrying part is that despite all the laws in place, dowry is still socially acceptable. In fact, it is a badge of honour for the bride’s family that they were able to give so much to their daughter. It is demeaning and devalues a woman’s worth. The fact that many of the women killed were highly educated breadwinners doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to greed, as Divya’s case shows or the recent suicide of an IIT graduate. The father’s response in the IIT student’s case was, oddly, that he should not have spent money on her education and rather used it to build up her dowry.

The case of nurses from Kerala working abroad is always cited as women’s empowerment. The dark side of this is that the majority of them go abroad to make enough money for their dowries, something their parents cannot afford. The evil of dowry has now spread across all communities.

The first step is of course the law. But it also has to be parents having the courage to say no. Even if they give in to initial dowry demands, they have the duty to their daughter to save her from a potentially lethal situation. This is the message that should go out to all parents. If your daughter comes home complaining of abuse, put your social status on hold and help her, do not send her back to her death. I simply cannot believe parents who say that they had no idea that their daughter would be killed. If anyone can torture a woman repeatedly for dowry, it is fair to assume they will not stop at that. Once parents become a support system, the dowry deaths will lessen.

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com