Six months of a spirited anti dowry campaign in Nilambur, 400 km north of Thiruvananthapuram, has transformed it into arguably the first village in the country where the giving and taking of dowry has been abolished altogether.
Dowry was rampant in Nilambur, a large village of nearly 40,000 people in Mallapuram district — as in most of North Kerala — earlier. A panchayat sponsored survey in the village last year found 1,300 girls who said they remained unmarried only because they could not afford the dowry required to get a groom. Forty per cent of families claimed they were brought close to bankruptcy by the dowry payments they made. Fifty two per cent of all divorces in the village, the survey found, were rooted in post marriage dowry demands.
Farida S, 27, for instance, was married off at the age of 14, when she was a Class VIII student. Her father paid her husband’s family 20 gold sovereigns and Rs 1 lakh in cash. But within five years of marriage, having given her two children by then, her husband deserted her.
Ummu Salma, 33, was thrown out by her husband’s family, along with her five year old daughter 10 years ago, after her father failed to meet their repeated demands for dowry.
Suddenly all has changed. Aysha Tekkerparambhil, 36, living in penury with three children, never thought she would be able to get either of her daughters married. In May, thanks to the movement, one Anus Babu, 24, sought her 18-year-old elder daughter’s hand — without asking for a paisa in return.
How did it happen? “We helped people realize the havoc dowry was causing them,” said Aryadan Shoukat, 40, president of the Nilambur panchayat, who initiated the movement. “We asked them to pledge they would neither give nor take dowry.”
No startling, innovative methods were used, just persistence and dedication. There were public meetings in every village ward, door-to-door campaigns, street plays, motivation classes. ‘Dump dowry’ associations were set up. School children were involved in a major way.
“We projected taking dowry as the biggest sin anyone could commit,” said Selina T., spokesperson of the local unit of the HRD run Mahila Kamakhya, which assists the panchayat. “There hasn’t been a single dowry marriage here in the last two months.”