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Buffaloes to Audis: This is what sells in Delhi’s dowry market, where harassment cases have doubled in 5 years

According to Delhi Police statistics, dowry harassment allegations, filed under Indian penal code’s Section 498A almost doubled in five years, going from 2,046 new cases in 2012 to 3,877 last year.

delhi Updated: Aug 14, 2017 10:22 IST
Prawesh Lama and Manas Sharma
Prawesh Lama and Manas Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Dowry harassment,Delhi police,Dowry FIR
the Supreme Court restricted automatic arrests under the anti-dowry law and in 2014, a separate SC bench called Section 498A a “a weapon, not a shield used by disgruntled wives”.(Reuters)

“It was a mistake to educate my daughter and send her to IIT. I should have saved all the money for her dowry,” said Manoj Devak, waiting outside a mortuary on a hot summer evening in late May as doctors carried out an autopsy on his daughter, Manjula. Less than 24 hours ago, Manjula, a civil engineer and a PhD scholar at the coveted IIT Delhi, hanged herself from the ceiling fan of her hostel room.

Manjula was among 54 women in Delhi who died between January and June after allegedly being bullied for more dowry, a toxic custom of brides’ families being forced to give gifts such as cash, cars and property to the groom. India outlawed the dowry tradition in 1961 but it continues to be as much a social reality as it was five decades ago.

According to Delhi Police statistics, dowry harassment allegations, filed under Indian penal code’s Section 498A almost doubled in five years, going from 2,046 new cases in 2012 to 3,877 last year. This is in contrast to the trend in other crimes such as murder, robbery, rape or dacoity, which decreased every year since 2012 or only had a marginal increase.

The number of unreported cases of dowry harassment could be sizeable too. Hindustan Times pored over all the 1,330 first investigation reports (FIRs) filed for such cases in the first six months of this year, and found that the tradition cuts across demographics.

Women as educated as Manjula are as likely to be harassed for dowry as a woman from an impoverished background married to a rickshaw puller. The spectrum of dowry allegedly sought – from a gas cylinder worth around Rs 1,500 to an Audi Q5 SUV and Rs 2.5 crore cash – suggests a woman’s economic status too did not make her any less likely to pressure.

Read more: Dowry harassment: Don’t ask your daughters to ‘adjust’ to abuse

A large number of complainants said the harassment over inadequate dowry began as early as during the honeymoon. One woman said she was assaulted in a taxi in Thailand. In over 50 cases, women claimed they were forced into unnatural sex and five complainants said they accepted torture because their husbands allegedly shot sex videos.

Common items demanded, according to the complaints, included gold jewellery (543 cases), refrigerators (566 cases), sofa sets (217 cases), LED television sets (26 cases), flats and land assets.

DELHI’S DOWRY BAZAAR
Intro: Insights from 1,330 allegations made by brides and their families in Delhi
A CASH CUSTOM
Cash was the most commonly given dowry
◼ The least sought: Rs 5,000
◼ The most sought: Rs 2,50,00,000
◼ Most commonly sought: Rs 5 lakh (151 cases)
In 9 cases, the demand was for more than a crore.
57% of the complainants specified giving cash as dowry.
Rs 66.2 crore cash in 766 cases, where cash was specified, rest alleged they were harassed for other reasons.
CAR CRAZE
Intro: A car was mentioned as the second-most sought dowry, mentioned in 441 cases
◼ Most commonly sought: Honda City (43 cases)
◼ Second favourite: Maruti Suzuki Swift (31 cases)
Size-to-bullying ratio: Cheaper or smaller car triggered more harassment. In one case, woman was ‘harassed’ for getting Hyundai Verna in dowry instead of an Audi Q5
Even autorickshaws: One of the complainants said her family was forced to give an autorickshaw in dowry. In another case, the dowry demand was for 2 buffaloes.
FLATS TO FURNITURE
Common demands included a range of other fancies as well, such as:
◼ Gold jewellery (543 cases) ◼ LED television ◼ Refrigerators (566 cases) ◼ Sofa sets (217 cases) ◼ Flats and land assets
QUICK TO CRIME
A large number of complainants said the harassment over inadequate dowry began as early as during honeymoon. One woman said she was assaulted in a taxi in Thailand. In 50 cases, women claimed they were forced into ‘unnatural sex’ and 5 complainants said they accepted torture because their husband allegedly shot sex videos
Source: Allegations made in FIRs filed between January and June, 2017.

In nine cases, the cash demanded was above Rs 1 crore. Motorbikes were demanded in 198 cases, with the Royal Enfield Bullet being the most sought after. One of the complainants said her family was forced to give an autorickshaw in dowry. In another case, the demand was two buffaloes.

Read more: It is not wise to assume that all dowry complaints come from ‘disgruntled’ women

The cases studied are in the trial phase, and recent observations from India’s top courts, legal experts and activists suggest that all may not be genuine since the law’s misuse is common. Last month, the Supreme Court restricted automatic arrests under the anti-dowry law and in 2014, a separate SC bench called Section 498A a “a weapon, not a shield used by disgruntled wives”.

But, activists say, just as many cases may not be true, thousands of genuine cases are probably not being reported. Supreme Court advocate Rebecca John agrees there are false cases but says she is worried about the law being looked at from the prism of false cases. “You look at law from the objective it serves. Don’t look at women as revengeful human beings.”

But beside the false-versus-true debate, officials believe a part of the blame is with growing “materialism” in society. “Dowry is an ancient ritual where fathers helped their daughters even when they were not rich. Even a middle class or a lower middle class family gave dowry. Gradually, affluence grew and with it, so did the scale of dowry,” said former Delhi Police commissioner Ajay Raj Sharma.

Read more: No immediate arrests in dowry harassment cases: SC rules to curb misuse of law

Sharma agreed that there are cases where allegations are exaggerated. “You must have seen even grandmothers, some as old as 85, named in the FIR. It is unthinkable. What will an 85-year-old woman do?” A silver lining, according to Sharma, is that the higher number cases over the years also points to more reporting.

First Published: Aug 14, 2017 07:30 IST