Expert GD Moderators Group Discussion

Bride burning and dowry, an integral part of India

“Today’s daughter is tomorrow’s bride” 

Imagine the celebration of the birth of a daughter in an uneducated-underprivileged family. It would not be very hard to feel their emotions. But why? The answer to this question can vary from person to person. Some will say that there are many safety issues related to a girl child; some will say that they belong to someone else’s house, and some will just associate her with the prevailing dowry culture or we can say ‘Cultured begging’ in our Indian Society.

Why the birth should not be linked to the dowry when it's going to cost the earning of their whole life? It is usually seen that the parents and the grandparents start to gather the money, gifts, vessels and many other things, right from the birth of a girl child. They try to give everything that they can give to their daughters at her wedding. Some people say that it is for making the bride feel homely, comfortable, and financially strong in the new house. But why only on her wedding day? Doesn’t she need to be comfortable and financially stable when she is trying to learn and stand on her own feet before marriage? What if the amount the parents are saving for the dowry is spent on her education? Will she not be able to get a good partner? Moreover, who guarantees that she is going to be happy and safe even after giving a huge amount in her dowry? Who guarantees that she will not be the victim of taunts, humiliation, criticism, and continuous tension? Who guarantees that she will not be tortured or killed for more dowry?

In society, women are usually treated as unequal, burden, commodities, and child-producing machines. They have been taught to be patient and bear everything silently. She is taught by her own mothers and grandmothers to suffer alone and not to stand for her own in most parts of our society. All this makes her vulnerable to so many crimes.

A high number of Bride-burning and dowry- murders have been reported in the past decade. Bride-burning and Dowry-murder is basically a form of domestic violence that mainly occurs due to the never-ending greed of the in-laws. 90% of these cases are registered as accidents. Only 5% are registered as murders and 5% as suicides. Here, we are talking only about the cases that are reported, but there are many cases that go unnoticed. We can find such cases almost daily in the newspapers. Now, it is so common that it does not haunt or shock an Indian anymore. 

In India, where parents arrange marriages, marriage is seen as the institution of two families and their pride. To add up to the pride of both the families, they try to offer and accept costly gifts, some amount of cash, and huge costly arrangements at the wedding. If that’s not done, the bride will be subjected to humiliation and criticism on the daily basis. Or if the in-laws are not happy with the amount of dowry, they start torturing the bride emotionally. When the bride denies asking more amount from her parents, after some time, their in-laws along with her husband start abusing and hitting her. They threaten her for her life. Even after that, when she is reluctant to ask more from her parents, she becomes the victim of other domestic violence and is eventually either killed or pushed to commit suicide. This is done to get rid of the bride and get their son married to a richer woman who can feed their greed.  

 In the early years of the marriage, when the bride is trying to adjust to the new space, with the new family, she goes through a lot of mental and emotional shifts which is often uncomfortable. The in-laws are more likely to torture her when they feel that she is vulnerable and can be suppressed. This mostly happens with the young mothers or the pregnant bride who are already going through so many changes in her body for the first time. At that time, when in-laws start to pressurize her, it breaks her apart. When she complains to her parents or police, she is usually sent back home and takes care of her own inappropriate behavior. Along with this, she is blamed for her own beatings. Parents ask her to quietly bear all the torture to show her loyalty towards both the family and save their so-called pride.   

In most cases, everyone from the neighbors to the bride’s family knows about the suffering of the bride but they remain quiet for many reasons. Sometimes it is the inadequate amount of knowledge about the laws and reforms, help, and fear of losing their daughter. The government has passed many laws starting from the preamble of the Indian Constitution which says that every citizen is equal before the law. Article 14 and 15 of the constitution provide equal rights and prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or any other parameters respectively. Article 15(3) empowers the state to make special provisions for women and children. Apart from this, there are special laws like Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 which has been amended many times to stop this crime. Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code talks about dowry death and the strict penalties when found guilty.  

Even after these many laws, the condition seems unchanged due to the invisible nature of the crime. It takes place in the safety of houses where family bonds are very strong. If someone is committing such a crime, others do not try to go against the family member. When the bride is beaten to death or burnt, it is reported as a ‘stove explosion’ or some fire-related accident at home after which the police cannot take any further action. According to police, distinguishing between the bride-burning and the fire accident is very difficult as the body is totally burnt and covered with kerosene in both cases. In such conditions, there are many women-centric organizations like the Women Indian Association (WIS), National Council of Women in India (NCWI), All India Women Conference (AIWC), Seva Sadan, etc to help women fight against any crime against them.

But the power comes along with the responsibility. Sometimes, it is seen that some women use these laws against someone just to take revenge. In those cases, the innocent suffers from his family and loses hope for a better life. 

I feel the crime can be avoided by giving a good upbringing to both genders. Inculcating them with the right amount of sensitivity, respect, and responsibility towards the opposite gender will make them good human beings. The young generation can be taught to stand for themselves and to empower each other. But still, the best cure for this crime would be the right education for young women. When they will be educated, they will be financially independent and will be able to make their own decisions. They will be able to fight against any crime fearlessly, without thinking of her dependency on her husband. She will be responsible for her own life and happiness. 

Author: Deeksha (linkedin.com/in/deeksha-verma-93ab51219)

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