Jewelry for the daughter-in-law, blessings from the bride’s family, or the casual give and take, we may use a range of euphemisms for it but the practice of taking dowry is still extremely common.
Research shows that between 1960 and 2008, dowry was paid in 95% of marriages. In 1961, anti-dowry laws were implemented to prevent the practice which is common across different classes and castes which even bridges the rural-urban divide. So, why did this practice start? What is its origin? Scholars trace it back to the concept of “sridhana” which was prevalent among upper-caste Hindu groups in ancient India. Under the “mitakshara” system in Hindu law, a woman was not entitled to inherit her parent’s wealth. A handsome dowry was considered a premortem inheritance which helped the division of the family by providing her with some social and economic security. Scholars note that this practice of dowry was not bad and it was observed that in many cases dowry was handed directly to the daughters so that they can have some financial stability post marriage.
The scenario completely changed in colonial India. New laws, especially regarding land tenure increased the economic value of men in the society and made women more dependent on men. Due to this practice, Dowry from being a voluntary exchange between families and the daughters became a compulsory demand and economic transfer from the bride to the groom’s family. In modern India, dowry has taken new forms and it is still practiced beyond Hinduism among Sikhs and Christians. While traditional dowry could have taken the form of clothes and jewelry, today families are demanding luxury goods like 5 crore cars, Swift car, jewelry, and many more. A woman’s husband and in-laws feel entitled to the dowry making her more prone to violence or reviews if she is unable to fulfill their demands. According to the 2019 report of the national crime records Bureau, a woman becomes a victim of dowry death roughly every hour and the Asian women’s human rights council estimated that every year the practice was implicated in the deaths of 25000 women between the ages of 15 and 34. Why does this harmful practice of taking delivery continue the fastest in the 21st century of India?
Scholars have observed that in India marriage is seen as a market in which people work for spouses who could give them the maximum social and material gains. Society possibly ties Women’s Social status ability to secure a successful husband by depriving them of the opportunity to become financially independent. Dowry is seen as a payment for the lifelong social and economic security that the man will provide the woman with. The problem with this kind of thinking that deems men as more valuable and lucrative partners in marriage because of their higher awning potential is that it neglects a woman’s value. Women regardless of being educated and employed substantially contribute to the economic prosperity of a family. The running of the household, the growth and social status of the family most often relies on women and unpaid care work.
The way to get rid of dowry is definitely to financially empower women so that marriage is not a financial security blanket that their families are forced to buy.