Dowry is basically the transfer of parental property, gifts, money or anything else of monetary value, usually by the wife’s family to the husband and his family upon marriage. Hence, dowry serves as a gift from the bride’s family to the groom’s family in consideration of their marriage and accepting the bride into the groom’s home. This practice of dowry is an old, obsolete and discriminatory practice. It has its roots in ancient Indian culture that placed women at an inferior position to men, such that women had to pay a price through dowry just to be with them. In older times, women had no individual identity and their identity was tied to their husbands through marriage. Dowry is a practice which took advantage of this convention and exploited women due to their inferior social position. With the change in times and beliefs, the payment of dowry has been prohibited under specific Indian laws such as the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. However, the practice is still prevalent to a high degree in India today despite its prohibition, leading to things like harassment, domestic violence and even dowry deaths. There are many reasons for this.
Reasons for Dowry till existing
- Firstly, dowry still exists in India because it is perceived as a source of easy income by the groom’s family. This is why we see the practice of dowry today predominantly in the rural areas and among the households of the poor. Without any of their own effort or hard work, and by simply relying on this social convention, the groom’s family can ask for dowry and gain wealth for free. Yet, research suggests that dowry is highly prevalent even among urban households and households of the rich and educated. This is unusual and it raises the question as to why someone who is educated and aware of laws indulge in the practice of dowry. Even recently in 2019, there was CCTV footage released of a retired Madras High Court judge Nooty Rama Mohana Rao harassing and beating his daughter in law for the payment of dowry. Hence, there are other factors that cause the practice of dowry to continue.
- In most cases, due to patriarchy and preference of a boy child over a girl, the sex ratio in many states of India is disparate. This leads to a greater number of men compared to women. It could be argued that due to a greater number of men, dowry might hardly exist. However, this isn’t practically true, because the men having characteristics desired by the bride and her family are few. These characteristics include physical features, income, family status, etc. Thus, the bid for these highly demanded men leads to the existence of dowry. This is a typical market approach focusing on the demand and supply of desired partners which still exists in India today. Dowry is essentially the price to be paid to gain a husband or son-in-law, called the ‘groom price’.
- Another reason for the prevalence of dowry is the notion of security. Research suggests that in-laws show more preference towards the daughter-in-law that brings a large dowry, giving her more autonomy and say in households matters and giving her fewer chores to do. In some cases, the bride herself encourages the payment of dowry as she sees it as a transfer of wealth from her paternal side to her husband’s side, leading to a rise in the financial position and status of her new family. Hence, the play of power and autonomy has led dowry to still exist.
Hence, we can see that despite its abolishment, dowry is still practiced to a large extent in India. This is because of the reasons stated above, and also generally because we are in a modern era with new requirements. We have an open economy which fosters free trade and globalization, which in turn has nurtured a consumerist attitude in us. The growing consumerism has affected the way dowry is perceived in India, and it is now being encouraged as it helps satisfy the consumerist needs of people. Furthermore, any attempt by a woman to file a complaint or report a case of domestic violence/harassment with regard to dowry is often silenced by the husband or his family by threat or coercion. Therefore, India must try its best to create some sort of support system for women and work to abolish the practice of dowry at all levels so as to remove this discriminatory practice from Indian society.