Dowry, the Curse of Indian Society

Written by Dr Md Afroz, Md Tabrez Alam

dowry abuse

Dowry in marriages is a curse for Indian society that has been haunting for a long time. This is a social curse, which has gone unchecked, though time and again it has tormented the people in general. It has become a routine affair that we come across news-reports on dowry deaths and agony of women, which reflect the evils of the dowry system. It is like a scar on a healthy society.

If you are human and have a heart surely it shivers by going through such ordeals. Ayesha, the young lady dying, recorded a video message before jumping into Sabarmati River. She had been continuously facing harassment for dowry by husband. Whereas Rashika dies in her in-law’s home at posh colony of Kolkata, family revealed that she was facing brutal torturing by in-laws for ransoming dowry, A young Phd Scholar end her life because her in-laws were abusing for continuing studies, Anissa Batra jumped off from her terrace due to dowry (Indian Express, 5March 21).

India has an alarming rate of crime over dowry; either murdered, or compelled to commit suicide. If you take a glance at statics, every 16 minutes there is a rape, one death in each hour and 20 women die in a day. 7000 deaths linked to dowry in 2017 record. Each passing year cases are rising higher, in the year 2001 was 19 per day, in 2016 was 21 per day according to the National Crime Bureau of India.

The reasons behind such evil practices

The Patriarchy: The development in the patriarchal societies has been such that women have become a weaker section of human population. Her functions have been relegated to mere procreation and attending the household chores. The patriarchal culture dilutes freedom and equality of women in all walks of life. Throughout history, violence has been systematically directed towards women in patriarchal societies. Economic and social processes operate directly and indirectly to support a patriarchal social order and family structure.

The Custom: the evil of dowry primarily associated with marriages in Hindu society, but gradually penetrated in other societies such as Muslims, Christians and to some extent also in Sikh community. Despite legal restraints, dowry continues to be a basic component of the marriage system although its form, magnitude and the associated atrocities on the women vary according to the customary norms of the different communities. The available literature on evolution of Indian culture and civilization reveals that although the ancient writers pretended to record their revered admiration for womanhood yet in actual practice women have always been suppressed and exploited by the dominant male members of the society in the name of custom. Degradation of society due to pernicious system of dowry and the unconscionable demands made by greedy and unscrupulous husbands and their relatives, resulting in an alarming number of suicidal and dowry deaths of women.

The Religion: Dowry in India is not limited to any specific religion. It is widespread among Hindus and other religions. Law of Manu insisted that woman must constantly worship her husband as God, Same case in Islam where text says if Allah permit to bow down it would command women to bow down to their husbands. Such religious interpretations consolidate the male domination over society, woman has always been kept in subjugation by her husband because by nature, she is supposed to be weak and meek. The Dowry system has been known to be in existence ever since the inception of the institution of marriage in India and has been in vogue through the ages. Although the word “dowry” was never used while negotiating a marriage, in common practice it meant property which the bride brings to her matrimonial home at the time of marriage. For example, Indian Muslims call dowry as jahez, to justify the practice in terms of jahez-e-fatimi. Islamists classify jahez into two categories: The first comprises some essential articles for the outfit of the bride as well as for conjugal life. The other is made up of valuable goods, clothes, jewelry, an amount of money for the groom’s family, which is settled on after bargaining. The jahez often far exceeds the cost of the baraat and marriage parties. The jahez is separate from cash payment as Mahr or dower that Sharia religious law requires (Abdul Waheed, 2009)

Social Interventions

There are many social movements rallied against Dowry in India. The first wave of feminist movement started in post independent and it gained momentum in 70s. There were many issues raised by women when it became clear that independent India had not provided justice and equality promised to women. One such demand was the end of the dowry system with action to be taken for crimes against women for dowry. Many organisations struggled hard against dowry to be criminalised by law such Progressive Organisation of Women in Hyderabad, Stree Sangharsh, Mahila Dakshata Samiti, Nari Raksha Samiti, Vimochana, Saheli and many more. The rising cases of dowry death and crimes had shaken Indian society that caused aggressive social movements and ultimately realised for legislation of laws.

Legal Intervention

To deal with this evil of the society, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was passed in 1961 to prohibit the practice of giving or receiving dowry. It was amended in 1984 and 1986 respectively to curb the evil practice of dowry. To further strengthen the anti-dowry law and to stop offences of cruelty by the husband or his relatives against the wife, new provisions were added to the Indian criminal law- section 498A to Indian Penal Code and section 198A to the Criminal Procedure Code in 1983. In 2005, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was passed, which added an additional layer of protection from dowry harassment. In 2019, Government of India passed legislation for the Muslim Women “Protection of Rights on Marriage Act”. This act declared Triple Talaq illegal and onward any Muslim husband pronounces triple talaq to his wife liable to 3 years imprisonment and fine. The fight against the institution of dowry will have to be carried out simultaneously on several fronts. Though legislation is necessary but it will not put an end to dowry, whatever deterrent punishment may be prescribed for those who demand dowry.

Where the fault lies

Why dowry is still practiced widespread despite so much outrage and criticism. Because society by and large is not realising the gravity of dowry bad consequences. It has lesser sensitivity, less guilt conscience, mild religious condemnation and ineffective legal system that allows operating. In any society, there is a tendency of copying the ruling class lifestyle and Indian society also follows as it has been highlighted by M.N. Srinivas’s concept of “Sanskritization” that tells about the social change phenomena in which lower castes imitate upper caste people’s lifestyle to overcome economic, social or religious disabilities and to raise the social status. In this way dowry crept deeply in their marriage as it was much practiced in upper, middle class Hindus. In contemporary situations dowry becomes a symbol of pride, upper and middle class celebrate marriages full of glamour and materialism and the rest of society see it showcasing their social status. Although, they are not financially capable of, in such conditions dowry demands usually occur. There are large number wedding ceremonies nowadays witnessing huge amounts of expenditure from both the Bride and Groom side compelling the less privileged section to do so. Somehow both parties are responsible for the growth of the dowry system. There is a need for hour affluent class to realise their misdeeds and how their social life impacts larger society negatively.

What is the road ahead?

Dowry is basically a cultural and social problem which cannot be eradicated by law alone. For its eradication, the society will need to fight from the grassroots level. The co-operation of the people can be sought only by creating public opinion. The success of all social legislation depends upon the support of the general public. Social understanding may be created by bringing the evils of dowry to the notice of the people through moral as well as formal education. Youth should be taught the importance of new social values which can be attained only after getting education. The change in the ideas of the people can be brought about by using mass media also. Marriage is a sacramental union, not the business. The sanctity of marriage is lost by dowry demand, the sooner the dowry becomes the thing of the past, the better for our society.

Author Details

Dr Md Afroz, teaches Political science & Public Administration @MANUU. He has obtained MPhil, PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia. His interest lies in; federalism, ethnic conflict, Nation-building, democratic decentralization and governance.

For more info.

[email protected]

Follow @khwajaAfrozSidd


MD Tabrez Alam, Doctoral Scholar @ Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi. As a researcher, the quest for knowledge begins from the fieldwork. Currently, he is working on Urban inequality and housing segregations in newly developed township India.

For more info.

[email protected]

Follow @ktabrezshams



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