dowry for a six
By Kalpana Sharma
01 June, 2003
So has young Nisha Sharma
of Noida sparked off a new anti-dowry movement? One would like to think
that this could happen. After all the anti-dowry campaign of the late
1970s was triggered off by one women, Satyarani Chaddha, who decided
to raise the banner against the custom when her own daughter was tortured
and killed for not bringing a sufficient dowry. So an individual's actions
can still have far-reaching repercussions. Any of us who thinks it is
not worth doing something we believe in because we feel we are alone,
should remember Nisha and Satyarani and many others like them.
Nisha has been widely feted
and felicitated. Her courage has to acknowledged. But the media spotlight
on an individual, or several Nisha-like individuals, should not mask
some of the harder questions that need to be asked. In Nisha's case,
two issues stand out. One, parental support when she decided that the
cash demand was too much. Two, that until that line had been crossed
both she and her parents went along with unreasonable demands and even
deception in terms of the groom's qualifications.
It is this latter issue that
one must look at more closely. For what are "reasonable" demands?
Why should there be any at all? Why "demands"? Can any of
them be really "reasonable"? In which other culture are girls
expected to carry to their marital home all the equipment for a house
washing machine, fridge, TV, furniture, cupboards, soft furnishings
as well as a car or scooter apart from loads of jewellery and
clothes? In some customs, the bride is expected to carry with her not
just her wedding trousseau but an odd number of saris, 21 or 31 or 41
complete with separate blouses and petticoats and sometimes even
matching chappals! How can even this be considered "reasonable"?
The only reason it is accepted
is because of the belief that in her marital home, the girl should not
be a "burden" on the husband's family. How on earth did such
a concept come to be accepted? A "burden"? A woman who comes
in virtually like an additional domestic help in the house, who is expected
to serve not just the man she marries but his entire household of parents
and any siblings? Why should she be expected to "pay" for
this apparent privilege, and that too in advance? There is something
very sick, and very wrong, in this mentality. And that is what we must
I am not sure that in the
midst of the celebrations and the media hype, these questions are being
tackled. And if we don't come to grips with this central issue, the
Nishas will be forgotten just as Satyarani's campaign was relegated
to the history books. And dowry will continue in the present or other
The other puzzle that the
Nisha case has not solved is that of whether it is only education that
makes a difference. In her case, she is a software student. Her education
has clearly given her some sense of self-worth so that she knew when
to yell "Stop". But since then, the media has highlighted
several other cases of women who were not so qualified. Yet, they too
took a stand when parents were prepared to back them. On the
other hand, surveys have revealed that even in Kerala, where women are
educated and qualified and hold jobs, dowry demands continue to be made
and to be met.
Nisha probably represents
the glimmer of a trend that has already begun. Others have done it more
quietly, perhaps. But the dramatic nature of Nisha's refusal to give
in will give others, who are thinking of this, some courage.
Yet, a girl's ability to
say "no" in our culture depends a great deal on the support
she gets from her family. Parents have to decide that they will not
marry their daughters if a dowry is demanded, directly or indirectly.
If there is even a hint of this at any stage, they should have the courage
to call off the arrangement. Unless enough parents do this, a change
will not take place. Of course, we can hope for a day when boys grow
up believing that it is a privilege if they get a bride and they should
not ask her to pay for marriage. But such a day is some way off given
the son-preference that continues to dominate our culture.
Also, despite growing literacy
amongst women, the man's will about whether a woman will "work"
outside the house or not after marriage continues to be the deciding
factor. Even without surveys to confirm this, the tendency to ask girls
with jobs and careers to set these aside for the sake of marriage to
"a suitable boy" continues to prevail. One comes across apparently
"modern", educated young men who will tell you that their
future brides are professionals with jobs, "but she will not work
after marriage". Why? Obviously, because even though being "modern"
should mean having a mindset that recognises the needs and rights of
women, once she enters your home as a bride, these rights are subsumed
under the ostensibly superior needs of the husband and his family. So
women can "work" outside the house, if the husband needs the
income, but otherwise they must be content to work inside the home
for that is considered their true role and destiny.
But to beat men at this dowry
game, girls in India should remember that they have numbers on their
side. There are more boys in this country than girls. So it is boys
who should be running after girls if they want to get married, it is
they who should in fact pay a price. Girls should have the confidence
to play hard to get, to wait until they find a mate who matches their
demands rather than giving in so easily. It is a combination of the
determination of girls, supportive parents and a change in our perverted
culture that will end this "evil", which is what it is. A
law can only help to some extent. It cannot change mindsets as has already
So if girls can "Bend
it like Beckham", why can they not hit dowry for a six?
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