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Why do women of so many educated families succumb to dowry harassment? As a society, why are we failing to empower women, despite the education, and potential financial independence?
“They tortured her, we kept sending her back”: Family distraught after CA killed in TN over dowry!
“My daughter was harassed for dowry” – says mother of techie found dead in Bengaluru!
“It was a mistake to educate my daughter and send her to IIT. I should have saved all the money for her dowry.”
The last statement was made by a father whose brilliant, young, daughter, a Ph.D student had committed suicide after being harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws. The statement infuriated many. I remember reading the following comments:
He still didn’t realize! The mistake was not sending her to IIT! It was a mistake to keep her married to this useless guy!
He should have reported them to police instead of waiting for things to get better!
What is the point of educating the daughter, if she was not empowered to take charge of her life!
I don’t think the father actually meant that he should not have sent her to IIT but saved money for her dowry. He was trying to express his helplessness, and regret: He did everything he could to give her a bright future. Yet the one thing he did not do took her life!
This is a common mentality for a girl’s parents in India. They want to do whatever they can in their capacity to ensure happiness for their daughters. It may involve paying single-handedly for her wedding, buying expensive wedding gifts for the groom’s side, gifting a car to the son-in-law, furnishing his house, or financing his master’s degree or business. The people who judged this father probably do these things for their daughters as well.
It is easy to point out other people’s mistakes, especially when the consequence is as extreme as the death of a woman. But the truth is, when it comes to our own lives, we are guilty of following these practices too. We consider it unfortunate principally, yes. But we still give in. After all, this woman was an exception, along with the few other unlucky ones who we read about in the newspapers. The rest of India as we know it has survived dowry in its disguised forms and glory for generations.
So why should we be so ‘negative’?
I recollect a female cousin’s wedding a few years back. Her parents were struggling with buying lavish gifts for each and every guest from the groom’s side. This was in addition to paying for the wedding, mehendi, sangeet, and engagement functions single-handedly, and sponsoring the stay of the groom’s side in ‘status’ hotels. I remember a conversation with my very progressive uncle (the father of the bride):
“Why can’t we split the cost, Uncle? The groom’s side should pay half of the expenses. It is his wedding too!”
“In an ideal scenario, yes beta. But this is how it works in our community. So why unnecessarily create a fuss? I have been saving money since she was born. I can afford it.”
“You can Uncle, but so many people can’t. This is the reason why poor people don’t want daughters. This is a social evil, which leads to female foeticide!”
“What can we do? Should I reform the society, or get my daughter married?!”
“If Jijaji is a reasonable person, I am sure he would not object.”
“What has your Jijaji got to do with the wedding discussion?! This arrangement is between me and his parents. Plus, why should I come across as a cheap man, by saying I can’t even afford to pay for my daughter’s wedding! Just because some poor people I don’t know can’t afford it? Everybody does this much for their daughter. Why should my daughter suffer, when I am financially sound?! Why ruin her chances in the marriage market, for no reason! Is it worth missing out on a good guy?”
“How is he a good guy, if he refuses to split the cost of his own wedding? If he doesn’t see anything wrong with it because it is convenient for him, he is greedy himself. If he sees it’s wrong, but doesn’t stand up against his parents, he is spineless. Which woman needs a greedy, spineless husband?”
“They had shortlisted three girls. They were all good-looking, qualified with good jobs. But the only limitation is their parents could not afford a lavish wedding. My daughter had an edge over them! I would not deprive her of this advantage!
The marriage was solemnized. The groom’s family did a lot of drama a week before the wedding. They demanded cash, which my uncle refused. They expressed their dissatisfaction with the wedding gifts, and jewelry. This led to the bride feeling hurt and disrespected, and arguments between the newlyweds. The relationship got sour from the beginning. The fights only increased with the unrealistic expectations, and taunts of the mother-in-law. The husband sided with his mother (what a surprise!) They got divorced within a year.
A good family will respect the daughter-in-law and treat her well, because of their values, irrespective of how much money she brought!
A bad family will ill-treat the daughter-in-law, because of their lack of values, no matter how much money you stuff in their mouths!
The uncle in this example thought that his daughter had an advantage because the wedding was so grand. While the couple was filing for divorce, Uncle insisted that the husband’s family pay back half the expenses of the wedding. They refused. The girl’s jewelry was also with her mother-in-law. After wasting money in litigation, out-of town travel, negotiations, and numerous unpleasant discussions, the family managed to get some portion of their own money back!
I know another man, who had an arranged marriage and got separated soon. He alleges that his wife had a previous ‘affair’, and was not interested in the marriage. (This is his side of the story, I have no way of verifying it). He wants to get a divorce, but the girl’s side said they has spent Rs 15 lakhs on the wedding and that his family better pay back half of it. The gentleman refuses to pay that money. The divorce proceedings have not even been initiated yet, due to lack of consensus. The girl’s family is threatening to file a 498a case against them, unless he pays.
The gentleman asked me, “I never asked for dowry. Now she wants to send me to jail. What do you feminists have to say to this, for all us poor disadvantaged men?”
What was this money if not dowry? Her family should not have borne the entire cost of the wedding in the first place. This man should not refuse to pay half of it back to her, in the event of the divorce. This is not alimony we are talking about. It is her family’s money! If he is so concerned about a ‘false dowry case’, why doesn’t he just agree to give back what was rightfully hers?
Disguised dowry is NOT an advantage for any woman. Imagine a woman stuck in an abusive marriage, where her parents have spent life time savings on the wedding, sponsored husband’s start-up business etc. She would feel stuck in the marriage. She would feel guilty for getting out, because her family has already vested so much financially. God knows, how much of this money will get recovered in an ugly, uncertain litigation!
Why should a father be worried that he will lose a good catch if he does not pay dowry? And who is this good catch anyway – a spineless, greedy man who uses the ‘culture card’ to his advantage? Who are these modern men – who can smoke, drink, eat non-vegetarian food on days their mothers have forbidden them, have premarital sex, do everything that their parents would frown upon… yet, when it comes to this one thing, they suddenly transform to Shravan Kumars, who cannot say no to their parents’ wishes? No. it is not respect for culture. It is not respect for elders. It is plain greed. A privilege of patriarchy too convenient to give up.
Girls, and parents of girls – please get rid of such men. If you see the signs before marriage, you are very lucky. Run! The wedding may be just one event, but the mentality of these people will not change. You have to spend your whole life with them. A good guy would not let go of a suitable woman because of such materialistic reasons. What is the point of educating women, and being financially independent when we still live our lives in fear and shame? What is the difference between us, and the lady who cleans our home, and gets beaten up by her drunkard husband who takes over her entire salary?
Census 2001 revealed that there were 933 females to that of 1000 males. In 2031, India will have 936 females per 1,000 males, lower than the sex ratio in 1951 of 946 females per 1,000 males, the World Bank predicts.
So, parents (of daughters), please relax. There are enough men for your daughters to marry. No need to waste her life with an unworthy suitor. I know you alone cannot reform the society. But you alone can reform your daughter’s life. Don’t marry her/keep her married into a greedy family.
No parents imagine that their daughters will face abuse in their marriage, and get divorced. But they do. No parents imagine that their daughters would ever commit suicide or get killed. But they do.
And we all think it happens to someone else until…
Author’s Note: I know you are thinking that the title of the article was unfair. It is not just your son-in-law’s wedding but your daughter’s too! Sounds ridiculous. Doesn’t it? It is TWO people getting married. Then why does the bride’s father bearing the entire wedding cost not sound ridiculous?
Editor’s Note: The words ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ have been used in the conversational sense they are often used in when describing young women and men getting married.
Top image is a still from the movie Vivah