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Dowry and Divorce: The Banes of Indian Society

Being a woman is tough. In India it's tougher. Time is changing and so is our society. With each change, new concepts are added and old traditions are modified. Dowry and divorce are two such modern day issues, closely related to some of the challenges faced by urban women in Indian that I would like to reflect upon.


As I cling to my mother's side, she signed a petition to support prosecution of in-laws of our neighbour's daughter who was recently burnt to death for dowry. I was thirteen years old and this was my first ever encounter with dowry. It shook me inside out. Couple of years later I attended my cousin's wedding. Within a day after bhabhi moved in to my cousin's house, I saw a bunch of people sneaking in TV, VCR, washing machine etc from a van, through backdoor of the house. This further baffled me. My relatives were decent, educated and one of the most reputed families of the town. After college, I came to know a family of two brothers, one of whom opted for love marriage, where the bride did not get any dowry and the other went for arranged marriage where the bride got abundance of dowry. The bahu without dowry was not burnt, but was given biased treatment in every little day to day matter and was psychologically harassed.

These are just few examples out of many that highlight the evils of dowry in our society. Not every dowry related case ends with 'kitchen fire death'. It knowingly and unknowingly translates into surreptitious forms of related abuse - female fetus abortion, female infanticide, psychological harassment, suicide, murders etc. With all its amendments, 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act still fails to dither the abuser. Lot of time it is not difficult to find loophole with this law.

Some people chose to blame religion for this malfunction. Ironically, in Hinduism, dowry in its earliest form was designed for women's safeguard. Known as 'Streedhan', it was girl's share of her parent's property and was exclusively for her disposal. Generations of preposterous lust for power and greed evolved this custom into present day form. Curiously enough this phenomenon is vastly seen in growing middle class with increasingly inflated monetary aspirations. Each added qualification, hyperbolize the groom's price tag. It is interesting to see the failure of modern education to cope with this menace. In fact the more educated groom is, the higher he could fetch a bid for himself. Even a highly educated girl would oblige to such gruesome acts.

Then how do we cope with this problem? Laws failed, education failed. I believe the cultural and value system breakdown of our society is the root cause of such menace. Without underestimating the role of appropriate laws and education, a major cultural rethinking and a complete overhaul of male dominated society would be an effective way to start the revelution.

My encounter with a divorce case is rare, probably because in Hinduism divorce is permitted only in extreme conditions or probably because it is still considered as a taboo in our society. Generally speaking, for Hindus marriage is considered sacred and is more like a duty. It is a bond that cannot be broken. It is unlike in other religions, like Christianity and Islam where marriage is considered as a contract that can be broken at will. But as we start to look at the statistics, it is clear that divorce rate is shooting up with a much faster rate. An overall analysis of the reasons of the breakdown of our family system due to increase in divorce rate, revealed some very interesting points.

In our society, as I regrettably noted from last few years, human values have degraded to its lowest levels. Our value system had plunged. Dowry, lack of respect for the females of the house or for the elders, desire to feel powerful through exploitation of weaker are some of the acts resulting from our skewed morals. Also, our society is going through a transition phase where we are shedding past traditions and adapting to modern age acceptable norms. We are in cusp. For a female this is huge. In past females of our society had been very restricted and bound to burdensome traditions. Time is changing and some urban class educated females are more conscious of their existence, independence and value. Even though this is a positive change and a much required one, it is challenging some of the established traditional institutions. While the males in our families are still raised (knowingly and unknowingly) to adopt a dominant role, females are expected to relent and compromise. As a result there is friction that may lead to divorce.

In urban areas people are getting more individualistic, and social interactions are getting lesser. With less interference of society in family matters, it is easier for a women to live alone as a divorcee. For economically independent women it is far easier to take the decision of divorce than a dependent one. It also gets easier for girl's family to take responsibility of their daughter after the divorce, unlike in past.

Though this may sound like a superstition to some, but I think it is true that before marriage we match the horoscope of bride and groom to see the compatibility of both individuals. If done right and with expert advice, this can be beneficial to a happy marriage. These days with trend in love marriage, the art of matching horoscope is denied by the couples themselves or it is just a formality. Sometimes the advisor is not very proficient in this art and sometime it is denied in the name of superstition. Increase in love marriages had also contributed a lot in increased divorce rate. Lot of times couples take decisions in haste, in repulsion to the society, physical lust or without any matured advice, only to find eventually that they are not made for each other.

Another contributing factor could be the influence of western world which is making divorce, more acceptable phenomena. Disposable culture, individual freedom, desire of constant change, extra-marital and pre-marital affairs, lack of compromise and commitment and fear of taking responsibility are some of the traits common to western world divorce epidemic, which are increasingly infiltrating our system.

I think it is time to address this issue even though I can see the difficulty in achieving the desired results. Our society has to make a collective effort and change certain traditions and mindset for good. It might take a while before we see any progress at all. In fact we might see an increase in divorce rate for a while. We need to support single women psychologically, socially, financially (especially if she is not earning) and legally and make remarriage more acceptable.


Diane Colosimo said...

Dowry is more common in India it has been not controlled even after passing the many acts to punish the one who takes the dowry.

Diane Colosimo
Divorce Help solutions

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