Among many other social issues that have extensively become the topic for research with the perspective of logical learning and improving existing conditions, the dowry system practised in India for centuries remains under a thick layer of dust, due to lack of tactical investigation on a first-hand basis. Many Indian movies from indigenous languages showcase this particular issue in the pre-set of typical arrange-marriage plots.
Dowry is the amount paid to the bridegroom’s family by the bride’s family, in either monetary cash, kind, ‘expensive gifts’ such as cars, appliances, home décor etc., during the marriage, in order to facilitate their daughter’s life in her in-laws’ house. Dowry is also considered in the form of complete accountability of wedding ceremonies expenditure by the bride’s side.
One of the earliest fundamental reasons for the practice of dowry is that it was enforced by the colonists – the British when they took over the country after the East India Company. The system became a huge premise for a ‘healthy’ marriage. During the British, the practice was made the only provision to marry: Indians were forced to follow the laws of the colonisers (Ramakrishnan, V. 2013). Since the law applied to everyone residing within the national boundary, a small superficial action eventuated to a system functioning today.
Why is it still prevalent?
In urban cities, arranged marriage is considered a different institutionalized market, where different grooms and brides are available (matrimonial sites such as Shaadi.com’s pattern); and there’s a growing demand for IIT graduates earning well. So, the dowry doesn’t imply the bride’s price, rather the worth of the groom (Mazumdar, S. 2018). This practice is prevalent because economically backward populations are desperate to get their daughters married somehow. Being an unmarried young woman in villages is still considered a social sin, which is a basis for discrimination against women.
Two root stereotypes could be observed from the above rationale:
- The mentality is that marriage is the only priority in a woman’s life.
- A wife cannot earn a livelihood independently; inevitable dependency on her husband.
The rudimentary psychological inference from these premises is certainly sexist; this works entirely in favor of women in Islam with the practice of Mahr. When the Constitution of India has deemed the tradition of the dowry system as a violation of Indian democratic ideals, the continuation of such methods cannot be reasoned but only acknowledged since the schema of specific demographics makes a huge difference. These schemas are built and influenced by factors that mostly revolve around societal exposure and parenting. Economic helplessness, lack of progressive investments in education and development in rural areas, low living standard expectations, the need to adhere to unnecessary conservative social statuses are some of the components constituting this social behavior.
In The impact of the dowry system in Christian communities, the author says that since some believe the bride who comes along the dowry feels ‘confident’ as she is proud of herself that a great groom accepted her hand in marriage hence, she is lucky; dowry is practiced. Contrary to this, the bride without a dowry feels ‘uneasy,’ incomplete, and inadequate (Kumar, V. 2013).
Socio-Psychological implications of dowry system
Depression is one of the most predicted psychological disorders that Indian researchers believe to be an inevitable consequence of being a bride who comes with less or no dowry. If the bride is expected to be a housewife, it’s more likely that she will be vulnerable to depression than a working woman. National Crime Records Bureau stated that 17 per cent of suicide victims in a year are housewives tortured mentally by their in-laws for dowry (Prasad, P. 2020). Marital rape, domestic violence are results of denying dowry.
The problem for most semi-rural areas where such homemakers are stuck is that they cannot seek parents’ support. Parents often deny interfering between the couple’s ‘internal matters’ due to social judgment, shame, and ‘helplessness.’ One of the New Delhi Women’s Rights Workers told the Pulitzer Centre that the domestic violence may range from brutal beatings, emotional and mental torture and sometimes burning the skin with cigarettes (McCarthy, J. 2017).
Perhaps an unasked punishment that the women receive is social rejection. Since the dowry system has become a part of the ‘Indian’ tradition, followers of customs boycott women who oppose dowry, discriminating against them in social settings.
The dowry system acts as a justification for not ‘allowing’ the bride to work after marriage since her family would’ve given dowry to facilitate her financial independence. The dowry system victims often express the feeling of being inadequate and a burden (McCarthy, J. 2017).
What can be done?
For most social issues in India, education about laws and moral conscience development is the solution. But this restricts itself to the illiterate population. The educated who indulge in such practices should be reminded of the purpose of their education and collectively given awareness.
Furthermore, the already affected should be provided easy access to therapy. This could help victims overcome their traumas and welcome a fresh start in their lives, despite the existing social stigma. Certain anthropological and economic background research on the dowry system has recently led researchers to believe that the tradition may be beneficial. Further inquiries and studies should be the next step to take acceptable benefits of the practice.
Finally, promoting radical ideas through the media, news channels, newspapers, social media, advertisements, movies, and shows representing a denial of dowry with cautions about legal implications shall widely help change society.
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