Dowry is an ancient tradition where the bride’s family gives several gifts to the groom’s family to ensure the marriage takes place. It’s also a word you probably haven’t heard out loud in a while. The practice of dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, still, it continues to thrive not just in villages and small towns but in urban India with educated families practicing it. We see this even in families where women are capable of supporting themselves as well as their own families. Then what makes it solely the bride’s obligation to give ‘gifts’ to the groom’s family?
In several cases, as we’ve seen for years in the news, women are often left vulnerable to harassment, ill-treatment, and even death if they don’t partake in this age-old tradition. Statistics show that more than 7,634 women were killed in 2015 alone in dowry-related cases. Rather than going away, dowry has become an unspoken condition where it is ‘expected’ from the girl’s family to bestow gifts to the guy’s family. This also is condoned as we, in India, still see marriage as the union of families rather than of two individuals, with the girl usually leaving her family behind. With this mindset still in place, the bride’s family thinks it is their job to provide these gifts to secure the girl’s wellbeing with her future family.
This age-old tradition is often disguised in customs and ceremonies performed during the marriage. Events like ‘Milni’ for example are where it is considered acceptable to take money, clothes, or jewelry. Gifts vary from these to refrigerators, washing machines, and cars. It is, however, not the giving of gifts that is the problem, it is the expectation of and from it. The girl’s family is often burdened with this financial strain with giving of gifts from their side in almost every custom as well as the expectation to pay for more than half of the wedding.
The tradition makes women, as well as men, seem like mere commodities. Men are often told their value by the number of gifts they get, often determined by their status and education level. Women are devalued by just the mere act of giving such gifts. This changes when we as individuals decide to take a stand to not participate in this tradition as well as to educate our elders about the same. We as a generation need to voice our values and beliefs to hone a new future where everyone is treated equally and just.