Everybody knows about dowry and its menace. While Indian society is moving on a developing path, dowry seems to be a curse on the name of ceremonial marriage system. Marriage is a colorful event and it brings happiness and celebrations. Yet the whole environment of the ceremonial dais changes when the issue of dowry is raised as if it the most important aspect of the new relationship which is about to be established between the bride and bridegroom.
What is Dowry?
Dowry is the money or assets which are presented by the bride’s family to her groom to ascertain well-being and proper care of the bride and to establish that from now on, the groom will take all responsibilities of the bride. It is often considered as a token of good secured life for the bride.
Is dowry an illegal demand?
In 1961, the tradition of dowry was prohibited under Indian Civil Law by the Sections 304B and 498a of the Indian Penal Code. Yet, dowry is a consistent menace and government and the law abysmally failed to control crimes related with dowry.
This failure is because of a simple reason that dowry in itself is no wrong. However, the concept of marriages in Indian culture is not proper. On rational premises, dowry is no wrong but taking dowry without a contractual base is certainly irrational. There should be a prenuptial agreement or a marriage contract before marriages and breach of that agreement must result in legal punishment for the defaulter of that simple prenuptial agreement or marriage contract.
For that marriage contract or agreement, the two willing partners who are looking forward to marry each other and who can be lovers will sit and discuss about their social, political, religious, philosophical and personal preferences. They will make a proper set of mutually beneficiary marriage rules applicable for both the bride and groom. The bride and groom will be free to mention monetary transactions in that legally enforceable written agreement. That is, it will be the mutual choice of the bride and the groom to either to agree for a fixed amount of dowry or to deny any transaction of dowry. In both cases, the agreement will be enforceable. The agreement must also include the issue about alimony in case the couple decides to separate from each other after a period of married life or if they decide to take divorce.
Breach of those simply defined marriage rules by the couple by anyone of the partners will lead to legal punishment (monetary or otherwise). Both the girl and the boy should be free to express their desires and thinking about a happy married life based on which they will make their personal marriage laws.
Why personal marriage laws for every couple? Because every couple is unique and it leads a personal life shared by only those particular two people. Those personal marriage rules will be based on mutual benefits and understanding which should be achieved by the bride and the groom during the courtship.
The couple may disagree on various issues such as freedom for polygamy or polyandrous relationships for the bride or groom respectively. Let us consider a case in which the couple agrees that they will not opt polygamy or polyandry and will remain monogamous and monandrous throughout their life. In such case, extra marital sexual activities will be unbearable. These two people who married on a mutual agreement for monoandry and monogamy will follow the rule of sexual fidelity. If say after a few years, when the husband grows old and feels that he doesn’t want any more sex, the n there will be freedom for wife to take divorce and opt for other man. The wife and her husband who doesn’t want any more sex may also agree to remain in married life allowing the wife to have extra marital sex. However, if wife cheats over her husband and hideously gets sexually involved with someone else, then she will be termed as immoral who breached the legally applicable prenuptial agreement or marriage contract. It simply means that polygamy or polyandry is not immoral, immorality is in cheating your partner.
If there is a prenuptial contract which prohibits polyandry or polygamy and if the husband or the wife breaches that contract not by mutual consent of the two parties engaged but by cheating and fraud, then it is immoral and illegal too. The prenuptial agreement or marriage contract will be the scale of morality for that particular couple and its breach will be punishable.
Indian marriages are not contract based and this is the basic reason of the menace caused by dowry. The husband holds no legal or moral responsibility to care for his wife and even if there is some sense of such responsibility, it is not in form of a written enforceable contract.This is because of the lack of social and economic freedom for individuals in India. Dowry is not the root cause of exploitation of women; the cause is lack of individual freedom. In any society which doesn’t allow proper individual freedom, the women exclusively suffer exploitation and coercion.
The Indian wife is forced by the society to suffer exploitation while her husband can continue demanding more and more money or dowry from the family of his wife even after marriage. Woman will suffer because she cannot dare to live alone. How can she oppose her coercive and exploiting husband when she knows that living alone is no more than a curse for a woman? Even if she leaves her brutal husband will her parents or brothers will take her responsibility? How will she provide good future for her children?
Often women fail to use their individual rights just because there is no social freedom in India and that is why all the laws against dowry and domestic violence are futile. In fact such laws are irrational because legally they discriminate men against women. Societal inequalities of the two genders don’t allow any genuine and exploited woman to use these laws. However there are some cheat women who use these laws to exploit and harass their husband.
Ayn Rand quoted “Evil requires the sanction of Victim!” in her book Atlas Shrugged. The quote is true to its essence. Only a woman can stop any form of atrocity against her and she certainly doesn’t need any discriminatory law from coercive government to save herself. Her individual strength and understanding of her inalienable individual rights can provide her a sense of dignity and grace. No governmental law or societal tradition can save her against immoral atrocities but her own strength and virtue of self interest.
A woman is certainly not dependent on irrational and discriminating governmental laws and reservation. The freedom comes from within and it enlightens an individual be a man or a woman, to fight for survival against all possible aggression and coercion from the society or other individuals. To attain this strength, the woman will have to demand for proper individual rights, she will have to gather strength to be an individual a perfect human.
It can be easily proven that prohibiting dowry doesn’t solve the issues of women. There are many societies in which the bridegroom and not the bride or her family is expected to pay the dowry. In these societies (such as Sin Sod system of Thailand1 ) the bridegroom is required to provide the demanded amount of money or assets to the bride’s family to prove that he is able to provide a good life for their daughter. However, even in Thailand the society rules over individuals. As a result women are exploited in Thailand while their families enjoy the amount of dowry or Sin Sod. Many western tourists marry Thai girls from the NE part of Thailand by paying handsome amount as dowry/Sin Sod. They enjoy these girls during their tours and then leave them to suffer consequences. After their short married period, these girls are often forced to work as prostitutes at bars and hotels.
As a matter of fact, Thai girls are sold by their families and many a times minor immature girls are also sold for a handsome amount of dowry or Sin Sod. This is extreme exploitation of individuals and in this case too, the sufferers are women. It verifies that prohibiting dowry or announcing women oriented irrational laws cannot help women. A woman will be able to lead an enlightened life only if she herself realizes the importance of freedom and self-governance.