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Dowry; a menacing custom

Throughout the ages the world has experienced many traditions and customs prevailing in the society according to their norms and values. There are some traditions which are more prevalent in Asian countries if compared with the western part of the world and unfortunately ‘the Dowry system’ is one of them.

The dowry system refers to the transfer of property of bride’s family containing luxurious goods and expensive items or even basic necessities given to the bridegroom, his family, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage. Pakistan has adopted the dowry system by India. Now the question arises that was the Indian society always oppressive of its women? Or is Hinduism a religion cursed by patriarchy? The society and the religion were never oppressive of its women nor did they withhold their liberty or freedom as we are often told about Swayamwar, the ancient Hindu marriage, traditions where it was the bride who decided whom to marry not the bridegroom. Moreover, the most powerful god in Hinduism is the female goddess; Sarasvati is the goddess of Knowledge, not Brahma; Lakshmi is the goddess of Wealth, not Vishnu; Parvathi is the goddess of Power and Energy, not Shiva.

The dowry system was a traditional practice by the parents of the bride to support married women and to give them the financial independence that they require so that they should not be a burden on their husbands and the marital household. However, the dowry system became a menace and more of a curse when the British Raj brought the Zamindari (feudal) system by privatizing land ownership in India and prohibiting women from having any property rights. As the women were exempted from owning any property they appeared more like precious jewels as getting married would now mean to own her property as well. So the bride’s family was pressurized to give more dowries if they wanted their daughters to be treated well. Aghast!

In fact, the situation even in 1870s was that,

‘In 49 separate volumes of customary law covering colonial Punjab, which today comprises Pakistan and Indian Punjab, Haryana, Jammu, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, dowry has been described in the 1870s as a collection of voluntary gifts comprising clothes, jewelry, household goods and cash bestowed on the bride by family and friends at the time of the girl’s wedding. Nowhere was it described as the prerogative of the groom to make demands on the girl’s family. But the British at that time had not granted their own women property rights, so it was highly unlikely they would do so for Indian women.’

The dowry system became an institution of greed and selfishness where misogynistic ideology started to prevail. The dowry cultural influence has made dowry a posing threat for our community.

Dowry system has widened the gap between the rich and the poor thus forming greater divisions in a society. We have seen on various marriage ceremonies that the elite class gives a lot of luxurious gifts to their daughters to show off their wealth and are held in high esteem due to their status. This creates a sense of insecurity in the lower class as they feel inferior and degraded in this society. Such cultural practices make them believe that success is not for the hard workers but for the elite. Thus reducing their willingness and hope for a better future and indulging them in other harmful activities like theft, gambling, robbery and many more.

Dowries systems have made women appear more appealing for personal gains and are considered valuable ‘Articles of trade’! Due to the increase in dowry culture, women are now considered a good source of income, not only for the marital household but also for their own family in many tribal areas of Pakistan. The woman’s status is raised in her marital household if she brings dowry along with her and then her wellbeing is secured, indeed. Moreover another cultural practice known as the Watta Satta is being carried out by bride’s family as they in return take a bride price from the bridegroom. These practices have taken away their self-respect, confidence and their right to live to the fullest. Daughters become a second preference as compared to sons, a financial burden and an object ready to be sold for a better price for their parents. This leads to other social problems like female feticide and an imbalance between male-female ratios, increasing gender violence, sex-selective killings, acid attacks etc. One evil practice leads to the occurrence of many evil practices.

Dowry system imposes emotional, financial and social stress on the bride’s parents. As the society follows the dowry system and considers it an immensely important part of the marriage ceremony so the bride’s parents may feel neglected, inferior and underprivileged. This creates a rift among the social classes as injustice could be seen. Bride’s parents also blame themselves for not being able to afford dowry for their daughter and are further suppressed by the society which leads to increasing health issues like depression and high blood pressure.

Dowry system is an evil blot on the face of a society. It has caused melancholy to take hold of many unfortunate people and none could fathom the pain and suffering that they go through. It is, in my opinion, a sinful act indeed! A cultural practice causing gender inequality, differences between social classes, violation of the rights of women should be considered unethical by everyone. This issue is considered a block road by many but development of effective laws and policies by the government and creating awareness among people may lead to its eradication thus forming a society where ‘Humans’ are protected instead of specific  genders. All of us dream for an ideal society, very few take tiny but pragmatic steps to be part of that change.