India: Men’s dowry demands leave a trail of dead women

A woman carrying water  in Pali, India. Under India’s dowry system, the bride's family gives movable and immovable property to the groom and his family as a condition for marriage.


Photo credit: Photo | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Under India’s dowry system, the family of the bride gives movable and immovable property to the groom.
  • Originally, dowry was given by the family of the bride to secure her financially.
  • Last May,  a man was convicted to a 10-year jail term after he was found guilty of abusing his wife over their wedding dowry, leading to her death by suicide.

Three Indian sisters recently died by suicide after a dispute over dowries.

Kalu, Kamlesh and Mamta Meena who were married to brothers from the same family were found dead in a well near their marital home, in a village on the outskirts of Jaipur city, Rajasthan state, AFP reported.

The news agency quoted relatives narrating the trio’s marital distress. They said the in-laws often abused the sisters when their father failed to meet their demand for money.

“We don't wish to die but death is better than their abuse,” AFP quoted a cousin referring to a WhatsApp message left by one of the sisters.

“Our in-laws are the reason behind our deaths. We are dying together because it's better than dying every day.”

Their father, Sardar Meena, told AFP that his daughters had been living a torturous life. He said the sons-in-law disallowed them to pursue education and often hounded him for additional payments.

Poor population

“We had already given them so many things, you can see them in their home,” he said, counting off the beds, television sets and refrigerator he provided to the family.

This is one of the thousands of dowry-related deaths reported in India, one of the most populous and poorest countries in the world. Data shows 68.8 per cent of its 1.4 billion population is poor.

Under India’s dowry system, the family of the bride gives movable and immovable property to the groom and his family as a condition for marriage.

Originally, dowry was given by the family of the bride to secure her financially after her marriage since at the time they were disempowered.

Things have changed though and women have become economically empowered but the practice of giving and taking property has refused to fade away.

The country banned the dowry system six decades ago when Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) was enacted but still, the groom’s parents demand gifts from the pride’s family. Unfortunately, the dowry system has been capitalised to exploit the parents of the bride.

Suicide

In some cases, the husbands kill their wives to inherit the dowry.

Last May, CNN reported a conviction of a husband to a 10-year jail term after the district court in Kerala State found him guilty of abusing his wife over their wedding dowry, leading to her death by suicide.

Kiran Kumar and his wife Vismaya Nair, had been married for just a year when she was found dead in the bathroom of her husband's family home in Kerala in June, 2021, CNN reported.

The court documents referred to the news outlet indicated that the wife’s family had agreed to give Kumar 100 sovereigns of gold, an acre of land, and a car as a dowry, but he was not happy with the model of the vehicle and demanded more money.

The court ruled that Kumar physically and verbally abused Nair.

That “She had lost all the charms in life. She was so desperate. Feeling of despondency surmounted over her. She was severely taunted on account of dowry soon before the death.”

In 2020, India's National Crime Records Bureau recorded nearly 7,000 dowry-related killings.

That is equivalent to 19 wives killed every day for 365 days in a year. Activists, however, claim the number would be higher.

Dowry deaths

In an interview with AFP, Kavita Srivastava, an activist with India's People's Union for Civil Liberties, said: “In an hour, some 30 to 40 women are victims of domestic violence... and these are just documented (cases), so it must be much more than that.”

A 2022 study Domestic violence in Indian women: lessons from nearly 20 years of surveillance by Dandona, et al., established that 137,627 crimes of dowry deaths were reported between 2001 and 2018. Of the total, 27.9 per cent of the cases were reported between 2014 and 2018.

But the mean number of persons arrested for dowry deaths in India declined from three in 2001 to 2.3 in 2018.

Sadly, India and Kenya are on a similar scale of femicide.

According to data from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Kenya was second with the highest female homicide rate at 2.6 per cent after India’s 2.8 per cent


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