The birth of a child is one of the miracles of nature which are worth waiting for a lifetime to witness. It is an overwhelmingly joyful occasion for any family and a life-changing event, to be certain for any mother and father. It is the symbol of a new beginning and good tidings for any home. Parents spend countless blissful moments marveling at the beauty of their newborn child, its every movement bringing tears of joy to their eyes. In most parts of the world, the birth of a child, male or female, is the happiest moment in the life of the mother and father. However, in many parts of our country, the birth of a female child often isn’t as joyous an occasion as the birth of a male child. Among many other reasons for this seemingly strange fact, is the foreboding in the minds of the parents regarding a singular subject: dowry.
Put in plain words, dowry is an offering (cash or kind) made by the family of the bride to the family of the groom. It can be anything ranging from money to a variety of other objects as per the financial strength of the bride’s family. Dowry has been known to range from objects such as jewelry, cattle, and bicycles and in some cases land (in rural and suburban areas) to motorcycles, cars, home appliances, etc. in the more urban areas. However the basic underlying concept remains the same: the bride’s family makes a generous offering to the groom’s family as a mark of gratitude for accepting their daughter into the groom’s family. This might not seem like such a bad thing, and it really isn’t, as long as the family of the bride willingly and happily makes the offering in order to strengthen the bond between the two families. However, problems arise when the groom’s family starts to make unjust and extreme demands from the bride’s family. Unfortunately, this is a very real situation in many places of India. It is as if the family of the groom is bestowing a huge favor on the bride’s family by letting their daughter marry into their family and hence the price in return must be sufficiently high. It is sad, unfortunate, but true in a very large number of areas.
The general public in our nation are irrationally obsessed with a male child on account of their illiteracy, lack of awareness and in some cases, sheer small-mindedness. Consequently, such parents on receiving a male child naturally feel privileged and seek to extract the most advantage out of their “good fortune”. In other words, the more qualified and eligible their son is, the higher is the amount of dowry they are entitled to charge from the family of their son’s prospective bride. More often than not, the son shares the same petty mentality, despite his numerous qualifications and stellar achievements. On the other hand, the family of the bride is willing to submit to any demands, however unjust, simply in the hope of seeing their daughter in good hands. In many cases it has been to happen that brides have been brutalized, tortured and sometimes burnt alive on account of their families’ inability to cough up the amounts demanded by the groom’s family.
The reason behind a shameful practice such as dowry being prevalent in our country even in the twenty first century is the deeply ingrained belief in a major portion of our society that women are destined to be married off to other families and hence they have no reason to aspire to anything beyond the role of the homemaker and the bearer of children. Thus, they make no effort to enable their daughters to be independent and the only path left for them is to acquiesce to the demands of the families of the men who condescend to marry them. The women who are forced to abide by this tradition have their thinking shaped in the same way and hence they inflict the same hardships upon their daughters as well. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this is that even educated and established people holding positions of respect in the society willingly follow the custom of offering dowry to the groom’s family to ensure their daughter’s future.
Unlike most other social menaces, when it comes to dowry, it stands to reason that a change in general public outlook and mentality might prove to be a lot more significant and helpful than mere legal paraphernalia. Formulating and implementing laws related to dowry can be tricky, as there can be no precise definition as to what exactly dowry constitutes. It can range from something small and meaningful to something extorted forcefully by the groom’s family; hence an accurate formulation of the definition of dowry can be a challenging task indeed. Hence, a consciousness among the masses regarding the evils of dowry and a willingness to break the meaningless tradition of marrying daughters off at the cost of money and other objects in the name of dowry is of paramount importance. The daughters of our nation need to be trained to be independent and sufficiently able to lead their life on their own terms instead of according to the patriarchal framework laid down by years of oppressive social order.