People gathered around the house drawn by the commotion like swarms of flies to a corpse. This was Chandan’s house and the scene taking place was not a very uncommon one in this village. Domestic violence was an ordinary and daily event here. But what jolted people out of their houses was how the crying of the woman turned into begging and then into an ear-splitting maddening scream causing an uproar in the village.
Her name was Rani. She was flung out, a blanket of blaze stumbling, running uncontrollably like insane, squealing, yelling, begging for someone to douse her. But not a soul stirred, not a mouth mumbled a word. After a while, realising the futility of her efforts, she stopped struggling and fell to the ground. She twitched a bit every now and then before breath left her charred body, tiny specks of flame still caught in her hair and clothes.
The villagers knew She had it coming. The same had happened to Ramesh’s bride two months back and many before his. Some noted in their minds to remind their wives or daughter-in-laws of what fate awaited them if they did not succumb to their demands of the asked dowry. Chandan had done the same after Ramesh’s bride’s immolation.
Elsewhere hung Shobha’s lifeless young body from the fan, the red and white bangles from her marriage 5 months back still dangling on her wrists. A fresh lump on the right of her forehead and a number of scars lay allover her flagging pale body.
She took the fatal step only when she found out she was pregnant. She decided against letting her child suffer the way she had. Rajesh was a clerk at a local bank, while Shobha worked at a private law firm. Theirs was a love marriage. She earned more than him. This never bothered him before marriage when they were courting for she would buy him gifts and take him to expensive restaurants. He expected this to continue after marriage too, though of course now his demands compiled with his family’s had taken the form of malicious greed gnawing into Shobha’s life.
Being it a love marriage and both families urban and educated, dowry had to be out of the question She thought. But when at the engagement itself, the to be in-laws complained of poor arrangements and not getting any gifts, she was shocked. Her mother consoled her saying that it was customary of the girl’s family to give gifts to the groom’s, whether asked for or not. Accordingly, a treasure of jewellery, branded watches, expensive clothes, and a number of home appliances were given at the wedding. Satisfied for then, but weeks into the marriage they made demands for a Honda City. She decided not to give in this time. Occasional fights erupted. Rajesh did not hesitate anymore from lifting his hand on her every now and then. She fought back every-time with equal ardor and kept her trauma hidden from her family, who thought she was happy and satisfied with her new life.
Now she lay hanging from the fan. In the FIR Rajesh wrote that his wife had committed suicide because she could not adjust to the new family. When the officer asked about the injury marks on her body, he dived his hand into Shobha’s purse, took out a few crisp notes and silenced him. And thus remained Shobha’s struggle a waste and her sacrifice in vain.
Sound familiar, right? That’s because you came upon such a news article just few days back. You read the headline, maybe a few lines underneath it too and then flipped away the page without giving it another thought. Or at the most must have wondered why the newspapers have to keep repeating these trifles of daily occurrences everyday. Flipping away the page won’t undo the fact that dowry deaths exist and are happening all around us and unfortunately in much greater frequency than the newspapers bother to report.
We know it exists. We know dowry deaths is still a very prevalent truth, still we refuse to acknowledge it. We also know there is domestic legislation banning dowry, yet thousands of women still fall victim to it every year. We know it has historical, cultural, and societal roots, but we also know they are as degrading as can be.
By official statistics, 16 women are burnt for dowry related causes every day in India. By unofficial statistics, the number is 68. In addition, about 2,000 dowry-related suicides are reported every year. This is no longer an “issue” or an “incident” as law enforcement officials in India seem to think. We are now at a point where this is an epidemic, a systematic, albeit measured, gendercide of Indian women.[source: “Bride-Burning: The Elephant in the Room Is Out of Control” by Avnita Lakhani]
The dowry system puts a great financial burden on the bride’s family and is one of the reasons for families resorting to sex selection in favour of sons and give rise to female foeticide. Dowry system is also a major contributor towards the much observed violence against women in India that includes physical violence, emotional abuse, murder of brides etc. Women sometimes take their own lives but other times the in-laws fabricate a story around their crime, calling it a kitchen accident or immolation or suicide from inability to adjust to the new environment after marriage.
Another myth that needs to be busted is that killing of women for dowry is no longer just a rural phenomenon. The evil is ensnaring the metropolitan elite- those considered educated, civil and well to do, equally in its tentacles. Also it is no more confined to arranged marriages but afflicting matrimonial bonds that emerge out of years of courtship and love too.
If the following statistics don’t shock you, I wonder what will:
Maximum Dowry killings
Worst states (2011-13)
All India – 24934
Uttar Pradesh – 6901
Bihar – 3870
Andhra Pradesh – 1595
Worst Conviction Rate (2011-13)
West Bengal (13.7%)
Andhra Pradesh (11.9%)
[Source: DNA India]
The above are stories of not just a Rani or a Shobha. She is every woman who kept silent the day she was forcibly married off at a young age to a man much older than her, She is every woman who did not open her mouth the day her father sold off the one plot of land they owned to buy the groom a bike or car. She is every woman who silently yielded to her husband every night he came home drunk, beat her and forced himself on her. She is every woman who silently endured every time her in-laws called her and her parents the dirtiest words she ever heard. She is the one who silently cried off the day she was forced to abort her female child. She is rural, She is urban. She is hindu, She is muslim. She’s a bride from an arranged marriage, from a love marriage. But above all She is the one who decided to speak out against the injustice and got silenced forever.
The payment of dowry is prohibited by Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Further, sections 304B and section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, makes the in-laws liable for punishment, if their involvement in the death is proven:
- Section 304B of the Indian Penal code lays down that where the death of a woman is caused under unnatural circumstances such as burns or bodily injury within 7 years of marriage must be deemed ‘dowry death’ and such husband or/and relatives involved be deemed to have caused the death.
- Section 498A protects the wife from harassment by the husband or the husband’s family against dowry demands. This includes jail term for the husband’s side if the woman is found to have committed suicide as a result of harassment by in-laws or been subjected to physical or mental torture.
The curse of the dowry system needs to be eradicated from the roots. Hence, women and their families should adopt the policy of zero tolerance towards dowry demands. Higher education and career opportunities for women should be encouraged so that women can be self-reliant and not have to live under the belief that they cannot survive on their own(however, this can only partly better the case).
Further, better and thorough implementation of the laws is required and the police force be made more approachable. Lastly, awareness has to be created about the weapons that women have in their hands in the form of the above mentioned laws. Most importantly though, a strict and necessary change in the mindset of the people regarding the so-called inferiority of the ‘weaker sex’ has to be brought about and that cannot be achieved without some effort on each individual’s part.
Hopefully, the next time you’ll not merely flip away the page but give the matter a serious thought for a change. Rather, discuss the issue with your folks, help create awareness and definitely ring the bell of your neighbour’s door if you happen to hear suspicious noises from inside. For Bapu said ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. Your one step of resistance could help save a life. Be a catalyst for change.
By- Aakanksha Kumari