Gandhigiri has become the flavour of the month. All of a sudden, following the release of the immensely popular Bollywood film, 'Lage Raho Munnabhai', Mahatma Gandhi has been rediscovered. People go to the movie and after seeing it, buy his My Experiments with Truth from Gandhian activists who position themselves outside theatres.
Gandhi said many things. Not all these are reflected in the film. Some argue that his concept of Satyagraha has been turned into a joke. Others feel that through the medium of a Bollywood film, the younger generation in particular has woken up to the existence of a man called Gandhi.
As Munnabhai has already tackled the callousness of our health system, and the greed of real estate sharks, how about tackling the one Indian tradition that refuses to die that of dowry? I could imagine that such a film could work very well, and could in fact bring in the Gandhigiri that has caught on after the latest in the series.
Perhaps Munnabhai should tackle, in his next film, the one Indian tradition that refuses to die dowry.
The persistence of a custom
But it is precisely this that is ensuring that even as India moves ahead on so many other fronts, we are unable to deal with demands for dowry. Far from dowry demands declining, they seem to be getting more blatant and more frequent. If greed is the god we are told to worship, then any means to get what we want is justified even dowry. And if the woman or her family doesn't give it, then you simply dump her and try again.
On 21 September, an afternoon paper in Mumbai reported exactly this. It carried the story of a 35-year-old woman who works in a call centre. One morning, when she returned after a night shift, she found that the locks to her marital home had been changed. As a result, she could not enter. Her cupboard and trunk with her clothes as well as a bucket with some utensils were left out in front of the house. She had been unceremoniously thrown out after just five years in an arranged marriage to a man who was 20 years older than her. In April this year, he went off to Canada, leaving her with his mother and sister. Shortly thereafter, she was told, "If you want to live with us, give us Rs.five lakhs."
This is not an unusual story. In fact, if any of us reads our newspapers carefully, we will come across a daily dose of such incidents. And each time it is an educated, middle class woman who is at the end of this dowry demand. No question of poverty here. We want more, is the cry, and we will get it, come what may.
When laws don't do the trick
So in the next sequel, Munnabhai should use Gandhigiri to shame families that demand dowry. Just as he and the old people thrown out of their homes protested in front of Lucky Singh's house and got people to send him get-well cards, Munnabhai should trigger off a trend of targeting families that demand dowry, or who torture their brides for dowry, for similar treatment.
You never know. Perhaps this will work better than all the laws that are on the statute, all the articles that have been written, all the campaigns by women's groups. Something has to be done to shame those who continue in this day and age to use brides to satisfy their greed.
At the recently concluded Navratri festival in Ahmedabad, a women's group came up with an equally novel way to make people aware about the consequences of sex-selective abortions. They put up posters at Navratri pandals saying that if nothing was done to stop the trend, there would be no girls to dance the garba by 2025. Imagine a Navratri without women!