Why is dowry a problem? What are the effects of dowry on society?
Dowry is the closely interlinked to many crimes committed against women -
female infanticide, domestic violence, neglect of the girl child, denial
of educational and career opportunities to daughters, rape, extortion,
homicide, and discrimination against women to name a few. Some these
crimes can be directly traced to the inability of the bride's family to
meet the demands of the groom and his family.
World Bank Gender Statistics (1999) reveals the following about India:
Female population as % of total: 49.4% (testimony to declining sex ratio)
Adult illiteracy rate: Male - 29%; Female - 48% (Male 24.15%, Female
45.84% as per 2001 census)
Youth illiteracy rate: Male - 19%; Female - 31%
Female labor force as % of total: 38%
These statistics reveal gender inequality in all aspects of human
In 1995, the National Crime Bureau of the Government of India
reported about 6,000 dowry deaths during the year. A more recent police
report stated that by 1997 dowry deaths had risen by 170 percent in the
decade. All of these official figures are considered to be gross
understatements of the real situation. Unofficial estimates cited in a
1999 article by Himendra Thakur "Are our sisters and daughters for sale?"
put the number of deaths at 25,000 women a year, with many more left
maimed and scarred as a result of attempts on their lives. (Source: Amanda
Hitchcock, July 2001, "Rising Number of Dowry Deaths in India",
According to the UN Population Fund report for the year 2000,
female infanticide has also increased dramatically over the past decade
and infant mortality rates are 40 percent higher for girl babies than
boys. The district of Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu is notorious for female
infanticide. According to statistics available with the district
administration, during 2000, the number of deaths was 1,400 while in 2001
it was 1,175. While poverty is cited as the primary reason, dowry finishes
a close second. The administration books cases against the offenders and
exhumes the bodies for postmortem. Still, ``safer'' ways of killing have
been evoked. Earlier, the children were poisoned or simply choked. Later,
the infant was wrapped in a wet towel, resulting in its dying of
pneumonia. But with postmortem exposing the modus operandi, the villagers
are now starving the children to death. Also the just-born baby is fed
with chicken soup and it dies writhing in pain, say doctors. (Source:
D.Sivarajan, "Can the Cradles Save Dharmapuri Girls", April 15th 2002, The
Today in Punjab and Haryana, the number of females in proportion
to males in the 0-6 age group has dropped below 800:1000. This practice
flourishes not among the illiterate and poor but among the non-poor who
can afford the technology for sex-selective foeticide. Furthermore, fully
qualified medical practitioners will "advertise" that the Rs. 16,000 cost
of the operation is "nothing compared to ..." you guessed it, dowry. The
persistence of dowry is a reality that prevents girls from being born.
Extortion, violence, rape, confinement, homicide, and threats of
the same, related explicitly to dowry or to the insecurity bred by dowry,
persist. No class is immune.
That cruelty at home forms the largest share of crimes against
women is a deeply disturbing fact. It is shown, for instance, that of the
twenty different categories of accidental deaths during 1994, 72.2% of all
deaths by fire had women as their victims. That a substantial share of
these could have actually been dowry related becomes clear with the
majority of these deaths occurring to women in the age group of 18-30
years, i.e. those newly married or having been married only a few years.
And of all the suicides committed in 1995, 51.6% related to dowry.
(Source: All India Democratic Women's Association 6th National Conference)
Dowry is heavily and directly implicated in the declining
educational opportunities for girls. In Andhra Pradesh, which advertises
its opportunities in computer sciences, the ratio of girls / boys in
computer science courses has been going down since 3 years.
These evidences are only the tip of the iceberg but clearly
indicate that dowry threatens a woman's right to a decent existence and