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Title of Assignment: Dowry System in India

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In today’s modern Indian society, folk and popular cultures are facing challenges in maintaining their identities. Today, India’s folk culture is more diffused and connected with popular (pop) culture than ever before. Because of this mixing of generational cultures, this process is facing difficulties. With the diffusion of popular culture, folk culture is facing challenges in maintaining its identity for the sustainable future. Due to the increased connection of folk culture with popular culture, it is difficult to maintain centuries-old practices and traditions. Global diffusion of popular, social customs has had an unintended negative impact on women in India, which can easily be seen in the increase in demand for dowries. Dowries are money or property given by the bride’s family to the groom/future husband’s family at marriage. Traditionally, a dowry was a gift from one family to another as a sign of respect. In the past, the local custom in India was for the groom and his family to provide only a small dowry to the bride’s family. In the twentieth century, however, the custom reversed, and the bride’s family was expected to provide a substantial dowry to the husband’s family.

“In the dowry of today, large sums of cash are transferred along with furniture, gadgetry, costly clothing and jewelry from the from the bride’s kin to the groom’s kin.” (Dowry & Inheritance 6). Although the dowry system is officially banned in India, it still exists in all classes of Indian society. In this paper, I will be discussing the dowry system in India and its mostly negative impact on women in the Indian culture and society. First of all, in order to understand the dowry system, it is important to know where it takes place. The prevalence of the dowry system happens mostly in developing countries, such as: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and in some parts of Africa. According to an article written by Carol J. Williams in the Los Angeles Times, “India’s Dowry Deaths’ Still Rising Despite Modernization,”, the writer states that “despite a rapidly expanding middle class, enviable economic growth and measurable strides in modernization since India’s 1947 independence, dowry deaths continue to rise year after year, as dowry the related plague of, cruelty by husband and relatives. The crime defined as torture committed against women in pursuit of more marriage bounty from their parents.” The dowry system is associated with marriage, especially arranged marriages. India is a nation where a majority of the people follows the Hindu religion. In Hinduism, marriage is a sacrament. Its purpose is to create and develop a religious and spiritual outlook on life.

Origin of Dowry
The origin of the dowry system in India has been greatly debated. Some studies suggest that the concept of dowry grew from a number of different ritual exchanges. The dowry system, payment from the bride’s family to the groom and his family during the time of marriage, has a long and controversial history in India. This system of dowry had its origin in the verdict period of history, which began only as a formal rite in the institution of marriage. Among the various types of Hindu marriages, the ritual known as “Kanyadan”, which is a ceremonial rite of creating a union of two people in the marriage process, played a significant role in the evolution of the dowry system. During “kanyadan”, a bride offered a gift to a groom by her father. As stipulated in the “Dharmasasthra”, a Hindu religious book, “kanyadan” is a meritous act and it is not complete until the groom is given a “dakshina” (money given as a gift), while performing the ceremony. Another study shows that the historical origin of the dowry system in India has been traced to Hindu marriages among the high caste system in northern India. Until the end of the medieval period, the marriages of the Brahma upper caste system involved the giving of a daughter together with a dowry from the bride’s family to the groom’s family.

“In the pre-colonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women, for women, to enable them to establish their status and have resources in an emergency.” (Dowry Murder, the Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime by Vena Talwar). Thus, “dowry can be seen as: a way of compensating the groom and his family for the economic support they would provide to the new wife, because women had little or no role in the market economy and would be dependent upon their husband. This interpretation is consistent with the fact that the dowry was historically practisized largely in the upper castes, among whom women’s economic roles were restricted. In the lower castes, where women were more likely to be economic contributors to their family, the custom of the bride price was more common.” (Tomalin 5)

Causes of Dowry in India (why it is occurring):
Dowry has always been a social, economical issue. In India, people still think of dowry as a rightful way of gaining wealth in the low and middle classes. There are some factors behind the causes of dowry. Poverty is one of the main causes in northern India. The lower class people demand dowry to reduce their poverty. Also, the majority of people in the rural areas are illiterate, especially women. Due to the lack of education, these women are unaware of negative effects of dowry. Another factor is that the Indian society is a patriarchal, male-dominated society, where men are the decision makers and heads of the family.

Women are more dependent on men for mostly everything. Most of the women are housewives and they have less economic power to help in controlling the family. “Hinduism can be identified as a contribution towards the creation of dowry. The idea of male lineage is founded on male authority and superiority. Wifely submission and compliance are necessary to secure the continuation of the male lineage and to deter any challenges to the authority of men. Dowry should be seen as one of this distinct ideology.”(Bradley, Tomalin & Subramaniam 12) Negative Impact of Dowry on Women

The dowry system has created chaos in the society. The dowry, which creates women victims of the lower, middle class in the rural areas of India have outnumbered the victims of India’s cities or urban areas. Most of the domestic abuse and domestic violence are tied to the dowry demands made by husbands and their families. This leads to conflicts between husbands and wives. In some parts of Western India, in extreme cases, these dowry conflicts have led to “Uxoricide”, which is the act of a husband murdering his wife. Dowry deaths such as bride burning and female infanticide are two of the main consequences of dowry conflicts in the Indian society. In an article, “India’s New Focus on Rape Shows Only the Surface of Women’s Peril” published in the New York Times, states that “from 25,000 to 100,000 women a year are killed over dowry disputes such as domestic violence, female infanticide, and alive burning.’’ The same article talks about the story of a girl, who was killed by her husband. According to the victim’s father, his daughter was killed because her in-laws were not satisfied with her dowry payment.

The dowry system in India has become a serious issue in the modern era. The high number of women living in the rural regions is still suffering with a series of major problems such as physical and mental torture. Women in these difficult circumstances often times lose their self-respect and self-worth. They manifest humility and innocence and must become subservient to the husbands who are seen as the absolute heads of the households. Several anti-dowry campaigns have been undertaken to stop dowry violence in today’s Indian society. Women’s group from across the developed countries, such as the United States and some European countries are actively participating in campaigns to find positive and reasonable solutions to the dowry process and to stimulate change in Indian policy making regarding the abolishment of dowry. In my opinion, the Indian government should impose stricter laws in order to eradicate the dowry system completely. Public awareness and campaigns are vital to stopping violence caused by dowry. Up to this point in time, the Indian government has enacted some basic laws to curb the dowry system; however, these laws are only in theory and not truly practiced or executed throughout the Indian nation.

1) Srimati, Basu. Dowery and Inheritance. New York: Zed Books, 20006. 6. Print. 2) Oldenburg, Veena. Dowery Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Culture Crime. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print. 3)Bradley, Tamsin, Emma Tomalin, and Mangala Subramaniam. Dowry: Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice. New York: Martin Press, 2009. 12. Print. 4)Gardiner, Harris. “India’s New focus on Rape Shows Only the Surface of Women’s Perils.” New York Times 12 January 20013, B1. Print. 5) Williams J., Carols. “India’s dowry deaths still rising despite modernization.” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles)5 September 2013, B1. Print.

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