Cradle To Grave
By Manas Dasgupta
Bsides cash and gold, the
dowry includes cars, televisions, refrigerators and a house whether
or not the groom's family already possesses them is immaterial. And
if the groom has a Government job, the dowry would include the bribe
for a "good posting".
No one can beat the Patels
of Gujarat at it. The extortion is lifelong; and continues even after
death a woman's parents have to pay for the religious ceremonies
when she dies. This is the case with the Leuva Patels of Kaira and Anand
districts of central Gujarat. Dowry is, however, not much prevalent
among the Kadva Patels of the north. But it is common among the Anavil
Brahmins of south Gujarat and the Rajputs in the Kutch-Saurashtra region.
Ila Pathak of the Ahmedabad
Women's Action Group, a non-government organisation fighting for women's
social rights, says that compared to many other States, complaints of
"bride burning" or dowry harassment are uncommon in Gujarat.
At least, they are not reported. But the number of "suicides"
by married women under mysterious circumstances is enough reason to
believe that they are not always accidental.
According to police records,
the number of "dowry deaths" in the State under section 304-B
of the Indian Penal Code was 94 in 1999 and 93 in 2000. The number declined
to 43 in 2001 and by another 10 per cent last year. But experts point
out that the decline is due to the refusal of the police to register
The cases registered under
Section 498 (A), most of which have to do with the inability of the
bride to bring in hefty dowry, provide an insight into the dowry menace
in the State. In 1999, their number was 3,886, 3,739 in 2000 and 3,191
in 2001. Some cases ended in "suicide'' "accidental
death" in police parlance but not all. Taking into account
1,774 "suicide" cases in 1999, which "came down"
to 1,632 in 2001, and 3,378 "accidental deaths" in 1999, which
declined to 2,750 in 2001, it is evident that the problem of dowry continues
to haunt women. And it is certainly no coincidence that nearly 80 per
cent of the suicide cases and accidental deaths occurred in kitchens
and the daughters-in-law were the only victims.
Ms. Pathak says that education
and prosperity have only increased the practice of dowry. The better
the groom's educational qualification, the heftier is the dowry to make
up for the "expense" incurred on his education. And prosperity
has given rise to demands for costlier things. In fact, affluence is
responsible for the system, she argues. The Leuva Patels, the Anavil
Brahmins and the Rajputs, who are all rich land-owners, started the
practice of giving riches to their daughters during marriage which slowly
became a custom among all. Dowry system seems to be prevalent among
a section of Muslims too, though the Shariat proscribes it. They prefer
to call it "voluntary" contributions from the bride's side
though. However, among tribals, the dowry system works in the reverse
direction the groom's family shells out money.