National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows a rising graph in the number of dowry cases registered:
- 9,038 for 2012
- 10,709 for 2013
- 10,050 for 2014
Men’s rights activists will tell you this is proof of the law’s misuse. And even the Supreme Court has pointed out in 2014 that section 498A has “dubious pride of place amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives”.
What is the extent of that misuse?
- It’s hard to say.
- Sometimes a case is filed and it is completely cooked up—a crime which, under the Indian Penal Code, is punishable by up to six months in jail. At other times, the complaint may be genuine but there is an out-of-court settlement or mediation, leading to that complaint being withdrawn.
More telling perhaps is another set of data, the one on dowry deaths: 8,233 in 2012; 8,083 in 2013; 8,455 in 2014.
That’s more than 23 women killed a day, one per hour, for dowry.
Why this isn’t a public emergency baffles me. Why this isn’t a leading social crusade with government and non-governmental organizations is inexplicable.
- The Narendra Modi government has launched a slew of laudable social missions, from Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP).
- And while BBBP’s desperately needed aim is to reverse the decline in child sex ratio, a pan-national programme such as this one could easily accommodate a strong anti-dowry message.
- After all, it doesn’t take reams of academic research to understand the link between dowry and declining sex ratio.
- A study by data journalism website IndiaSpend finds that states with the highest dowry deaths between 2005 and 2010 reported the greatest decrease in child sex ratio for the same period. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the highest increase in dowry deaths (from 1,564 in 2005 to 2,217 in 2010), there was a corresponding decline in child sex ratio, from 916 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2001 to 899 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2011.
- Simply put: The dowry market makes girls a bad investment .
- Dowry, or to use its more acceptable euphemism, wedding ‘gift’, is now so ingrained in our cultural beliefs that, in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam manifesto promises eight grams of gold for every wedding and there is not even a flutter of protest from either activists or opposition parties.
- Some ads of different brands on the tv, shows that no marriage is complete without gold. Ads are not obligated to push social messaging. But the consumerist trend percolates down.
- There are those who argue that a voluntary ‘gift’ of gold or a motorcycle or a flat or a fridge is not dowry but mummy–papa’s thoughtful gesture to help a young couple get started in life.
- This is an extremely grey line.
- At what point does a ‘gift’ cease to be voluntary if it is dictated by either an outright demand, a not-so-subtle suggestion or even social pressure and ‘custom’?
- Nearly 60 years after the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, we need to ask why there is more, not less dowry; why the big fat Indian wedding has got bigger and fatter.
- But perhaps the real tragedy about dowry is not that it continues to blight our lives.
- The real tragedy is that we no longer seem to believe that this is a fight worth having.
- Perhaps there is an unspoken admission that this is a battle we have already lost.