On July 16th Kerala brought in new amendments in terms of legislation to stop the prevailing issue of dowry-related crimes. The new changes are brought in the form of an amendment to the ‘Kerala Dowry Prohibition Rules of 2004’. The new ‘Kerala Dowry Prohibition (amendment) rules of 2021’ were issued through a circular signed by the Director of the ‘Women and Child Development Department’ in Kerala, who is also the Chief Dowry Prohibition Officer in the state.
According to the circular, November 26th will be declared as Dowry Prohibition day in the state and a mandatory pledge will be invoked for the students from all schools and colleges. This pledge will contain phrases that would make the student solemnly affirm to not participate in any activity that partakes in giving or receiving dowry in their future lives.
The new rules mandates male government officers and employees to submit a declaration, within one month of their marriage, claiming that they had not received dowry or asked for it before the wedding. The same will be forwarded to the department heads of the government institution that the employee works in. Department heads would then submit a report of all the declarations provided by their employees to the district dowry prohibition officer every six months.
According to the previous rules from 2004, a government employee was asked to fill an affidavit after marriage, claiming to not have received or given dowry. But the new rules make sure routine checks are made. These checks would be done by external officials called District dowry prohibition officers. They work under the ‘Women and Child Development Department’ and report to its chief. Before the amendment, only three districts in Kerala had district dowry prohibition officers. Under the new amendments, every district in Kerala will have a presiding officer from the department keeping high vigil on preventing dowry-related crimes.
The recent provisions were introduced after the state witnessed around 4-5 dowry-related violence and death cases in the month of June. Kerala Women's Commission head MC Josephine also resigned after public disapproval regarding her methods arose. She was considered unfit in dealing with sensitive cases regarding violence against women. This public opinion was fuelled after Josephine, while live on TV news, reacted angrily to a caller who wanted to report a domestic violence case to her. MC Josephine is also a representative of the ruling CPI(M) and a member of its central committee. Under these circumstances, the government was forced to ask MC Josephine to resign from her post. Considering the media coverage and voices of dissent against the current system, the government of Kerala was under the pressure to make decisions to bring about proper change.
The official numbers from records on dowry-related crimes and deaths are worrying. It shows how an entire society is dependent on traditions like the dowry system that inevitably malign women to a secondary standing compared to her husband. According to NCRB data from 2019, around 7000 dowry deaths are reported every year in India. In Kerala, police data shows that there have been approximately 200 dowry deaths in the last 13 years. Even though this number is relatively low, it does not consider the domestic violence and assault being carried out on women by their spouses. Numbers reveal that there had been around 2900 cases in 2019 recorded in Kerala under the category ‘Cruelty by husbands/Relatives’. Statistics also show how there has been a huge increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic.
Kerala is a state with a high literacy rate and has one of the highest sex ratios in the country. But these socioeconomic indicators do not take into account such societal evils which are still prevailing. Kerala is also a diverse state with members from different religions existing in large populations. The system of dowry is prevalent in all these religions and caste groups as well. In India, marriages can take place under religious rituals under the presupposition that dowry is not exchanged. But it still takes place under a veil of silence. For instance, in Islam, to marry a woman, the groom has to provide a bride price to the father of the bride through an event called Nikkah. This happens through a mediator who is usually a priest and he announces the bride price during the event of the marriage thereby solemnizing the wedding. Even though this practice has negative connotations in terms of a religious form of exchange between a man and his future father-in-law, the bride price value called ‘meher’ is much less compared to the dowry that is given by the Muslim brides family to the groom behind the curtains.
Researchers and sources who have spoken about the topic portray the entire dowry system as a normalized practice. Indian society has not progressed enough to discard such practices and any change from normality under such instances can cause societal disapproval to families refraining from it too. This can be seen in cases where families are shamed for letting their daughter marry a man from another religion or caste.
Another instance where dowry is veiled through legal ways is seen in the Hindu Succession Act 2005. The act gives equal property rights to the daughter of a Hindu family. This is also being bypassed through written documents consenting to the daughter's approval to provide all the land to the sons of the family. This is mainly because the daughter is married off with the burden of providing dowry.
The dowry system present in the two examples given above remains confined in the form of written documents or through terms like ‘‘gifts given for the daughters' well being’, to save face from prosecution under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.
Credit: Fem Pewer
Entire marriages are built on disguised contracts like these in which women are married off with gold, jewels, and other forms of dowry objects like cars, land, etc to men from similar endogamous groups. The dowry given to the husband's family comes under a notion of gifts given to the daughter being married off but ultimately it is a mechanism to ensure that the daughter is treated well to the house she's being married to. Under the pomp and grandeur of marriage celebrations, there is a system that maligns the position and respect of women. The fact that such practices happen in a state like Kerala where social demographics are better compared to other states makes the issue even more worrisome.
Image Credit: Media India Group
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