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The Dowry System

by Vikas Kamat
First Online: December 01, 2004
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

What is Dowry ?

Dowry (a.k.a. dahej and varadakshine) is a form of wedding gift prevalent in India, that is also sometimes called price-of the-groom.

The dowry system was a security blanket for married women in case of marital problems or abandonment by husband. It was an emergency fund setup by the the bride's father and brothers and was rarely cash, and instead consisted of valuables such as jewelry, and immovable property.

The dowry system also acted as the girl's inheritance from her father, because the Hindu joint-family system afforded all the property to the male descendants.

Social Menace of Dowry

Over a period of time, the abuse of the dowry practice has developed in India to the extent that it has become the biggest problem facing women. Many marriages are strained because of the dispute over dowry, and during 1980s, numerous cases of "burning brides" were reported in the media, where newly wed girls either committed suicide or burnt alive by the in-laws over dowry disputes.

As girls started expecting a fair inheritance from their fathers, the grooms also started demanding more and more. Some people went to the extent of deciding such matters as love, status, and prestige in the society depending on how much dowry a family could bring (or afford), and those who could not afford an expected dowry were subjected to humiliation.

As the women in India got more educated, many of them thought that the system of dowry was demeaning to women. The Indian courts have banned the practice since 1961, forgetting that it is indeed a strongly rooted tradition. So in today's India, the dowry system plays a huge, but largely underground and illegal role in match-making, and forming of marriage alliances.

It is the dowry system that is the primary cause of female infanticide in India, and the primary reason why everybody wants to have only male children. The system of gift-giving has turned into a system of absurd demands, and one of harassment of women.

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