• Annette Stanley

It's A Girl

Annette Stanley

The three most dreadful words that some parents hear are "it's a girl". For years, the birth of a girl child in India was always associated with sorrow. The celebration of the birth of a life and initiation of parenthood would be replaced with the never-ending worry of how to get her "married off". It's ironic how dowry is the only non-Indian, yet Indian system that Indians regardless of their religion come together to follow. The atrocities meted out on women and even young girls as a result of this system are horrifying. The practice of the dowry system was widely prevalent even in ancient civilisations. It has been recorded to exist in the Babylonian, Greek and, Roman Civilisations. However, this was never the case in India, even during the Indus Valley Civilisation. In the records of explorers like Adrian, Megasthenes, and Al Beruni, it has been documented that Indians would marry without taking nor giving dowries. Dowry was an unaccustomed system in India until the Late Medieval or even Early Modern periods. Dowry was never an Indian System. Dowry was a foreign system brought to India by the British, integrated into our traditions. Even in the late nineteenth century, when India was under colonial rule, dowry was prevalent in Britain. In India, up until colonisation, a woman's wealth was transferred from her mother to her as “streedhan”. This was always in the form of precious metals and gems. There was no concept of private ownership or trading of land. In 1793 the implementation of the agreement of 'Permanent Settlement of Bengal' between the East India Company and Lord Cornwallis, introduced the policy of private ownership of land. As a result, even the 'Zamindari' system came into existence. The Zamindars collected land revenue and native Indians were recognised as landowners. However, under this agreement, only males could inherit the land and if a family failed to produce a male heir, the land would be confiscated. It was this agreement that became the pivoting factor resulting in the dowry system. Since women could not own property, their wealth would be owned by their husbands instead. This then led to male preference, female infanticide, blaming women for not birthing male heirs, treating women as unequal and the list goes on. Following this, the groom's family started demanding dowries that they deemed fit. Not all families practiced this system but most did. Gifts became demands and an obligation. From there it grew to become one of the greatest social evils in India. The world describes dowry as a transfer of parental property at the wedding of a daughter. But that's not it. It is the reason why there are 60 million more men in India than women. Or in other words, the number of men in India exceeds the number of women by the population of France. The Dowry System is the cause of sorrow and tragedy in families. It also made marriage a form of business that oppresses women. Even though the practice of Dowry is now illegal in India, it is a socially accepted system. In some extreme forms, this leads to domestic violence and suicides. Despite new laws and amendments in 2013, eight thousand dowry-related deaths were reported in India. There were also numerous cases of dowry-related abuse filed. However, in recent years these figures are witnessing a decline. In 2018 there were 48 dowry-related deaths and in 2019 there were 52. The only way forward from here is to educate people on inheritance rights, stand up against the system, push for laws to be applied equally across all religions, and to make sure we never practice, promote, or stay silent in the face of this insulting, degrading, and appalling system.

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