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Category Archives: India

50 years of ban on dowry

Dowry is the money, goods or estate that the girl brings forth to the marriage. It is an custom in most of the prominent cultures. But of special interest in India. Brides in India have been harassed by the groom and sometimes family for insufficient dowry, sometimes bordering at brutality, torture and occasionally even deaths.

Government of India banned paying and getting of dowry in 1961 and later modified the dowry laws in favor of the bride, so that brides could seek redressal of harassment easily. The ban hasn’t worked in stopping streedhan but there have many many brides who did get their grievances adequately heard, albiet after separation. A few cases of reverse harassment have also been noted and criticized.

50 years of ban and yet dowry remains an undeniably strong force in marriages. Clearly there is something that our have legislators missed. In this blog entry, I point out one such thing and to one alternative line of thinking to the current legislation that can prevent dowry harassment.

There is another, often ignored inequality at play here: How many girls get equal share in the parental property … the same thing as their brothers? Yes, you know the right answer… almost none.  ‘Streedhan’, given at the time of marriage, is supposed to counter that situation… it is basically the girl’s share in the parental wealth. Girls seldom get their genuine share. I think this has been missing from the legislator’s point of view as it stands. Note that this view also legitimises streedhan and leads us nowhere into the solution for the dowry harassment problem of India.

Now comes the interesting part (and to my suggestion): To whom does the streedhan belong? … obviously to the bride! Thus, the basic mistake with ‘streedhan’ or ‘dowry’ is to give its to the groom or his mother or sister. It is the dhan of the bride, give it to her, have her keep it in her custody … safely in a bank locker under her name… well most of it at least. Heck, ask her hubby to add to it whenever he can. Why not let it grow with time as well?

So my suggestion to the legislators is: Have streedhan declared legally at the time of marriage. Also have it noted how much of it is going directly to the bride and how much to the rest of the family. If the girl is harassed, and she forced/decides to leave, have the streedhan returned to her in full.

Doesn’t it look like a more sensible solution? A side benefit is that the people with black money will not be able to ‘buy’ better grooms as they will have to legally declare the cost.

If someone thinks taht reaching a middle ground is not important from the bride’s perspective, here is some food for thought.

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Are Minority commissions in India stifling the right to speech of the majority?

Recently Subramanium Swamy opined on how Hindus should respond to the Islamic terrorism. He gave quite radical solutions, and quiet right wing ones but most of them are common sense. Except probably the following:

We need a collective mindset as Hindus to stand against the Islamic terrorist. The Muslims of India can join us if they genuinely feel for the Hindu. That they do I will not believe unless they acknowledge with pride that though they may be Muslims, their ancestors were Hindus. If any Muslim acknowledges his or her Hindu legacy, then we Hindus can accept him or her as a part of the Brihad Hindu Samaj (greater Hindu society) which is Hindustan. India that is Bharat that is Hindustan is a nation of Hindus and others whose ancestors were Hindus. Others, who refuse to acknowledge this, or those foreigners who become Indian citizens by registration, can remain in India but should not have voting rights (which means they cannot be elected representatives).

This takes the organizing of an anti-terrorist society to a somewhat xenophobic level. But then, xenophobia isn’t exactly an anathema to counter terrorism which is what the article is about. In fact the only nation that has had some success against Islamic terrorism (Israel) wouldn’t had gone far in that direction if xenophobia wasn’t at work.

State Minorities Commission vice chairman Abraham Mathai wrote a letter to Mumbai police chief Arup Patnaik, urging him to initiate criminal charges against Swamy:

The extreme xenophobic right-wing thoughts expressed in it are quite disturbing and the article is socially irresponsible and completely anti-Islamic. It is also alarming that Dr Swamy is trying to incite Islamophobia using his freedom of expression to propagate hate through stereotyping …

Swamy, a politician, obviously wrote for his political ends. But outburst by the Minority representative here seems politically motivated to me. Swamy’s article isn’t “extremely xenophobic” by any standards. It is a contemplation on how the Hindu majority should organize itself when the state has failed to protect its interests… something that is again kind of obvious. And Swamy’s statement does have some merit: What is the difficulty in publicly acknowledging that Muslims of India have had Hindu ancestors? Is the obvious truth that difficult for majority of our religious minorities? If so, can we really expect any genuine contribution from the religious minorities in national harmony? If they are not expected to act in Indian interest why should they be allowed to become members of Parliament?

Mathai explains further:

As a matter of fact, the Muslim community has as much stake as any in the progress, security and wellbeing of India as a nation. Dr Swamy’s bizarre solution is converting Muslims into Hindus …

Did we miss something here? Even Swamy’s most radical solution (duly quoted above) isn’t hinting at anything like a conversion. An acknowledgment that my ancestors were theists does not make me religious or pious: I still remain atheist. This acknowledgement is the only thing being asked.

What is then the hoopla about? Does Mr. Mathai have an agenda at hand? We do not know it yet. Mr. Mathai is not much of a public figure. In fact, this letter to the Commissioner of Police has probably given him the most attention in his life yet.