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Delhi AIDWA Lauds Bold Stand Taken By Three Girls Against Dowry

Delhi AIDWA Lauds Bold Stand Taken By Three Girls Against Dowry
   
8 June, 2003 Sonia Verma
   
AT a convention organised by the Janawadi Mahila Samiti (JMS) on May 30, as a part of long-term campaign against dowry, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, a veteran of many struggles, felicitated Nisha Sharma, Anupama Singh and Farzana --- the young women who recently took a bold stand against dowry.
 
The JMS of Delhi is an affiliate of the All India Democratic Association (AIDWA).
 
Speaking on the occasion, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal recalled the struggle against British imperialism and congratulated the young women for the bold stand they had taken against dowry. “Ours was an easier fight since we knew who the enemy was,” she said. “Fighting against dowry and other such practices which discriminate against women is more difficult, since the struggle has to be waged on so many more fronts, and society does not support such brave young women.”
 
Nisha, Anupama and Farzana too spoke on this occasion, calling upon other young girls present in the convention to take a position in opposition to dowry.
 
Kirti Singh, president of the Delhi state unit of the JMS and an experienced lawyer, reported that the AIDWA has submitted a petition-letter to the chief justice of the Supreme Court asking for a review of a recent Delhi High Court judgement that had commented that Section 498-A was being misused and was hitting at the foundation of marriage and the family. (For the women’s protest against the said High Court judgement, see People’s Democracy, June 1 issue.) Kirti Singh also pointed out that it is only as a last resort that girls filed complaints to the police. Rather than any misuse of the law, it is the violence and discriminatory treatment of women within the family that is responsible for the crisis in the institution of marriage and family. This judgement reflected great insensitivity to the social reality of more than 6,000 dowry-related deaths and 40,000 complaints being filed under 498-A every year. In the petition, the AIDWA has demanded that apart from sensitisation of judges, a person’s commitment to the cause of gender justice and equality must be a criterion for his or her selection as a judge.
 
Rehana Sayeed and Indu Agnihotri presented the Delhi findings of an all-India survey on attitudes to dowry, conducted last year. Among the various findings, the survey noted the spread of dowry in all castes, communities, regions and classes, and also the substitution of a dowry of consumable goods and a lavish marriage in place of the women’s inheritance rights in family property. During the survey, many young girls had expressed the urge for dowryless marriages and their antipathy for the practice. But they had also expressed the apprehension that marriage or respect in their in-laws’ homes was not possible unless dowry was given. the view that had emerged then was that young boys and girls have to take an initiative in this regard. The steps taken by Farzana, Anupama and Nisha are significant in this light.
 
Sonia Verma, working president of the Delhi state unit of the JMS, moved a resolution that the convention later adopted.
 
RESOLUTION
 
THIS convention resolves to fight the pernicious custom of dowry, which has spread its tentacles to all sections of our society and daily takes it toll in terms of the peace of mind, the dignity and the lives of scores of young women across the country. In the recent weeks a number of young women have taken the initiative to stand up and say no --- we will not take any more, we refuse to live with husbands and in-laws who measure our worth in goods and cash, for whom marriages is defined by the dowry we bring in. We congratulate Anupama, Nish, Farzana, Savitri and scores of other unnamed girls who have taken this bold step. Where the so-called elders of society, the lawmakers and implementers have failed, they have decided that they will take no more.
 
Two decades ago, after a long agitation by the AIDWA and many other organisations, the laws pertaining to dowry were amended. The fact of the torture and killings of young wives was legally recognised. However, since then, under the impact of liberalisation and the growing consumerism, which has been encouraged by successive governments, the practice of dowry has intensified and expanded its reach. Now there is no religious group, no caste, no region, no class, which is not in the grips of the “demands” of dowry. Dowry will bring the goodies offered on the market; it will demonstrate one’s status to neighbours, family and friends; it will be the means to acquire jobs or businesses for unemployed young men. The increasing role of identity politics, religion, and caste in our national life has sanctified compulsory, arranged, intra-caste marriage and dowry as tradition. This is reflected in the many statements made by leading BJP ideologues and the recent comments made by a High Court judge in a case relating to dowry. If the rulers and implementers of the law see dowry as an acceptable tradition and the dowry law as unnecessary, what will be the result? The steep fall in the juvenile sex ratio from 945 in 1991 to 927 in the last census. Daughters are killed before they are born and daughters-in-law are killed after bringing “insufficient” dowry. This convention states clearly its opposition to dowry. Tradition or no tradition, its resolve to fight the consumerism and obscurantist politics which perpetuate the custom of dowry.
 
In the obligation to marry daughters with dowry, whatever their economic means, the system acts to pauperise families and make daughters a curse. In this context any division between voluntary gifts and demands is misleading and a sham. Dowry acts as a disincentive to spend on daughters, whether on nutrition, health or education, except in ways which will make them for marriageable. Daughters are denied the very opportunities which would give them the confidence, the abilities and the skills to live a dignified and independent life. Thus dowry is both a reflection of the devaluation and inequalities which women experience in Indian society and is also central to and reinforces this devaluation.
 
Apologists for dowry claim that the practice may be seen as a compensation for unproductive women who are burdens rather than assets. This argument rests on the ideology of female seclusion, of women as non-producing consumers and devalues the work women do --- paid and unpaid. This convention absolutely rejects this understanding and calls for the recognition of women’s work and contributions to their families and society.
 
Dowry is used to justify the exclusion of women from the control of economic resources, especially land and other fixed, productive assets and their lack of property rights --- both in the parental home and in the martial home. The wedding itself and the gifts given at marriage are said to be a daughter’s share. This convention calls on parents to express their love for their daughters by making them independent and giving them property rights, rather than lavish wedding and unproductive consumables.
 
This convention resolves to directly confront and oppose the practice of dowry to further the fight for gender equality in India. The initiatives of young women and men in refusing dowry must be encouraged and rallied into a social force against dowry. This is a fight simultaneously for women’s rights in both natal and marital property, for access to income earning employment, for a revaluation of female labour and work and for recognition of women’s rights as citizens and workers. We demand that the government, the judiciary, the police and all other institutions learn from the young of our society, that they educate themselves and act with responsibility and accountability towards the millions of its citizens whose lives are daily endangered through this practice.