Anti-Dowry Convention At Gorakhpur

Anti-Dowry Convention At Gorakhpur
2 November, 2003 Subhashini Ali
AS part of the ongoing national campaign of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) against dowry and its expanding dimensions, the Gorakhpur district unit of the AIDWA organised an anti-dowry convention in the city on October 11. Gorakhpur is currently the hub of the Hindutva brigade's activities, led by the Hindu Mahasabha MP, Mahant Adityanath. For over a year, the Mahant and his Hindu Yuva Vahini hoodlums have been terrorising and attacking poor Muslims in the city and in the villages of the district and neighbouring districts on some pretext or another. Lives have been lost and many homes and shops burnt down. To have organised a convention of this kind in the prevailing atmosphere and that too by a weak unit was most commendable and was welcomed by many sections of the population including the media, teachers, workers and, of course, women.
The convention that began at 12 noon and continued till 3.00 p m was held in the Journalists Association Hall in the heart of the city. More than 250 people attended. Many women including AIDWA activists, members of Samakhya and other organizations, and progressive writers, trade unionists, teachers, youth and students attended.
The convention began with an anti-dowry skit that had been prepared and was acted by AIDWA activists and their young daughters. District AIDWA president Malti Devi welcomed all the participants as well as the state president Madhu Garg, veteran leader of the teachers movement Jagdish Pandey, Veena Rana (Mahila Samakhya) and AIDWA national president Subhashini Ali on the dais. She spoke of the way the district unit had been preparing for this event for the last two months. Many area meetings had been held and the initiative had been widely appreciated. She also said there were some people who felt that this was a very dangerous campaign, and they were openly preventing women from attending the convention.
Madhu Garg placed the main points of the AIDWA's perspective before the convention and formally inaugurated it. The first speaker was Mansa, a young Dalit student of BA Final, who forcefully spoke of the way advertisements promoted dowry and greed. She was followed by Shweta Verma, a student of B Sc Part 1, who wanted young girls like herself to reject dowry demands even if they had to remain unmarried. Sumitra, a Dalit woman, said that earlier in her community only 20 annas were spent on a marriage and, much later, this amount went up to Rs 51, but now thousands have to be spent. Advocate Deep Prakash Pathak explained the laws relating to dowry, dowry harassment and violence, and lamented the fact that the police and the judiciary were largely unsympathetic. In between the speakers, anti-dowry songs were presented by Mahila Samakhya and by a DYFI activist Pramod. Sundari from Samakhya related the case of a young girl who was killed on her wedding night itself because her dowry was insufficient. But due to the intervention of women activists, at last her husband and his family members were arrested. Krishna related the heart-rending story of Pushpa who gave birth to her fourth daughter. Her husband refused to go to the hospital to see her and she died the next day. Talat Aziz of the Dehat (rural areas) organisation spoke about dowry being a serious problem among Muslims even though there was no religious sanction of any kind for the practice. She said it was very unfortunate that the so-called Muslim religious leaders never condemned it.
After this, several women and one man who themselves had married into other castes and communities or who had arranged dowryless and inter-caste marriages for their children were introduced and also felicitated. This part of the programme created quite a stir among the audience. Arun Sharma, a DYFI activist, spoke of his own marriage to a Muslim girl and of the problems that they had faced. AIDWA district secretary Simran Tirke described how she, a non-tribal, married a tribal man and, as a result, her parents faced severe social ostracism, but because they were so fond of her husband they faced all this with great determination. AIDWA district vice president Pushpa Sharma said that she had refused to take dowry at the time of both her sons' marriages and, in fact, the second marriage had been an inter-caste one. Her daughter-in-law also addressed the audience. Another leader of the AIDWA's district unit, Parvati Sharma, said that even though both her sons were permanent railway employees, she had married both without taking dowry and one of the marriages was an inter-caste one. Kusuma Devi said that she married her son to a girl who was adopted. The audience listened to these brave and unusual people with rapt attention and applauded them enthusiastically.
Jagdish Pandey appreciated the AIDWA's efforts and congratulated the organization. Veena Rana of Mahila Samakhya said her organisation would work closely with the AIDWA on issues like dowry and women's equality.
The last speaker, Subhashini Ali, spoke about the effects that globalisation and liberalisation were having on our society. The rampant consumerism and use and re-invention of "tradition" for commercial and exploitative purposes was driving dowry demands and fuelling violence against women. In turn, this was aggravating the problem of female foeticide and infanticide, leading to a widening of the gender gap. She appealed to all sections to make the struggle against dowry an integral part of all campaigns and struggles against globalisation, She concluded by saying that women had to organise and campaign so that their issues became part of the agenda of political parties who, by and large, exploited women's issues for their own ends but were not really concerned about their problems and about gender injustice. After she spoke, several young boys and girls came to the dais and made a vow not to take dowry or to agree to a marriage where dowry was being demanded. One leader of the teachers movement even announced that not only would he not take dowry at the time of his son's marriage; he even welcomed any suggestions from people in the audience about an educated girl who would be willing to marry his son! The convention ended on this fairly optimistic note.