Anti-Dowry Convention in Maharashtra

Anti-Dowry Convention in Maharashtra
12 October 2003 Kiran Moghe & Mariam Dhawale
"RETROGRADE traditions and a patriarchal society are responsible for the low status given to women. Superimposed on this is a commercialised, consumerist and communalised capitalist society. Both these together have led to the pernicious dowry system. But dowry is not a problem that concerns women alone; it afflicts the whole society. The struggle against dowry is a struggle for gender equality and social justice; it is a struggle against the base consumerist values created by the liberalisation policies of the ruling classes; and it is also a struggle against the debased, obscurantist ideologies of the divisive and communal forces.
"In a commercialised society, just as any commodity is sold to the highest bidder, so also bridegrooms are sold in auction to those who give the largest amount of dowry. And then after marriage comes the torture of the bride for even larger sums, and then come the ghastly dowry deaths, which mean murder of hapless young brides! A civilised society must put an end to such barbaric practices! The All India Democratic Women's Association has begun a nationwide campaign for this objective, and I am sure all of you will courageously come forward and support it by personal example, and by propagating this message among the people."
It was with these stirring words that AIDWA president Subhashini Ali addressed the Marathwada level convention against dowry that was organised by the AIDWA Maharashtra state committee at Parbhani last month. Despite constant rain in the days before the convention, the hall was jampacked and overflowing. The growing concern and discontent with the dowry system was accurately reflected in the large attendance at the convention.
Over 1,000 women from seven districts of Marathwada region --- Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Usmanabad, Latur, Nanded and Parbhani --- came from far and wide to attend the convention. They were joined by leading AIDWA activists from outside Marathwada as well --- from districts like Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik, Wardha and others. The women from Marathwada came from an extremely wide spectrum --- rural and urban, from all castes and communities, from worker, peasant and agricultural labour families, housewives, middle-class employees, teachers, professors, intellectuals and a large number of young women and girl students. There was a good sprinkling of men, too, in the audience.
Inaugurating the convention, senior journalist Mahavir Jondhale called the dowry system a disease that was worse than cancer. It must be eradicated through a massive social movement. Allied to dowry is the growing ostentatiousness of marriages, and this is today seen as a status symbol. Political leaders and big businessmen spend lakhs and crores on the weddings of their offspring. There is need to emulate the simple Satyashodhak weddings that were advocated by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule over a century ago. Dowry is nothing but a loot of the bride's family. Hence a bridegroom who demands dowry must be beaten with shoes!
Speaking as the chief guest, former SFI-DYFI state president Professor Dr Vithal More said the struggle against dowry must be organised as an integral part of the struggle for women's emancipation and for radical social transformation. Consumerist values and communal ideology perpetuate dowry and many other social evils. Hence they, too, must be made targets of our struggle. And for this, there is no alternative to waging a political battle against all those who, in one way or another, promote economic and social inequality, communalism and globalisation.
Principal Savita Shetye, another guest of honour, while addressing the convention, appealed to all young men and women to blaze a new path, different from what society has trod before. They must reject the dowry system and vow to neither give nor take dowry, come what may. The battle for equality between men and women must be joined by the younger generation.
The resolution against the dowry system was placed before the convention by AIDWA state secretary Kiran Moghe. While placing the resolution, she analysed the genesis and growth of the dowry system and concluded with specific and practical measures to be taken to curb this growing menace. The concluding speech was made by AIDWA state president Mariam Dhawale, who called for a broad mass movement against dowry. For this, she said the network of progressive organisations like the AIDWA should be made much stronger and more widespread.
The convention began with Subhashini Ali garlanding the portrait of pioneering social reformer Savitribai Phule. Dr Vithal More released a booklet in Marathi on the dowry issue that was published by AIDWA, of which nearly 5,000 copies have been sold since then. The convention paid homage to dowry victims across the country. It also felicitated young couples who had married in a simple fashion, and without taking or giving any dowry. Cultural items dealing with the dowry issue were presented in the form of songs and street-plays.
AIDWA state committee member from Parbhani, Advocate Madhuri Kshirsagar, conducted the proceedings of the convention, while Hema Rasal welcomed the gathering. Activists of the AIDWA and other fraternal mass organisations in Parbhani district had put in great efforts for weeks to ensure the success of this convention, which also received excellent media coverage.