Few days back, a World Bank report said that Dowry is very much prevalent in India which is also true. And the dowry deaths are higher in South India where the literacy levels are higher in comparison to North India.
In this article, we will discuss the below 4 aspects:
- Why Dowry system originated in India and the rationale behind it?
- What went wrong?
- What is the future?
- What needs to be done?
First point: the “RATIONALE”
Vast majority of societies in the world have been and still are “Patrilocal” i.e. after a girl gets married comes to stay with her husband. There are “Matrilocal” societies, where the boy comes to stay in girl’s house, but that’s rare. India (South, North, East, West) had been mostly Patrilocal.
On top of that, Indian society till the modern ages had been mostly an agrarian society due to fertile land, bumper monsoon, many rivers and hard working farmers. A large part of GDP came from Agriculture till as late as modern days. When a girl after marriage moves to her husband’s house, it was not possible for her to manage the agriculture in her ancestral village, where as her brothers could easily manage as they stayed in their own houses. Due to this, the daughters were not given any share in ancestral agricultural property.
But, Hinduism is a JUST religion and has always respected women.
Then how, this denial of property rights to daughters’ handled? It was handled through DOWRY i.e. instead of giving share in land to a daughter, the daughter was given money, gold and other materials in kind in lieu of ancestral house and agriculture land.
Hence, we can see, the rationale of the dowry system was not to repress women, rather empower them and give them their rights. Thinking through it, we can see: the intention of Hindu Dowry system was noble in contrary to the narrative that many historians and academicians are propounding.
Second, What went wrong?
It is a fact that many girls are tortured for dowry, many get killed, due to this the Govt has brought in strong anti-dowry laws. It means, something went wrong in the implementation of the noble intention of the Hindu society. What was it? Lets analyze.
Lets consider Islam. The Islam clearly mentions that a daughter will inherit half of what her brother will inherit.
But, in the dowry system, the girl’s father was supposed to give his daughter, that much money/material/gold as per his capacity and pleasure during the the girl’s marriage.
Here we can see that, there is ample scope for the expectations between girl’s family and boy’s family to mismatch. What may be right amount for one may not be right amount for other. The problems occurred due to this difference in expectations. It is also a fact the girls themselves want dowries as they will own that wealth.
So what should have been done? Ideally, Hindu society should have defined a clear cut formula/way how the dowry should have been calculated. Lets say a person has a net worth of X, and Y number of sons and Z number of daughters. Then there should have been a clearly defined way as how much his daughter would get in dowry in cash and kind. Such a system would have ensured that the expectations of the boy’s family and girl’s family are at the same page. Essentially like the Islamic system.
Unfortunately, no Hindu King or Hindu religious authority made any attempt to build such a formalized arrangement. Had such a system been in place, then the dowry system would have worked very well and served the noble intention for which it was designed.
Third, what is the future:
I foresee that the dowry system will vanish over next few decades. Why?
As India is getting industrialized, with new factories, companies coming up, the work force is moving away from agriculture. The size of middle class is growing. The middle class doesn’t want to invest much on agricultural land. We are therefore seeing that, the middle class is investing in real estate, gold, stock market, business and lately even bit-coins. The percentage of amount of agricultural land (in terms of monetary value) owned by families is reducing and will reduce further.
As we can see, the newer forms of investment are easily partition-able unlike agricultural land. For e.g., the mutual funds, bank balance, bit coins, flats can be divided and managed easily unlike agricultural land.
On top of that, the Hindu succession act with its latest amendments gives equal property and inheritance rights to daughters as sons.
As more and more daughters stake claim on their parental property, and daughters inheriting their parents’ property becomes more and more accepted in society, the dowry system will automatically vanish.
We also see dowry system in some western countries during middle ages, but in modern era with daughters given property rights, the dowry system has vanished from Europe.
Fourth, what should be done
Nothing much actually.
- The Hindu Succession Act gives equal rights in property to daughters.
- We have stringent anti-dowry and anti-domestic violence laws in place to protect girls.
What can be done is: build awareness among the girls about the legal provisions, as many girls are still unaware of the laws made in their favor.
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