A dowry is the money or property that a woman brings to her husband’s family at the time of their marriage. Traditionally, dowries in India were meant to ensure that the bride was financially secure after her marriage and was seen as a type of inheritance from the bride’s parents to the bride. However, when the British colonized India, this changed. Heavy taxes meant that many families who had sons began to rely on the bride’s dowry for survival, and the husband’s family began to extort more and more money from the bride’s family.  Providing a dowry was officially made illegal in India in 1961 with the establishment of the Dowry Prohibition Act, but many families among all social classes continue the practice of giving a dowry today. Dowry killings are when a wife is killed because her parents are unable to fulfill all of the demands of the husband’s family, and these killings are unfortunately extremely common.

In 2012, 8,233 women were killed in dowry-related deaths. While the number of these deaths declined from 2011, when 8,618 women were killed over dowry disagreements, the number of abuse cases related to dowry — when a husband and in-laws abuse a bride because her parents fail to pay a “sufficient” dowry — rose from 99,135 cases in 2011 to 106,527 cases in 2012.

In the 1990s, dowry killings were not very common, with about 300 killings per year. However, with the rise of consumerism in India, dowry killings have increased. Now, goods and appliances that were originally scarce have become more widely available, prompting a wave of greed and increasing the demand for dowry. Families that previously could not have dreamed of being able to afford goods such as cars are now within reach of being able to buy one, and they rely on the bride who marries their son to help them fulfill their consumption desires.

Pravartika Gupta and her one-year-old daughter were killed by her in-laws in 2012 because Gupta’s parents were unable to afford the 15,000 pounds, Honda City car and new apartment that had been demanded as a dowry. Gupta’s case is unfortunately not unique. In 2014, 22-year-old Annu Devi and her one-year-old daughter were burned to death by Devi’s husband and in-laws because her parents were unable to pay the dowry demanded. Many in-laws continue to demand more and more dowry even in the years after their son is married, claiming that the dowry will be used to provide for children and pay living expenses throughout the years. Around 80% of bank loans in India are taken in order to meet dowry-related demands.

Dowry is also the reason for the high levels of female feticide in India. Parents kill their female babies in the womb because they do not want to spend their whole lives saving money to pay for their daughter’s dowry. This has led to a skewed gender ratio in India, where there are 933 girls per 1,000 boys.

In 2012, charges were brought in 94% of dowry-related death cases, but only 32% of cases led to convictions. Many husbands and in-laws claim that dowry-related deaths were suicides in order to escape conviction. Parents of the bride are also sometimes reluctant to bring charges against the husband’s family because they do not want to ruin their other daughters’ chances of marriage.

India has one of the fastest-growing middle classes in the world, and it has had a female president and a female prime minister. It is now common for women in India to have impressive careers. However, India still ranks as the world’s fourth most dangerous country for a woman. If India wishes to really advance, it needs to ensure that harmful practices such as dowries are not just legally unacceptable, they are also socially unacceptable.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: International Policy Digest, CNN, The Guardian, LA Times, Telegraph
Photo:The Daily Beast

Northern India – Clashes between Muslims and Hindus have left 10,000 displaced, 93 injured, and 38 dead.

The violence started when thousands of Hindus gathered in Muzaffarnagar district, calling for justice after three men were killed for objecting to a Muslim’s alleged mistreatment of a woman. State police have brought cases against local politicians, who allegedly gave inflammatory speeches which exacerbated the tense situation. Mobs from each group started targeting the other, rioting and burning homes in villages in the days following the confrontation.

The army was deployed, and a curfew imposed but shortly lifted after the violence had wound down in the region. 10,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and are still living in state-run camps.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Thomson Reuters FoundationThe Times of India
Photo: FT Photo Diary

According to an Indian report released September 3rd, one Indian woman is murdered every hour due to dowry-related crimes, with 8,233 Indian women killed because of this in 2012 alone. Many times this is due to disagreements over dowry payments made by the bride’s family to either the groom or his family when they get married. Dowry-related deaths are just one kind of the many crimes against women in India.

India is the fourth most dangerous country to be born a woman according to a 2011 Thompson Reuters survey, and crimes against women are only increasing. In fact, in 2012 there was a 6.4 percent increase in the amount of crimes against women in India. Crimes such as rape, molestation, sexual assault, and dowry-related crimes make up the 244, 270 crimes against women reported to the police in 2012.

According to police, there is not an increase of crimes against women in India, but rather an increase in the number of reports. Police site the fact that less Indian women are staying silent about such issues in the mainly patriarchal and conservative nation and speaking out about the abuses that occur. However, women’s activists groups disagree, saying that there has been an increase in gender violence in India, a country known as the world’s largest democracy. And yet, society still sees men and women as unequal.

As far as dowry-related crimes, where the conviction rate remains at a low 32 percent, many women’s activists attribute them to the country’s growing economy, which causes a sort of commercialization of marriage.

“Marriages have become commercialized. It’s like a business proposition where the groom and his family make exorbitant demands. And the wealthier the family, the more outrageous the demands,” Indian women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari said.

Additionally, activists and police have sited a lack of accountability as a reason for increases in dowry-related crimes, especially because of the delay in prosecutions as well as the loopholes in dowry prevention laws, since dowries are illegal in India but continue to be part of a cultural custom.
Besides dowry-related crimes, the many recent gang rapes in India have caused major media coverage and worldwide outrage.

Last December, a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered in a bus by six men in Delhi, known as India’s ‘rape capital’ and the ‘most dangerous city for women’ due to it having the highest number of rapes reported in the country.

The case sparked widespread protests for better security and sparked conversation on gender inequality in India. Even more recently, a 22-year-old woman was gang raped and beaten in Mumbai on August 22.

Due to all the international media spotlights and outrage over these recent incidents, the government passed a bill in March, placing stricter penalties on men who attack women as well as creating a more efficient and responsive police force. Moreover, conviction rates have increased in some areas of India, especially in cases of sexual assault in the city of Chennai. However, Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, claimed that more needed to be done to protect Indian women.

Elisha-Kim Desmangles

Sources: Huffington Post, The Blaze, The Times of India, Huffington Post, Forbes, Reuters, The Express Tribune, NY Times