What does the dowry mean in Hindi

Dowry in India: a curse rather than a blessing

The tradition is centuries old: the bridal family has always provided their daughter with gold, jewelry or other valuable items for the wedding. This dowry traditionally gave the young wife in India recognized status within the groom's family, and it gave her some financial backing in case of emergency.

But during the almost century of official British colonial rule (1858 to 1947), the meaning of the dowry changed, writes the American historian Veena Talwar Oldenburg in her book 'Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime'. "As a consequence of the massive economic and social upheaval under British rule, women lost their right to valuable goods as a bridal gift. They had less and less control over their dowries. This process eventually led to the fact that women were considered less valuable - a devaluation that affected her whole life. "

Rooted in society

Young brides in India - the tradition of dowry payments is widespread

The bride's family now paid the dowry directly to the groom's family - initially to cover the cost of the wedding, later this payment became more and more a source of income. The dowry payments are often an immense burden on the bride's family. More and more families therefore prefer sons and tend to neglect girls. In fact, in some states, girls are still killed after they are born.

The growing expectations of the groom repeatedly lead to conflicts between the families - to the detriment of the women. Thousands of them are cast out, beaten, harassed, or even burned in connection with dowry disputes each year. It is for this reason that the practice of dowry has been prohibited by law in India since 1961.

Nevertheless, the tradition is stubbornly continued. "It exists in all walks of life. Even well-educated people don't say no when it comes to dowry," Suman Nalwar, a police officer in New Delhi who is responsible for violence against women, told the Associated Press.

"The strongly patriarchal Indian society, growing poverty and a general devaluation of women have led to violence finding its way into dowry practice," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the "Center for Social Research" in New Delhi to Deutsche Welle: " Many people hold onto traditional notions such as that women become the property of their husbands after marriage and that they are a financial burden to their families. " Violent conflicts often arise if the groom or his relatives are dissatisfied with the dowry, or if the bride's family does not meet their demands for further payments.

Violence and its Consequences

Thousands of women are cast out, beaten, harassed or even burned because of dowry conflicts

According to the official Indian crime statistics, the number of acts of violence has risen in recent years: in 2001, 6,851 women were killed in connection with dowry disputes. In 2012 there were 8,233, although it is not entirely clear whether the number of crimes is actually increasing or whether more crimes are simply reported.

However, the number of convictions remained consistently low during this period: on average, only every third offender was convicted. There are two reasons for this, says Kumari: "On the one hand, the police investigations are inadequate. This is due to the fact that there are too few police officers and that many of them are poorly trained." On the other hand, corruption is widespread within the police. "Many officials take bribes from the defendants' families and then refuse to pursue the case."

"Against this background, the families of the victims are often reluctant to report the perpetrators," says Savita Pande, professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "In addition, many shy away from the stigma that is associated with the often lengthy proceedings. That is why the disputes are often carried out beyond the court."

The arguments often have another tragic consequence. They lead many women to commit suicide, reports Pande. The number of unreported cases is high, but the authorities assume that an average of four women per hour in India kill themselves due to dowry conflicts - "although there are laws that have their backs".

"A Growing Culture of Greed"

The economic development of India also contributes indirectly to the fact that the demands for dowry grow. "Weddings are increasingly becoming business transactions," Pande told Deutsche Welle. "The rising standard of living for many has led to a culture of greed. Nowadays, future husbands demand expensive appliances, cars or apartments, while in the past they were satisfied with clothes, jewelry, or less expensive items."

India's states have long sought to curb dowry-related crime and violence. The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu was the first state to set up a special police unit for this purpose in 1992. There are now 200 offices in this state alone.

New awareness

"It takes more than a generation to change attitudes towards women," says Ranjana Kumari

"We have many laws. But there is still a lack of awareness to respect women, to regard them as equals and to give them an appropriate place in society. It has to be created by families, because they form the foundation of our society," says Pande. A first step would be "to refuse the dowry because it is morally reprehensible and completely unjustified". Even non-governmental organizations that work at the lowest social level can "contribute with new initiatives to improve the status of women," adds Mangai Natarajan, professor of criminal justice at City University in New York.

The experts agree that there is no short-term solution to the dowry problem. The governments of the federal states and also the central government should take responsibility for the safety of women in public. If it is not possible to change traditional traditions and attitudes in society, violence against women will continue unabated.