We are wonder-struck that dowry deaths are occurring at an alarming regularity in a country that prides itself on the worship of woman and whose constitution guarantees equal rights and privileges to the womenfolk. But it happens not only to illiterate, backward women but also to educated, enlightened, professionally qualified urban sisters of ours.

Dowry is one of the biggest problems our society faces today. It is a curse on all our pretensions of a Welfare State. The sacred institution of marriage has been reduced to a simple business transaction. The system is a relic of the dark ages where a daughter was given a proportionate share in her father’s property and assets at the time of marriage since she enjoyed no inheritance rights. Time has changed now with the daughter having been given equal rights with the sons as far as inheritance is concerned. The Government has also passed a law providing more stringent punishment for dowry-seekers as well as dowry givers. Section 498-C of the Indian Penal Code can be invoked in case a bride is unduly harassed, humiliated or roughed up for bringing insufficient dowry at the time of marriage. This legal provision is applicable till the expiry of seven years after the marriage has been consummated.

But alas, all this is honoured more in breach than in promise. Dowry is a social malady that lowers the dignity of the woman. As the greed and the demands from the bridegroom’s side increase, so is the dignity of the bride lowered, often ending in macabre death by burning, poisoning or physical and mental torture. Many a case has been highlighted by the media in the recent past, but the menace goes on unchecked. A few women’s organizations take it upon themselves to protest against such inhuman and callous treatment of their sisters. But after the hullabaloo has died and the required publicity obtained, these protests also die a natural death.

Nothing concrete and far-reaching has been done so far to solve the problem. Even economically emancipated women have to undergo such humiliation in the course of their marital life. A divorced or separated woman is considered as an easy prey. She is treated as a social ostracism that makes women undergo humiliation and harassment at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. Even the parents refuse to look after their daughters once they have broken marriage. This makes her undergo untold sufferings and humiliation at the hands of the bridegroom’s family. And this practice is not restricted to any one community. It has spread its tentacles to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and other communities as well. Consequently this hydra-headed monster threatens the very fabric of our society.

This inhuman practice can be put an end by educating the youth and inculcating an awareness of equal rights and privileges among them right from an early age. Another step in this direction would be to encourage inter-caste marriages and making available more educational and employment opportunities to our women folk so that they become economically independent and are ready to take up cudgels when injustice is meted out to them from their husbands or in-laws after marriage. Young men and women must come forward with a firm resolve not to seek or demand dowry.

The problem of dowry must be tackled from a social and educational angle. Apart from inculcating an awareness among the youth, social organizations must study the problem in depth and wage an all-out propaganda war to curb this menace.