Sunday, June 22, 2008

Government looking to check misuse of dowry laws

The incidence of dowry in the country is a fairly high chance. Over a period of time, it has evolved from something that was supposed to be a gift given to the bride (and maybe the only thing given to the daughter of the house from the family property) to something that is seen as the right of the groom's family. The belief is that if the son is skilled or from a good family, or of the right caste, then it is the right of the girl's family to open their wallets and give umpteen amounts for the marriage. There are people who dispute the amount of dowry prevalent in today's society, but open the newspapers or see TV, and you will society temporarily idolizing the girl who stood up to the dowry seekers, or you will read more grisly tales of brides being subjected to torture or being killed due to problems with the dowry being paid. In many cases, it is not cash, but the demand is for a vehicle, or even more subtly, a loan (never to be returned), to help the boy do better in a business or some other need. I know a case where a boy's grandparents demanded a car at the last moment (within 10 days of the marriage), and the poor parents felt that they had no option other than to give in and mobilize the funds to buy and give the car.
So, there are a set of laws to even the scale; these laws would not actually pass the test of being totally lawful since they do weigh more in favor of the girl. Many would argue that this is right, since society is totally in favor of the demands by the groom. However, as always happens when there are a set of laws that are more in favor of one section, the misuse of these laws happen. So, for all the times when the dowry laws help a tortured or suppressed girl, there are numerous other cases where the same law is used to threaten the family of a groom where there has been no incidence of dowry. For a case where there has been marital discord, the threatened use of dowry can turn the tables, since the groom's family have learned to fear the use of dowry laws. The allegation of dowry can bring about unwanted media attention including vilification, closer attention by cops (maybe some days in jail as well), and a significant pressure level to settle the case.
Hence, over a period of time, there has been a lot of focus by many self-help groups to plead against the misuse of these laws and bring it to the notice of the government (not only the anti-dowry laws, but the recent domestic violence act that also has some harsh measures). Even many courts have pointed out the misuse of these laws in some cases and called for greater oversight to prevent misuse of these laws:

Following complaints about the misuse of dowry laws by women, the Centre has decided to look into the issue and will hold a consultation programme to get views and suggestions from NGOs and activists working for men. Acting on complaints about the misuse of dowry laws, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development would organise a consultation programme where men from different walks of life would be invited to express themselves on June 25.
"The ministry has received complaints from men about the urgent need to amend Section 498(A) of the dowry law claiming that many women misuse the law to their benefit. After the consultation, the Ministry will examine how far this claim is right before deciding on any thing," Union Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhary said.

Nobody doubts the need for laws to act against dowry misuse as well as warn people against the potential problems they face if they demand dowry and ill-treat women because of that; however, at the same time, a harsh law has a strong potential for misuse and there is an urgent need for reform. The main question right now is about whether there will be a proper review and necessary changes be brought in ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:51 AM