Wednesday, April 09, 2008

revisiting the question of dowry


http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/825415.cms - that is news about a survey conducted by a pro-left group in Kerala ( which has 55% Hindus) , a couple of years ago.. some relevant quotes

While a privileged Hindu family owns only an average of 0.69 acres, a Muslim family owns 0.77 acre and a Christian family, 1.264 acre.

The report published in September this year says only 80.1% of Hindu houses are in a livable condition, less than that of Muslims (89.7%) and Christians (83.6%).

Even in matter of dowry, Christians lead the tally with 80% families following it. Muslims tag along at 76%. Though less, Hindus too are yet to rid themselves of the social evil with 52% still under its grip.

Haaaa .... there goes the story of what the media and the academia and the intelligentsia and the westia has often termed as a "Hindu socal evil" !

Having grown up for almost 18 years in Kerala - I am least surprised... for I grew up hearing stories of how my Mulsim neighbour's daughter was tortured and finally divorced for dowry deficit..... how my Christian neighbours daughter's marriage did not happen for a long time for they could not agree to the "rates" that the groom's families asked for...... I had chanced upon matrimonial advertisement-files on the desktop of the computers in the browsing center in my home town in Kerala of a Muslim girl which clearly mentioned "ready to pay xyz lakhs in cash and abc amount of gold".......

and much less such stories and incidents when it comes to Hindus....... and yet as Mark Anthony would say "Dowry is a Hindu social evil" .......

No, I am not denying dowry related crimes and the evil itself in Hindu families in Kerala or elsewhere, but just as the harijan-converts-to-christian-dalits and fast realizing in their new found religion that "dalithood" is not a Hindu something, the Hinduness of dowry is another myth that will be shattered inspite of all the **ias

Well, I should not do a blanket blaming, for there has been such works as Veena Oldenburghs book - http://books.google.com/books?id=BSjVgCpc5p4C - Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime

To quote: In this highly provocative book, Veena Oldenburg argues that these killings are neither about dowry nor reflective of an Indian culture or caste system that encourages violence against women.Rather, such killings can be traced directly to the influences of the British colonial era. In the precolonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women, for women, to enable them to establish their status and have recourse in an emergency

Interestingly I chanced upon this Chapter in Kautilya's ( Chanakya) arthashastra

Book III , Chapter 2 , lines 11 - 13 can be roughly transated as ...

for it is they that receive the money paid by the bridegroom for their daughter. In case of the absence by death of either the father or the mother, the survivor will receive the money-payment. If both of them are dead, the virgin herself shall receive it. Any kind of marriage is approvable, provided it pleases all those that are concerned in it.

So the boys family pays the girls family !! ( a custom I believe, still in existence in parts of India's North-east) ......

also goes

"vrittiraabandhyam vaa striidhanam" - Means of subsistence or jewelry constitutes what is called the property of a woman. ( 14)

"tadaatmaputrasnuShaabharmaNi pravaasaapratividhaanE cha bhaaryaayaa bhOktum adOShaH" - It is no guilt for the wife to make use of this property in maintaining her son, her daughter-in-law, or herself, whenever her absent husband has made no provision for her maintenance. ( 16)

So thats the real meaning of "striidhanam" which currently is used in the sense of dowry ( oh.. talk about blindly taking english terms into Indian context.... varna being equated to caste is another such blunder) ....

Arthashaastra goes on....

On the death of her husband a woman, desirous to lead a pious life, shall at once receive not only her endowment and jewelry, but also the balance of the marriage-price due her. If after obtaining these two things she remarries another, she shall be caused to pay them back together with interest on their value. . . If a widow marries any man other than of her father-in-law's selection, she shall forfeit whatever had been given to her by her father-in-law and her deceased husband. . . .No woman shall succeed in her attempt to establish her title to the property of her deceased husband, after she remarries. If she lives a pious life, she may enjoy it. No woman with a son or sons shall after remarriage be at liberty to make free use of her property; for that property of hers, her sons shall receive.

All along it talks about the property originally that of the guy or the guy's father, but given to the girl or the girl's parents during marriage... and about the girls right to her husband's property....
not the other way around !!

The whole chapter ends with - If a husband either is of bad character, or is long gone abroad, or has become a traitor to his king, or is likely to endanger the life of his wife, or has fallen from his status, or has lost virility, he may be abandoned by his wife.

Traitor to the King... or Nation in this case.. God, atleast half the politicians should have been divorced by their wives now as per Arthashaastra standards !!

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