June 19, 2016
One of the worst evils of Nepalese society is the dowry system, which is widely prevalent in South Asian countries. It has in particular affected the southern part of Nepal very badly and caused great destruction to the socio-economic structure of the Terai Madhes region of Nepal. Dowry is against the teachings of all religions, yet it flourishes here.
Historically, this system was willingly followed by the parents of the bride in many parts of the world, but now in many places, especially in the Indo Gangetic Plain, it is being forcefully demanded. Earlier the system was prevalent only among the wealthier families, but now, unfortunately, the greed for dowry has struck even the most ordinary families and has become an unspoken requirement during marriages.
It is true that a young man may require financial support to settle comfortably in his life and to fulfill other needs, but it should not be a reason to seek dowry and destroy the life of a girl if both the girl and boy are capable of earning and settling down to a comfortable life. Gifts that a girl gets from her parentsâ€™ home should solely be their wish, and there should be no pressure to have them spend more while marrying their daughter.
There are many instances when a wife has committed suicide because of her helplessness to tolerate the harassment for dowry. There have been times when a wife has been murdered because her parents were not able to give enough dowry. Legally, dowry is banned in Nepal, but it still takes place in the Madhesi community. Many sensible and educated youths have gone against the idea of dowry, and have the noble intention of marrying without taking any money.
Surprisingly, itâ€™s the women themselves who are very interested in seeking huge amounts of dowry. Firstly, the marriage arrangements and then the demand for huge amounts of dowry make the parents financially very weak. Because of the dowry system, people do not want to have a baby girl in the southern part of Nepal.
The Social Customs and Practices Act of Nepal prohibits asking, taking or giving of dowry, and it is a criminal offence to demand dowry. In spite of all these prohibitions, the dowry system thrives in Nepal. Because of this system, the social status of the women has deteriorated to a large extent. Persecution, suicide and murder over dowry issues have become common news. Hundreds and thousands of women are left unmarried because of this evil system. The girl, no matter how qualified she is, often needs a dowry to be the choice of a well-to-do family. The boyâ€™s family first of all talks about the details of the dowry the family can afford, and only then jumps to the next step, the girl. There will be no marriage unless the deal about money is finalised.
The familyâ€™s status is said to receive a big boost in society if they can give a large dowry. If they are financially weak and cannot afford the amount, they take loans and sometimes mortgage their land and property. There are incidents where a wealthy father has turned into a pitiably poor person after paying the dowry to all his daughters.
On the girlâ€™s part also, she will have to bear mental and physical anguish if her family fails to give the promised amount of dowry, or the amount demanded by her husbandâ€™s family. There are many incidents where the girl has been set on fire for not bringing enough dowry with her from her home. The death of a girl for dowry-related reasons is called dowry death.
The dowry system has continued in Nepal despite the provision against it in the Social Customs and Practices Act. But there isnâ€™t a single case in which anybody has been punished, and so the tradition has continued without question. It is mainly because of lack of awareness that women have been turned into a saleable commodity. Most of the women are not educated enough to defy the established social norms. Even those who are educated are carrying on this ugly tradition in the name of social prestige.
The most effective remedy is to bring consciousness against this evil system through education and social awareness. There is also the necessity of spreading womenâ€™s education to fight against the dowry system. This curse of the dowry system must be eradicated at any cost. Women from every walk of life, literate or illiterate, poor or rich, young or old must unite together and come forward to protect their own honour and interest. Though the government has promulgated certain anti-dowry laws, these have not produced the desired results. Peopleâ€™s efforts are also necessary if this evil is to be removed once and for all. The high expenditure of the marriage ceremony must be cut down.
Women must be empowered. Gender-based inequality should be completely abolished and the position of women in the society should be raised. Women must be taught since girlhood that their life is not useless without marriage.
Girls should get the opportunity to get an education in school. After completion of their school education, they should be encouraged to have a higher education. Proper education of girls would be helpful in educating girls and women of their rights. Their age of marriage should be raised. They should be encouraged to enter into various fields of paid jobs, as their higher economic status also discourages demands for dowry. The practice of mass marriage should be encouraged for the sake of economy. Strict laws are necessary to prevent one from giving and taking dowry.
Photo Courtesy: KULLABS
ByÂ Roshan Kumar Jha & Barsha Jha
The writers are Kathmandu-based criminal and human rights lawyers.Â