“Dowry – a social evil”
Tears fell down her cheeks as she slit her wrists. Hissing through the pain she thought, “What good was a 35-year-old woman who got rejected from another marriage proposal and was the cause of her father’s heart attack?” Lying in a pool of blood, slowly drifting to an eternal sleep a thought made her smile, “I won’t be a burden on them anymore.” While this woman remains nameless, we are all too familiar with similar stories of other women commit suicide due to emotional depression. Now, the question is, what would cause a woman to go to such extremes? What can possibly be so distressing for one to take their own life? The answer, as much as we would like to deny, is ourselves, that is, the society. Which has, in the name of culture and tradition, given birth to a social evil called “dowry”. In Pakistan, women are told that they are only born to marry and manage households (and that too as early as possible). Now imagine if you are a 35-year-old ‘unmarried’ Pakistani woman being rejected for marriage time and again because your parents are financially weak and unable to give dowry. What will you do? Commit suicide? No! It is the need of the time to eradicate this social disease and stop its venom from spreading into the veins of the society. The practice of dowry should be curtailed and banned before it completely destroys the socioeconomic structure of Pakistan.
From the time they are born, girls are considered to be a burden and liability. Dowry has become both a cause and consequence of son preference. The practice of dowry has led to the discrimination of genders resulting in different acts of violence and femicide. Sex selective abortion or mistreatment are common in the rural areas of Pakistan. According to UNICEF, “Dowry helps perpetuate child marriage.” Over 95% of marriages involve dowry in Pakistan and the bride’s status is determined on the basis of the value of dowry she brings.
Dowry is an issue which is faced by women of all calibers and social statuses in Pakistan, that is, it is common in both rural and urban areas and does not exclude bigger cities like Lahore or Karachi. One of the major concerns and social issues in Pakistan is domestic violence against women. Ali, Árnadóttir, Kulane, (2013) affirm this statement, “Domestic violence, specifically Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a problem in Pakistan with an alarming number of women having experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse from their husbands. In a study from 2007, 97.5% women reported having experienced verbal abuse from their husbands and 80% had experienced physical abuse.” (p. 85)
It is only obvious that one of the major reasons for domestic violence is dowry. Females are burned, thrown acid at, mentally and physically tortured due to dowry debts. In Pakistan, females are considered and made to believe to be weak. They are not capable of making their own decisions and decide for themselves what is wrong or right. This also highlights the fact that they are being treated as a commodity that can be picked or thrown as desired. Dowry simply becomes a factor for violence against women. Even if a groom does not insist on dowry, the bride’s in-laws verbally or in some cases physically abuse her for not bringing dowry or not bringing enough of it. According to Ali, Árnadóttir, Kulane (2013), “Studies have shown that women that have dowry agreements in place at the time of marriage have a higher probability of experiencing domestic violence, and even higher odds were portrayed for those who had outstanding dowry debts.” (p. 85)
Another negative consequence of dowry is the financial pressure on the parents of daughters. From the time they are born, parents start gathering the ‘gifts’ for their marriage. While these are the parents that manage to raise their daughters despite considering them as economic liabilities, there are also those who abort female fetuses because of the financial problems they would have to otherwise encounter. This results in sex discrimination, son-preference and mass femicide.
According to Ali, Árnadóttir, Kulane (2013), “Parents give dowries to their daughters according to their means, but sometimes daughters in poor families remain unmarried because of the parents’ inability to provide dowry.” (p. 86) A female mostly does not get the right to her inheritance or property. Instead, the dowry given at the time of marriage is considered to be as pre-mortem inheritance. This is portrayed as future security for the bride. The mindset behind it is that the bride will have a prosperous life when in fact she never gets hold of it because the in-laws snatch it. If the girl’s family is poor then it has to take loans to fulfill the dowry requirements.
The tradition of dowry has also posed some serious health concerns. To avoid dowry debts parents marry off their daughters at early ages because the more the age of the girl, the more the dowry demand from the in-laws. According to Nasrullah, Bhatti (2012), “Early marriage predisposes these girls to early pregnancy and child birth with an estimated 42% getting pregnant prior to the age of 20 years.” (p. 273) This means that they are not physically healthy enough to provide nourishment to the children. Even after, the male babies are given more health facilities and resources as compared to the female ones, which contributes to the poor health outcomes among the female population of Pakistan.
Nasrullah, Bhatti (2012) further elaborate how early marriages can lead to health deterioration, “This nexus of early marriage and pregnancy is an accepted risk factor for poor health outcomes such as anemia, hypertension, premature and low-birth weight infants, but has not been thoroughly studied in Pakistan.” (p. 273)
One aspect of the health issues that arise from the tradition of dowry, is the mental health of the females involved in it. They become victims of psychological problems such as depression and inferiority complexes. A woman is told that her status depends on the amount of dowry she brings. If the parents-in-law are dissatisfied with the dowry they criticize and emotionally abuse her. Ali, Árnadóttir, Kulane (2013) state, “Taunting and violence from in-laws may also drive a wife to have suicidal thoughts and even commit suicide.” (p. 88)
An alarming fact that concerns this issue is that many educated people are not safe from this plague that has affected Pakistan for years. As mentioned before, this is a tradition that is common in all socioeconomic classes which includes both the educated and uneducated. The higher class or the educated people refer to dowry as gifts given as a celebration of marriages. In Pakistan, it is used to show off the higher standards and wealth as affirmed by this statement, Anderson (2007), “Dowries, however, increase with both the wealth and social status of both sides of the marriage bargain.” (p. 163)
Many husbands abandon or are forced to abandon their wives because they were unable to give satisfactory amounts of dowry. Also, sometimes the in-laws become greedy even after the dowry has already been settled. Many women are divorced because they are only worth the dowry they bring. While there are many cases of dowry deaths, many of them are not reported. Because as sad as it is, this is a deeply rooted social evil and parents have brainwashed themselves into giving dowry with good intentions. Even if there is no demand of dowry, it has become such a tradition that if not followed, it makes the individuals feel like an outcast from the society.
Primary research was based on surveys. The survey comprised of 35 questionnaires, 10 questions each, corresponding to 36 respondents. All questions were close end with simple yes-no answers for the ease of the respondents. The respondents were Undergraduate students of Forman Christian College University of both genders, that is, males and females. Random sampling was used which included students of all calibers and ages, mostly 19-22 years of age. The target respondents were youth to get the point of view of both educated and unmarried participants. Secondary research was based on academic and reliable sources and primarily consisted of ‘scholarly journals’.
Dowry maintains a constant pressure on women. Can it lead to their health deterioration?
The majority of respondents that is, 26 individuals (72.22%) answered ‘yes’, indicating that dowry is a cause of health deterioration in women. 9 individuals (25%) were unsure and answered ‘maybe’. While only one respondent (2.78%) gave a ‘no’ answer.
What can help abolish this tradition?
Out of three given options, 18 students (50%) chose ‘education’ and 18 students (50%) chose ‘eradicating patriarchal norms’ while no one (0%) opted for ‘it cannot be abolished’.
Does dowry give financial pressure to the parents of daughters?
34 respondents (94.44%) agreed choosing ‘yes’ as an answer. Only one (2.78%) disagreed, choosing ‘no’. One respondent (2.78%) chose ‘maybe’ indicating they did not know.
Is this culture only limited to arranged marriages?
With only two options 6 respondents (16.67%) answered ‘yes’ saying that marriage of choice can help solve this problem. The of 30 students (83.33%) chose ‘no’ saying that this custom is not dependent on love or arranged marriages.
Why is it difficult to eradicate this social issue?
18 students (50%) chose the first option that is, ‘Pakistan is largely based on traditions and customs’. The rest of the 18 (50%) went with ‘people oppose the idea of dowry but continue to take it’.
Is the government taking any actions to address the issue?
Only 3 people (8.33%) believed that the government is taking actions against it. While majority believed (33 students, 91.67%) that the government is doing nothing to address this issue.
Does dowry become a cause of domestic violence against women?
34 respondents (94.44%) answered ‘yes’ while the rest 2 (5.56%) chose ‘no’.
Dowry is both the cause and consequence of gender bias. Do you agree?
30 individuals (83.33%) agreed that it is a cause and consequence of sex discrimination. 6 people (16.67%) disagreed with the statement.
Does this practice guarantee the success of a marriage?
2 people (5.56%) believed dowry guarantees a happily married life, whereas 30 individuals (83.33%) believed otherwise and 4 (11.11%) were still unsure going with answer ‘maybe’.
Is dowry only an issue until marriage or continues to be an issue even after?
7 respondents (19.44%) believed ‘once a suitable amount is paid, the in-laws remain satisfied’. While 29 people (80.56%) believed that ‘in-laws become greedy and continue to demand more’.
Discussion of results:
The field research was done to get a quantitative review of the view points of the respondents. It both highlighted their personal viewpoints as well as very important facts. Health effects of dowry are seldom looked at. This study showed that many students were of the opinion that dowry affects women’s health negatively. While there were still some who were confused as to how the two concepts were related, there were only a few who disagreed with the idea. When asked why this tradition was difficult to abolish and how it can actually be abolished, the answers made it evident that education and eradicating patriarchal norms would equally play a role in diminishing this social evil. No one believed that this practice could not be curtailed which showed the positive outlook of the youth. But they acknowledge the fact that this custom exists because of the so-called traditions and hypocritical attitude of people who oppose the idea but continue to exchange dowry.
The findings from this survey indicated a sad fact that little to no efforts are being made by the government to create awareness of this issue or take measures to cure the society of this disease.
Majority of the respondents believed that love or arranged marriages had nothing to do with the prevalence of the exchange of dowry. That is, there are no definite factors contributing to it rather it has become society’s norm to give dowry at the marriage of a girl, apparently guarantying the success of a marriage. But majority students did not believe so. In fact the survey showed that the foundation of marriage is believed to be largely based on the relationship rather than materialism.
It was evident from the survey that majority parents have financial pressure on their shoulders. As a result of which a daughter is considered an economic liability.
One of the main concerns that rose after this survey, was that dowry was identified as the major cause of domestic violence against women. Most students agreed. This issue needs to be highlighted and addressed. Lastly, many respondents were of the viewpoint that this is a never ending problem in the sense that even after a suitable amount of dowry or the amount demanded at the time of the settlement is paid, many a times the in-laws become greedy and continue to demand more.
The purpose of this research paper was to establish that dowry is becoming a rising issue. This information was legitimized after the primary and secondary researches. The articles as well as the surveys concluded to the fact that “dowry is a social evil”. It was evident from the literature review that dowry is a lead cause of financial pressure on parents, domestic violence against women, an increased materialistic attitude, depression in women, early child birth and health issues, sex selective abortions, femicide and son preference. The surveys showed the youth was not too happy about this alarming situation but it did have a positive approach and decided on some key curative methods. The solutions and their applications have been developed to eradicate the system of dowry. It is clear that the process has already started because the issue has been brought to light.
This research paper had certain limitations such as, the issue was about Pakistan but only a limited number of respondents could be approached that were the students of Forman Christian College. While it is common in almost all regions of Pakistan, dowry is described and exchanged differently in different cities and households. The respondents were from different ethnic backgrounds and cultures but still limited the survey to Young Adults that is, ages 19-22. It was impossible to tell the viewpoints of the older citizens of Pakistan because a survey could not be conducted. Some of the adults were approached to talk about the issue, but they refused to comment on it. This would have been really helpful as the they have first-hand experiences being fathers, mothers, wives, husbands etc.
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