You read that right. Married women are murdered by their husband or their husband’s family for the financial opportunities available once the bride is dead.
Although against the law in India since 1961, it is commonplace for a bride to enter marriage with a significant dowry paid by her family, including jewelery, appliances, vehicles, furniture, even a house for the couple.
The theory behind the dowry is that the putative husband is taking over the responsibility of the bride’s family and as she has little value on her own, a dowry must accompany her to make the marriage worthwhile for the groom.
Unfortunately, the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 makes it a criminal offence to both give or receive a dowry. Accordingly, bride’s families typically do not seek the assistance of the law when additional dowry is demanded, which is often the antecedent to domestic abuse.
Demands will be made during the marriage that the original dowry was insufficient and additional dowry is required. The wife’s demise means the husband can keep his wife’s dowry and marry a second time with dowry.
While this horrific domestic abuse is against the law, India’s patriarchal society, including its police and Courts of Law, have not taken this inhumane violence as seriously as they need to. An amendment to India’s criminal law was finally enacted in 1986 which reads:
“where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of marriage and it is shown that immediately before her death she was harassed and put to cruelty by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with demand for dowry, such death shall be called as “dowry death”.
India’s National Crime Records show that in 2008 there were 8,172 dowry deaths including suicides, apparently the preferred option for husbands who wish to shed their wives. It is reported that less than 10% of these deaths are even investigated.
Not everyone, however, supports the extension of legal protection to abused dowry wives. Uma Challa, President of All India Forgotten Women’s Association, has written articles decrying the inferior status of men in Indian society. She writes in a publication called “Voice For Men”:
“Thanks to the concerted efforts of feminists, thousands of men are also becoming victims of “legal terrorism”, unleashed through laws like Sections 498A and 304B of India’s Penal Code…”
These sections deal with dowry offences, including murder and cruelty and prescribe the punishment upon conviction.
She also disdains other legislation aimed at protecting women’s basic human rights, including the “Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, adultery laws, rape and sexual harassment laws, and even divorce, maintenance and child custody laws.”
Ms. Challa believes that these laws lead to suicide by men who have been humiliated or traumatized by the “legal harassment” afforded by these laws.
It is difficult to believe that right-thinking people can agree with Ms. Challa’s views but she has her supporters. Mainly Indian men, of course.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang