According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2012, 8,233 women were killed in India last year over dowry payments. That means one woman dies every hour in the country. This is the latest in a country that is in the spotlight for violence against women.
A dowry is a transaction between the female’s family and her new husband and his family. It could include money, property or a specified item. It was originally set up as protection in case the husband dies. It could also serve as a way to seal the relationship between the two families. But now that India’s economy is booming the demands for dowry are at an all time high. The country banned dowries in 1961 with the Dowry Prohibition Act, women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari said many still practice it:
“Marriages have become commercialized. It’s like a business proposition where the groom and his family make exorbitant demands. And the wealthier the family, the more outrageous the demands,” Kumari said.
Vishakha Desai, former president of the Asia Society and professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, listed a few demands:
“What has happened in the last 25-30 years as India has become much more conscious of material possessions is that it has come back with a vengeance,” she said of the fatal abuses. “You have dowry demands for things like a refrigerator or a motor scooter. It’s no longer about jewelry or things a woman could hold on to as her own.”
Authorities see dowry abuse and deaths on every economic level.
Suman Nalwa, a senior New Delhi police officer dealing with crimes against women, said dowry practices extended to all classes in society. “Even highly educated people don’t say no to dowry,” she said.
It is slightly lower than 2011 (8,618), but the number of cruelty cases rose from 99,135 to 106,527. Many believe the woman is treated cruelly before she dies at the hands of her husband or in-laws. The Telegraph described one incident:
One of the dowry deaths last year was Pravartika Gupta, who was burned to death in her bedroom as she slept with her one-year-old daughter. She had been threatened by her in-laws because her family could not afford to speed up their schedule of payments. They had agreed to pay £15,000 in cash and buy a Honda City car for their son-in-law’s parents. The in-laws had suddenly demanded that Pravartika’s family also buy them an apartment.
94% of the cases resulted in charges, but only 32% were convicted. Only 15% of the cruelty cases ended with a conviction. Many do not come forward because it could leave a stain on the family and other daughters may not be able to get married.
India has been under fire for sexual violence against women. It escalated last December when a 23-year-old was gang raped on a bus in New Dehli. She died 13 days later from her injuries. Sunny Hundal talked about 60 million women missing in India in his e-book India Dishonored: Behind a Nation’s War on Women and one reason is because of dowry deaths.