Dowry and perceived helplessness

“There are two primary choices in life; to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”
– Denis Waitley

The other day, I was having a debate with 3 of my colleagues – Let’s call them A, R, and S. It all started when I got to know that R comes from a community where dowry is very prevalent.

Before going any further,  I think I must ask you to not mistake my post at any point to think A, R, or S are negative characters in a story. I might not agree with their viewpoints but they are good people otherwise, and I am still friends with them.

R has 2 sisters already married off, for whose marriages R’s parents gave 40 lakh each as dowry. He says he’s not taking dowry (washing off his hands from it), but it is his parent’s decision and he can’t go against them. He’s not against it judging by all the reasons (cough, excuses!) he offered. He says as his parents had to give away 40 + 40 lakhs for marrying off his sisters,  they will take 80 lakhs as dowry for him to balance it out. (Poor future-bride-to-be’s parents!)
Isn’t that like passing on all your problems to someone else for your ease and convenience,  believing you are entitled to it? How do you become entitled to pass on your problems to other people?

I: Why did they give dowry?
R: Girls wouldn’t have got married to a good boy otherwise
I: Is it necessary to marry within a community so dead-set on taking dowry?
Let girls find their grooms and marry by choice.
R: What if they don’t find boys?
I: At least start taking steps.  Your community might not even be allowing girls to look at boys.
R: Our community would ostracize anyone who married outside community
I: Why would you want to do anything with a community that doesn’t really care about your happiness
R: It is not that easy

Here A & S agreed with R. I agree too that it’s hard, but it is necessary if you want to bring about a change. Taking/giving dowry means you condone it, further helping the dowry system to stay firm in its roots. That means you are holding back the society from progress. No wonder people still kill/abandon their girl children.

A believes R doesn’t have much of a choice. But, I believe we always have a choice.

“In life you always have a choice. Sometimes it’s easier to think that you don’t” – Queen Guinevere (Merlin, #1.6, 2008)

A stated that we can’t really do much about such things. What the community does, we need to do that.
I told them a real-life scenario I had just read about. In some Indian villages,  Muslim girls aren’t allowed to step out of the house after puberty.  They are not allowed to go to school,  play outdoors,  follow their passions in the outside world – all those things we take for granted. So, according to A’s logic, one should never raise her voice to get out of those four walls because that would mean going against her parents and community. S agreed that I was right,  but then stated that it’s difficult for parents to leave the community- all that they have ever known.

True, but sometimes,  you have to stand up for what is right,  and not just follow the herd.

How else could the Sati practice have been abolished? If everyone just thought that what the society thinks is to be followed to the T?

Then, R came up with another reasoning. He said as the inheritance is given to the son, the parents give dowry money to the daughters as inheritance.

So, if the dowry money is meant for the daughters, why not give it to the daughter? Why give it to her parents-in-law who will spend all that money on themselves, and not on their DILs. What are the girl’s parents paying for? To marry their daughter to a guy who can be bought with dowry money, after which they will most probably be expected to behave like slaves – cooking food for dear husband even when she is dead-tired after a day of work, or taking care of all her husband’s family.

I simply cannot understand any “reasoning” anyone gives me for dowry. It’s illegal and it’s wrong.

A even tried to instill hopelessness in me by stating that my saying anything cannot possibly change anything about the current scenario. When I said that people will get strength to break through their “helplessness” by seeing examples of people who didn’t follow the code, she said no one will believe you didn’t give dowry. Then, she gave an example of some relative of hers who had given a lot of dowry but told everyone they hadn’t. She said nothing can happen unless you go on a stage and motivate people. I think stage is not the place. You need to talk to people at a closer level to really make them listen to you. And I refuse to feel hopeless/helpless. If people saw the truth in my words, maybe more girls/boys will start saying no to dowry, giving out the strong message to others that you cannot coerce or exploit money from others.

S said dowry is only prevalent in the generation before us. That the system will vanish with our generation. I think otherwise. It cannot until someone takes a stand. I am sure, when his time comes, R will take/give dowry for his children because of his belief that marrying within the community is the only way. Also, as S said, people (wrongly) think that the more dowry they give, the better groom they’ll find.
Wouldn’t the guy who’s not taking dowry be a better chance to have an understanding, level-headed husband?

What appalled me was the thought that they are not the only ones with this kind of thinking. There would be many more in my so-called “forward-thinking” generation who feel “helpless” to stand up for what is right. I am disappointed but still full of hope.


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