Friday, July 13, 2018

Dowry Deaths in India: The role of the parents

Growing up in Hyderabad, I used to open the newspaper to the crime page and read daily reports of women who had either died, or had committed suicide as a result of "stomach ache."

In some cases, there were clear reports of burning women to death. On average, there were 2-3 such reports every day.

On growing older, I wondered, if there are 3 reported deaths per day in one city, how many would there be all over the country? NCRB answered that question - roughly one dowry death every hour in India. Consistently. Since 2001, that number(deaths per hour) has not crossed 2.

What is the problem?

Dowry Deaths in India from 2001 to 2016 Source: NCRB data
I have added a Trend Line to the graph so we can clearly see the DIRECTION of the crime. In 2014, the worst year yet, a woman lost her life to dowry every 52 minutes.

This is not going to be a post about the causes of dowry. We all know the causes of dowry deaths.

What can we do to stop dowry deaths?
Here is what you need to consider - of the literally THOUSANDS of cases that I have read over the years (all the way from 1988), not ONE has happened right after the marriage. All deaths, every single one of them, is preceded by abuse. Months and years of abuse. Abuse that the woman almost always reports to her family.

There is a separate legal clause that deals with harassment for dowry.

The ratio of abuse to death cases ranges from 13:1 to 10:1. For every woman who is killed, at least 9 to 12 other women suffer dowry related abuse - so much that they make a formal complaint.

This is what makes one angry:

The parents, in every single case, turn a blind eye to the plight of the woman. The dowry death happens in the marital home. If you know your daughter is being abused or harassed for dowry, what is she doing in her marital home?

If a parent endangers the life of their daughter by forcing her to stay in a physical space where it is known that she is in danger, should the said parents not be prosecuted? In suicide, this is abetment to suicide. In murder, this is being a complicit accomplice.

I honestly feel that there should be a change in the law. Parents who ignore a daughter's plea related to dowry abuse, should be prosecuted. They should not be the petitioners. They should be the co-accused. How can you put your own child in almost certain danger, and then cry hoarse when that danger comes true?

Counter - For every woman who dies, 9 to 12 do not. They continue to live in their marital homes. So if the daughter raises an alarm, should she be removed from that danger?

If you were a husband or in law abusing a girl for dowry, would you stop, if you knew that the girl will be removed from the marital home AND there will be a police complaint against you? Yes, I think that a lot of men will stop then. Because dowry harassment is bullying. And in its most fundamental form, bullying is an act of cowardice that cannot stand up to courage. In the face of courage, it wilts and succumbs.

Yes, the problem and the solution are not that simple. But I simply cannot find a way to forgive parents who allow their daughters to remain in danger in their marital homes and then cry hoarse when the girl dies.

The problem is with the perpetrators. But the perpetrators are not just the people who commit the crime. The definition of "perpetrator" must be expanded to include the people who, through passive complicity, allow the crime to happen and in fact, create conditions that give the perpetrator the courage to take the step from harassment to abuse to murder. There were no consequences for what was done earlier. Why should one fear consequences for this? (At a conviction rate of 34%, the absence of fear is completely justified, but that's for another day)

I don't usually agree with Gandhi, but this one: "The criminal commits the crime, the society prepares it." , can be completely translated to "The in laws commit the crime, the parents prepare it."

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