Stop Burning Us to Death

The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, "It's a girl."  ~Shirley Chisholm

Being a woman is never easy more so in countries like India where women have to fight all sorts of archaic beliefs to lead a respectable life. When we speak about women’s rights we are termed as feminists and as a gender which only believes in acting like damsels in distress.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is:  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.  ~Rebecca West

Granted a lot has changed over the years in the condition of women but that is only limited to the 20 or 30 percent of population in the towns and cities. In that too life isn’t as rosy as it is made out to be. Female feticide, Acid Throwing, Dowry and Bride Burning, Domestic Violence, Honor Killing, Female Genital Mutilation, Forced Prostitution, Human Trafficking , Marital Rape, Sexual Slavery are just some of the diamonds in our crown; the chapters written in invisible ink in the history of rising and shining India.

Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their opressors.  ~Evelyn Cunningham

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 213585 crimes against women were reported in 2010 out of which 94041 were under the category of ‘Cruelty by Husband and Relatives’.  8391 were dowry related deaths. And these are only figures of the cases which manage to get reported or are found out by an NGO or NCW representatives who keep frequenting hospitals to unearth unreported cases. There are hundreds and thousands of cases which go unreported and they do not figure in this already humungous list. On top of that the conviction rate is also awful in our country; perhaps it’s the loop holes in our laws that is to blame or possibly our renowned lackluster judiciary. The proofs to this statement are the statistics 1,948 convictions and 3,876 acquittals in dowry death cases in the year 2008.

Appalled are you? Well you should be, considering we belong to a country where people fast for weeks in the names of Goddesses and where there are temples every few miles dedicated to the same.

I happened to come across an article on a mother who married off her innocent daughter in the hope of a decent future for the latter. Was that too much to ask? Was that wrong on her part to see her daughter settled in life? The lady herself had lost her husband some years ago in a road accident. She had lost an arm and a leg too in a train accident few years after that. One would imagine that to be the culmination of her sufferings and that she and her family wouldn’t face further adversity in the future. But that wasn’t to be. Sometimes destiny only has hardships and obstacles set for you. No sooner was the daughter married, demands of cash and vehicle began doing the rounds; far too often than her liking.

What could she do, she was from a humble family barely able to make her ends meet. The culture or non-culture, if we may say, of dowry began in the upper echelon of society and seeped into that of the less fortunate hence not even sparing the less fortunate from the shackles of the so called big fat Indian wedding and its pathetic ‘customs’.

Like many parents the mother thought that gradually as her daughter and son-in-law would spend more time together these problems would phase out. She was trying to believe in something which she knew deep down in her heart would never happen. But do they ever? Not really, her daughter was subjected to inhumane treatments and repeated beatings in her husband’s home. The mother kept praying for everything to be fine and kept advising her daughter against leaving her in-law’s place no matter what the situation. Isn’t that what many parents still advice their daughters in the name of shame to the family or holding heads high in society? I mean it is respectable to get ill-treated by the husband, but the moment the woman tries to break out of the oppression she is tagged a hoar and what not by our very society!

Finally that day came when the level of torture escalated to something that could only be described as evil and nasty. The daughter was burnt alive by her in-laws and dumped at a hospital to succumb to her injuries. Yes the same story which had been happening over and over again throughout history played out again and the daughter became just another statistic to be put into the data of the NCRB reports.

The mother then realized how wrong she was in leaving her daughter amidst such monsters. By then it was too late to save her daughter but she resolved to put those guilty behind bars. She ran from pillar to post to get an FIR lodged against them. That also took a lot of effort as out police force too is infested with officers who would rather sit sipping tea in their offices rather than do something actually beneficial for the society. However with the help of a National Commission of Women Representative and the dying statement of her daughter she was able finally bring the offenders to book. But wasn’t it too late by then? Couldn’t she have saved her daughter by not getting her married there in the first place?

I do not know what the problem is with us as a society and our psyche! On one hand, we condemn dowry and on the other, we ogle at the gifts that are bestowed upon a groom and his family from the bride’s side. Anything missing in that and we form stories about things that must be wrong in either the guy or the girl. And believe me it is a fact! Why is our thinking so narrow? And this is not the only problem. The groom’s parents think they have performed some sort of miracle by raising a boy and blatantly make unfair and unjust demands. The bride’s parents are equally responsible for heeding to whatever is asked off them even if in the process they end up mortgaging their own selves. If even after that the marriage takes place, the girl after being tormented will still try hard to live with her ‘husband’. Her parents too will suggest her that, ensuing one day their daughter to be either abetted towards suicide or be doused in kerosene and burnt alive!

Sometimes I am filled with disgust when I see such thoughts still prevail in today’s society. Why can’t we bring changes in ourselves? Can’t a girl decide against marrying a guy who dares ask even a penny from her father? Can’t a father resolve never to marry his daughter to a man who sells himself for a price in the marriage market? Can’t a guy make up his mind not to take even a penny from the father of his to be wife? Why has there to be a transaction for a union as sacred as marriage?

They say in Indian every hour one woman dies in a dowry-related case. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, with amendments in 1984 and 1986, made dowry a recognizable and non-bailable offence. But regardless of being illegal dowry has become an epidemic which is turning out to be harder by the day to control. We Indians talk of culture and actually practice these sorts of evils on its pretexts. Unless we bring changes in ourselves, each and every one of us, in the way we perceive marriage in our society these evils will continue to prevail and there will be many more daughters burnt to death every day.

To all fellow women and girls I would ask to take a leaf out of the below quote in choosing a life partner instead of buying one in return for ‘Dowry’:

I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.  ~Anaïs Ni’

Find the post also on : What Young India Wants