RAM DAYAL RAKESH
Dowry system is still prevalent in the Madheshi society which is very disgraceful. Social scientists differ widely in their interpretations of the concept of dowry and they have analyzed the dowry system in South Indian societies where dowry is defined as female inheritance, because dowry is often termed as streedhan, cidanam, etc. in South India. On the other hand, those who have studied the dowry system in North India emphasize the daan or the gift aspect of dowry as it is variously called daan, dahej in
western U. P. and Dayaj (in the Awadh region). According to sociologists there are several explanations of dowry. They are dowry or gift, dowry as pre-mortem inheritance and dowry as compensation.
The central hypothesis of the gift is that “the archaic forms of exchange with its three obligations of giving, receiving, repaying is an aspect of almost all societies and strengthen social bonds”. Any types of gift exchange is viewed as, at once, religious, legal, moral, economic, aesthetic, morphological, mythological in insignificance.
According to Dumont, a social scientist, the present day cause of dowry as has evolved from the ancient practice where people tried to convert their material wealth into spiritual wealth by performing the religiously meritorious act of ‘kanyadan’.
Vatuk sees dowry as the marriage presentation. It was a pure gift in ancient India (possibly referring to the concept of kanyadan) but this, however, is not true in the present day context. Daan Dahej as dowry is known, is closer to the model of ‘reciprocal gifts’. The Indian dowry system shows that firstly, the notion
of reciprocity is lacking (except) in such cases where dowry marriage is a means for status climbing as in the case of Rajputs. Otherwise the status of wife givers (dowry givers) always remain inferior.
Traditionally daughters do not have a share in parental property. They were considered as otherwise excluded. According to Goody, “Dowry can be seen as a type of a pre mortem in inheritance to the bride.Thombiah defines dowry as “Wealth given to a daughter, at her marriage for the couple to use as the nucleus of their conjugal state by and large.” We can say that dowry in India and Sri Lanka stresses the notion of female property (streedhan) which technically is her property and in her own control though the husband usually has rights of management.
“Considerable amounts of gifts are made at the time of wedding. In Mithila these days it is not rare that a dowry (tilak) of goods and money exceeding a few lakh rupees is given by the bride’s side.”
Dowry is like a bride’s price which is not pleasant to listen to but is a fact in Madheshi society. It is closely linked with the bride’s role in the productive and consumer society. A girl is taken as a burden because there is a lot of expenses on her upbringing and education. A guardian of a girl thinks that it is not useful to support a girl child for long periods, because one day he has to marry her at any cost. If he spends more on her education, then he has also to spend more on her marriage. For example if a boy is a doctor or engineer or government servant he has to give more money in dowry, otherwise he has to marry his girl child to an ordinary boy. So the guardian does not want to spend more money on a girl’s education. He thinks his duty is to make her literate, that’s all.There is another theory according to which dowry is given as compensation. A girl is supposed to be a contributing member in a family’s economy .The absence of the girl means an economic loss for her parents. So the absence of the girl is compensated in the form of dowry.
Seema Gupta/ A.K. Sharma have also mentioned in their book entitled A.B.C. of marriages: “Among Hindus and Sikhs, the bride’s family is expected to pay a dowry to the husband. Quite openly the groom’s family demand cash and gold from the brides’ family. If a girl’s dowry is inadequate she may have to face humiliation at her in-law’s place. This may, sometimes, even lead to her committing suicide or being burnt by the in-laws.”
In some cases legal system also supports dowry. In legal matters, women have certain privileges. For example, certain categories of possessions are called “stridhana even property of females’’ over stridhana even the husband has no rights in normal times. In succession of stridhan, daughters have preference over sons.
There are many examples of bride burning in India and Nepal, especially in the Madhesh region. Now there is a lot of awareness in the Madheshi society to educate girls better than to give dowry in their marriage. The Madheshi society is very compact and traditional. So there is less chance of breakup of marriages except in a few cases. There is also less chance of divorce. Marriage is still regarded as a heavenly boon. Most of the Madheshi people still think that marriages are made in heaven. Arranged marriages are solemnized in most of the cases, but now a days love marriage is also getting momentum. Formerly it was not in vogue. Live-in relation is uncommon. Extra marital affairs are also not tolerated at any cost. Inter caste marriage is discouraging dowry system in the Madheshi Society these days. This is a welcome step.