Every civil society has a legal system. In fact it is the legal system, well formed, articulated and effectively implemented that keeps a society civilized. There maybe minor differences in legal systems of different countries depending upon the cultural, religious and traditional beliefs of a country. But the basic structure of the system is almost same in every country. Also the severity of punishments also may differ from country to country in the respective part of criminal code. There are also many loop holes in every legal system. And there are systems solely based on religious beliefs and dictates. Here I am interested in discussing the implications of dowry related laws in India, the benefits, and its ill effects or effective misuse by unscrupulous people.
As every Indian knows dowry is prevalent in every bit of diversity of various cultures, subcultures, castes and sub castes. The dowry is usually a negotiated sum of money or kind or both to be given to the bridegroom by the family of the bride in a marriage. But there are quite a few sub sects in which the giving and taking is other way round, IE., groom pays to the bride. This system of dowry in marriages has come to practice from time immemorial in India and I truly believe that this system was initiated and evolved with a good purpose. Though I cannot authoritatively confirm how it came into existence, I believe, it is because when the bride leaves her parental home, the groom has to set up a new family which requires means. And in a joint family the maintenance costs increase because addition of a new member as from that day of marriage onwards, the responsibility of maintenance of the girl ceases to be with her parents. Hence the system.
Today, as the basic purpose and cause has ceased to prevail upon every big and small cultural practice, the meaning of dowry system also has fallen by way side. Today dowry has become a means to display one's wealth accompanied with vulgar spending in the pomp and show of a marriage among the wealthy in every society prompting inferiority complex among not so well to do families. This has also given way to most unreasonable demands of dowry among middle and lower middle class families. Seeing the ill effects of dowry system, a law was enacted by the parliament totally banning the dowry practice, as long back as, I think, in the 1960's. But, alas! there was seldom any effect of this new law in cubing the ill effects of dowry, despite the law prescribes jail term to the guilty. I am yest to see even one case in which the defaulter is jailed!
As the basic purpose of dowry system is long lost, so is the purpose of law against dowry is also lost. In good times dowry goes on smoothly as if it is a legal custom without anybody cracking his head over it. But cases of harassments have started long back and is still growing by leaps and bounds. Greed has given way to murders since long. In almost 100% of the cases the casualty is the bride, sometimes even after a number of years of marriage and in many instances marriage has simply become a tool of extortion.
The government and the system of law has woken up to the crying demands of the people. But the right thinking people see there is a huge whole in the law itself. Laws sees the bride side kindly. Of course, the events that take place regularly and the investigations have shown that it should; the bride side should be heard with a pinch of sympathy. As a result of this, severe penalties have been handed down to grooms and and his accomplices if there was crime and homicide. All these activation of the law, it seems has not only failed to effectively reduce dowry related crimes, but also created a new problem in the society at large. Greedy unscrupulous elements in the society have taken this soft corner of the law to make a quick buck. They marry their daughter to a well to do groom only to later raise litigation quoting dowry harassment as the reason for demanding divorce. As law takes a lenient view on the girl's side, the judiciary, taking the financial abilities of the groom's family grants divorce with awards of hefty alimony!
Recently, a young friend of mine fell victim to this plot. He married about two years back, left his pregnant wife with her parents for delivery in a year, as per the prevailing custom. After a reasonable time after delivery, he went to his in laws to fetch the baby and mother back home. To his dismay, he was not only not allowed to see the child but also refused to send his wife back by her parents telling him that his parents were harassing their daughter for dowry! The poor chap surrendered all his pride and pleaded to send back his wife and child promising to set a separate home away from his parents. He even bought a new house for the purpose, of course with the permission of his sympathetic parents just to save the marriage of their only son. But no, his wife demanded divorce even when the boy offered to register the newly bought house in the name of his adamant wife. The case is in trial stage in the family court now. The boy, my friend is now living alone in the new house just to prove his point that he has separated from his parents. He has also resigned his well paying job. His parents have changed their will giving all rights of their self earned wealth to their only daughter. All this to negate the hefty alimony claimed by the wife.
I think such victimisation of good unsuspecting people is rampant, all because the law and judiciary is lenient to women. It is high time something is done before the already gone out of hands situation to bring within social control. In urban areas, the educated youngsters are opting for live-in arrangements, never thinking about marriage or raising a family of their own. Does it augur well to any civil society?