Dowry, ‘Dowry Deaths’, and Violence Against Women
- 1. Introduction.
- 2. Dowry deaths in the news.
- 3. A middle-class phenomenon?
- 4. Who is to blame?
- 5. Can men be the victims of dowry?
- 6. Is dowry really the problem?
- 7. So what should we campaign for?
- 8. Inheritance rights for women.
I first met Mr. Thakur at the IX World Sanskrit Conference in Melbourne in January 1994. Prior to our meeting, he had sent me a copy of a book he had written, a fictionalized account of a dowry death.1 His intention in writing that book was to provoke an emotional response to an emotive topic, and it worked. Having read the book, and being already sympathetic to its message, I was not surprised by Mr. Thakur's impassioned presentation in Melbourne. He outlined what he saw to be the current situation in India regarding dowry deaths: that the custom of demanding dowry is spreading throughout India, and that the number of dowry-related deaths is on the increase. He explained that he had been trying to do something about this from within India for over a decade but without any real effect.2 Finally, he begged the conference participants most earnestly to do all in their power to bring international public opinion to bear on the matter. The response from the floor, where the delegates were mainly Indian, was uninspiring but understandable. One speaker suggested that this was an inappropriate topic for a Sanskrit conference. Another implied that Mr. Thakur was doing India a disservice by "washing her dirty linen" in public. When I stood up to support Mr. Thakur's call, it was an instinctive response. I had done no research on the topic myself. My own work had been on gender ideology in classical Hinduism with a particular bias towards teasing out the implications for women.3 In this context, "dowry deaths" seemed an especially worrying modern variant of the general oppression of women, and one that I ought to know more about. I should like to thank Mr. Thakur formally for making me shift my focus for a while from the ideals of the classical past to the uncomfortable realities of India today. In this brief paper, I shall describe where this shift has taken me.4
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