Journal of South Asia Women Studies

Hindu Marriage System, Hindu Scriptures, and Dowry and Bride-Burning in India

by Ram Narayan Tripathi

In modern societies marriage is an established custom designed to make society a most dependable and indivisible unit. In the present generations, however, it has come under increasing pressure and criticism from many quarters and its very existence is threatened.

Let us talk about the Hindu marriage system and delve into the topic of dowry and bride-burning in India for which we are assembled here. No one doubts that is a most heinous crime perpetrated by greedy persons who want to get rich through the marriage of their sons. The custom of dowry is prevalent in many parts of India where it is regarded only as a voluntary gift to the bride by the parents, friends and relatives and there are no strings attached. In many cases, grooms do not take anything as dowry. Gifts are accepted as a token of love. But when the parents of the groom extort money from the parents of the bride as a recompense for marrying their daughter to their son, keep on increasing the demands after the wedding, finally kill the bride for the outstanding amount, and yet go unpunished by the administrative, legal and judicial system of the country, this must be a product of the overall moral decadence of the country. This is an extremely serious matter. I congratulate the organizers of The First International Conference on Dowry and Bride-Burning in India for focussing the attention of the world on this abominable crime in India.

In Hinduism, marriage is a very holy event in life. According to the Vedic rites, the groom and the bride are trained to fast on the day of their wedding, so that they may concentrate on the spiritual meanings of the marriage commitments. How the despicable practice of demanding dowry found its way into the pious and solemn custom of a Hindu marriage is extremely puzzling. To find an objective answer, one must analyze the history of Hindu people in those parts of India where dowry and bride-burning still continue in full force. In his book, Mr. H. B. Thakur has tried to diagnose the reasons for the degeneration of the Hindu society due to the historical forces of those areas, and their effects. One of the effects was the proliferation of child marriage in North India during the medieval period which was very rare in Vedic India. It became a compulsory practice for the Hindus in North India who lost their independence in the medieval period and could not protect their grown-up daughters. The only way to save the family honor was to marry off the daughter to someone else's family who would be responsible for her protection. Child marriage abounded, and so did the practice of bidding for dowry.

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