The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Most progressive, with dowry on the rise

New Delhi, Aug. 1: A report authored by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) on dowry shows that the practice of giving and taking dowry is very much in place, if not on the rise, in Bengal and Kerala — considered the two most progressive states in the country.

“The practice of dowry is on an increase in West Bengal as in other states of India, despite a strong democratic movement,” says the report based on a questionnaire distributed among parents and daughters throughout the country.

“The new consumer and ostentatious culture that has grown all over the country is spreading in Bengal also. It has increased among Muslims, Dalits, poor and middle (class) peasants — even among tribals as they become educated and become more and more urbanised.”

Kerala, it says, “has become a consumerist society and the emerging trend is of jewellery and sari shops displaying only wedding collections”.

During its field survey, AIDWA — a CPM-backed organisation — interviewed 175 parents in Kerala who said marriage expenses varied between Rs 25,000 and Rs 6 lakh in urban areas and between Rs 20,000 and Rs 3 lakh in rural areas. “Most urban parents have a debt liability falling between Rs 15,000 to Rs 4 lakh,” the association says.

In Bengal, middle class families demand anything between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh in cash, while low-income families look for a sum ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 25,000. “We were unable to gather information from affluent and rich families on this subject,” the AIDWA says. It mentions specific instances in Bankura where newly-appointed teachers got married after taking huge amounts of dowry. “Most of the mothers interviewed answered questions relating to other matters but refrained from confirming whether dowry was given or taken in their families,” the report says.

It outlines a stark picture of the status of women across the country. “Dowry-related crimes constitute a special Indian brand of violence against women,” said Sujata Manohar of the National Human Rights Commission while releasing the AIDWA report. Rajni Palriwal, one of the authors of the report, said: “Dowry is now prevalent among all castes, classes, communities and regions.”

In the morning, Union human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi informed the Rajya Sabha that dowry deaths have increased in Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai though dowry-related cases have registered a decline in general.

Recently, Nisha Sharma from Delhi hogged media headlines after she walked out of her engagement following outrageous dowry demands made by her fiancé and his family. Several other women followed her trail.

According to AIDWA: “Dowry has assumed the form of a new disease. It has become a status symbol in an era of liberalisation dominated by market and consumerist culture.”

Many of the respondents did speak out against the practice but could not take a stand because of “social pressures”.

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