Among the many things that need to be revamped in the mainstream Pakistani society dowry would probably be one of the major ones. Sure no harm in giving the bride gifts on her wedding for her home and personal use but with the growing number of girls start staying unmarried simply because the parents donâ€™t have the money to meet the â€˜demandsâ€™ of the groomâ€™s family, then it is a quandary that needs to be looked into. The most irksome angle of the dowry situation is that the tradition for an increasingly elaborate dowry is set by the people who donâ€™t even need dowryâ€™s from the girls in order to â€˜run their homesâ€™ or â€˜supportâ€™ the grooms in any way. When the more educated and bourgeoisie class stoops to an all time low, the uneducated ones can only be expected to follow.
Dowry is a massive social ill on both sides of the Pakistan-India border and who hasnâ€™t heard of the infamous bride burning where the girl who brings insufficient dowry is burnt â€˜accidentallyâ€™ by her in laws so that a new â€˜preyâ€™ may be caught who can bring in a better dowry.
Since there is no practice of conducting studies on this issue in Pakistan, the actual dowry related accidents have for the most part gone unrecorded. Shahnaz Bukhari is the founder of the Islamabad-based Progressive Womenâ€™s Association and has handled 17,000 cases of women who have been subjected to dowry related violence such as rapes, murders and stove burnings.
It wouldnâ€™t be altogether fair to state that the government has remained oblivious to the disaster this dowry-demanding has caused in the society. Back in the 1970s in an attempt to curb the escalating violence over dowry, Pakistan attempted to make dowry giving or taking entirely illegal. A new law in 1976 set a certain amount of dowry to be permissible where the bridal gifts and marriage expenditure could not exceed 50,000 rupees (about $900). But as was seen in this case, the lack of social responsibility and firmly rooted trends rendered this law practically void.
We donâ€™t need facts and figures to tell us about the havoc dowry is causing for the middle class and lower middle class families. All of us have undoubtedly witnessed distressing cases within our families and the families of our friends, neighbors, cleaning women etc. etc where the good looking and educated girls are unable to get married because they donâ€™t have the dowry to fulfill the demands of the greedy, near-carnivorous grooms. We can write and preach all we want but the practice can never really go away unless we show by action that the educated class not only abhors the tradition but has decided to do away with it for good.
Not only should there be no dowry but it should be announced to everyone present at the wedding by the groomâ€™s family that they are taking the girl home in one suitcase of clothes. If she wishes to bring along her personal stuff such as books and memorabilia, that would not constitute dowry that is currently running into lacs of rupees, with furniture for nearly the entire house, fridges, TV, DVD players, microwaves, cars, motorbikes, linen enough to cover every bed for the next generation, crockery, cutlery and what not. Not to mention the 100 dresses that is the standard now with a ton of gold. And I forgot to mention the gifts that need to be given to the groomâ€™s parents, sisters and brothers. Dowry needs to go and it needs to go from the educated and well off families who are not giving dowries but actually competing in society to make sure no one gives better dowry than them. It has become a status symbol but their little game is ruining the lives of the poorer girls. In the process they are setting a craze that is stirring up hell for the middle class and poorer families who are unable to give so much to their daughters. They are relegated to the fate of watching their daughters get old because they donâ€™t have the money for the dowry to satiate the needs of the grooms who get greedier and greedier by watching this ostentatious display of dowry trends set by the better off in society.
Ironically dowry seems to be a highly stable sociological trend in a country where only 56 percent of the people have access to safe drinking water and only 24 percent has satisfactory sanitation. 91 out of 1000 babies die before their first birthday and doctors and health services are available for only 53 percent of the population. So one might think that the citizenry would have other things on its mind rather than dowry? Hardly so. The leader of the CDHP, Community Health and Development program remarked, â€˜We would be lecturing them about the use of oral rehyderation solution for infant diarrhea, when they were worried to death about a husband who was becoming addicted to drugs or how to raise dowries for their daughtersâ€™. So what is the solution? Though at this point where the menace has permeated into the very fabric of society it could be anyoneâ€™s guess but still the first steps need to come from the upper classes that have been at the forefront setting new and mightier traditions in giving and taking dowries.
I personally donâ€™t think any amount of programs or education will do any good in putting a quietus to dowry unless each person stats assessing the situation for what it is and starts making attempts at the personal level to uproot the menace. Society is not the responsibility of one or two people, human rights lawyers and educators. It is the responsibility of every person who constitutes the society. Unless everyone starts making an effort to recognize the social ills that are eroding basic human values at the roots, little can be done. The question is, are we strong enough to meet the challenge??
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