Time to wrap up the hugely procrastinated dowry series.
I’ve defended dowry as a good and useful financial tool. The main argument against this (pointed out by Ritwik) is that dowry is still indefensible- especially because in UP and Bihar dowry will not be used by entrepreneurial sons-in-law as capital and it will drive girls’ parents into bankruptcy.
My instinctive response to this would be: ‘So? There are so many cases in which dowry is used as enterprise capital and doesn’t ruin the girl’s family? Why should those families be classified as criminals?’
The problem with the instinctive response is that I have no real numbers on how many families take dowry and don’t ruin their in-laws. So it’s all mute conjecture. I would love it if there was data, but for now I’ll have to stick to theorising.
Ritwik also points out that while harassment and dowry deaths can be dealt with under existing laws, having a specific anti-dowry law and a special anti-dowry cell empowers people to go and complain about harassment and be more effective.
I think this point is arbit. If laws on murder and extortion are ineffective, that’s an argument for reforming the police and courts, not to throw in a new law specifically on dowry. Also, criminalising dowry gives a weapon to girls’ families when a marriage turns acrimonious, even if no dowry was involved or dowry was given willingly. (My own family has been a victim of this, so perhaps I am losing some objectivity here.)
One final point, on defining dowry and whether it is a voluntary transfer of wealth or not.
Consider the following examples:
- The father-in-law hands over a suitcase of currency notes to the son-in-law.
- The father-in-law creates a huge fixed deposit in the name of the son-in-law.
- The father-in-law creates a huge fixed deposit in the name of the daughter.
- The father-in-law creates a huge fixed deposit jointly in the name of the daughter and son-in-law.
- The son-in-law starts a trading business. The father-in-law becomes a partner.
- The son-in-law starts a trading business. The daughter is the legal sole propreitrix on paper though her husband is running everything. The capital comes from the father-in-law.
- The son-in-law starts a trading business. He is the sole propreitor. The propreitorship’s balance sheet shows that the equity is all his, but that a major source of funds is unsecured loans from his brother-in-law.
- The son-in-law starts a trading business. He is the sole propreitor. He goes to a bank and gets a loan for the business. As collateral he offers a residential property registered in the name of his wife. The property was actually paid for by the father-in-law.
Okay, which of these is dowry? To complicate matters further, will 5-8 be dowry depending on when the son-in-law starts the business? Before the marriage? Immediately after? Ten years in?
The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not the financial transaction which is worrisome. It’s the control or the lack of control which the wife has over how the wealth is utilised that is the bigger problem. In an ideal world, the wife would have absolute control over a fixed deposit or real estate in her name. Her husband would not even know about it. In the real world, the husband will know, will manage the property, and will borrow against it and get away with just telling the wife to sign at the relevant spots. That is not going to be cured by banning dowry, but by creating a society where women are encouraged to manage their own assets. That’s a long and painful process but it has the advantage of working.
This is the last post. Comment away!