Another relative came out to speak tothe press. He said
that the Anands hadnot demanded more dowry since the girl had brought
enough of it. “She brought everything you can want - a television
set, sofas for the drawing room, clothes...Whatdo we need more for
? We have aflourishing business...” He said that a caseof
‘murder had been registered (this waswasnot true) and the
girl’s husband and in-laws interrogated by the police. “Whatmore
do these people want?” he asked, “Do they want their
What women want was again forcefully brought out on June 12, when
the Nari Raksha Samiti organized a large procession from Chandni
Chowk to Parliament Street, where a memorandum was presented to
the Home Minister. There were working women, housewives with babes
in arms, some burkah clad women and was her women from as far away
as Majnu ka Tila. A man came all the way from Punjab to voice his
protest. His sister was reportedly burnt to death by her husband
just 14 days after marriage.
The placards read: “Arrest the killers of women”, ‘’We
will never give dowrynor let women burn”, and advocated reform
of the marriage system: “All marriages must be registered”,
“Severely punish bigamists”, and “Do not make
divorce laws more stringent”.
What was highly significant in both these demonstrations was that
they were swelled by passers-by and by people coming out of their
houses to join in. Infact, those who poured in spontaneously far
outnumbered those brought by the organizers. At Model Town, people
were so eager to read the leaflets headed “Women are not for
Burning”, that even after they were all exhausted,the demands
This action by women was given wide publicity in the press and
on TV. The Delhi State Manila Federation held a women’spublic
meeting on June 26. A resolution was passed urging Government to
make dowry a cognizable offence. Also, if a girl dies within seven
years of marriage, apost-mortem should be conducted, as is the law
in Punjab. When girls are driven tosuicide, the cases should be
created asconstructive murder.
July dawned with new forms of anti-dowry agitation. Premlata of
Daryaganj had been engaged to Vijay Narang of Rana Pratap Bagh.
At the time of engagementthe boy was given ‘advance dowry’
(Sagan) worth Rs 15,000. This included cash and goods like a TV
and sewing machine. The demands, however, kept growing every day.
On May 25, two days before the wedding day, when the girl’s
relatives went to the boy’s house to give the invitation cards
for distribution, they were confronted with the demand for a scooter.
Says Premlata’s uncle: “We came home and discussed the
matter till two o’clock at night. Finally we decided, ‘If
we meet this demand, another will come up—there is no end
to it. And such peoplecannot keep the girl happy.’ “
So the engagement was broken off, but the money given was not returned
by the Narangs.
Premlata’s family had read in the papersabout the anti-dowry
demonstrations.They approached the Nari Raksha Samitiand decided
to organize a demonstration outside the boy’s house to disgrace
himand demand their money back. Usually, when an engagement breaks
off, the girl’s family try their best to conceal the fact,because
they fear that people will suspectthe girl’s character and
it will be difficult toget her married.
The courage of this family was trulyremarkable. They brought their
womenonto the streets to openly proclaim thatthe engagement had
been broken due tothe greed of the boy’s family, thus for
once taking the offensive and shaming the boy.Another significant
feature of the protestwas its direct anti-dowry tone. Usually, the
girl’s family dare protest only when thegirl has died, and
it is the murder, not thedowry in itself that is condemned.
Premlata’s family and their supporters,with the women in
the forefront, collected outside A 14/3 Rana Pratap Bagh at 10.30a.m.
on July 1. Vociferous slogan shouting: “Why did Vijay not
marry ? For a scooter”,“Vijay Narang, shame on you”,
“Vijay willnever get a wife”, “Vijay will never
marry”,“Down with dowry”, “Shame on those
who demand dowry”, brought neighbours outof their houses to
sympathize. Some narrated how the Narangs had already broken off
two earlier engagements after taking large sums of money, and thus
wererunning a regular ‘business’ with their son’s
eligibility as capital !
The procession marched round thearea. Some of the demonstrators
suddenlytook up the cry, “Collect alms for Vijay’sscooter”
and two of them began to carry round a cloth as if asking for money,
whilea third held up the photograph of Vijayand called on spectators
to see the‘beggar’. Later, Premlata’s uncle said
shewould get married but there was noquestion of dowry now. She
would begiven the clothes and jewels already prepared for her, no
more. The only dispiriting part of the affair was the passivity
of the girl herself. When asked what her opinion was, the uncle
proudly said, “She is a very homely girl. She neveropens her
On the same day,a large procession was taken out in Patel Nagar
to protest against Government and police inactionover the burning
to death of Kanchan Chopra. Kanchan, 24, was a stenographerin the
UPSC and mother of a four-month-old child. She was being constantly
harassed and tortured for more dowry andwas rarely allowed to meet
On June 29, she went straight from office to her parents’
house at Malviya Nagar and told them she felt unsafebecause her
husband and in-laws were persistently demanding money for ascooter,
and were ill treating her. Herhusband came at night and forced her
toreturn with him. When she reached home,she was beaten by her husband
in the presence of her brother who was also insulted and turned
out when he protested. He went to the police stationand complained
that he feared his sister’slife was in danger. The police
refused to intervene in ‘family affairs’.
In the middle of the night, Kan-chan’sparents were informed
that she had beenbadly burnt and admitted to LohiaHospital. They
rushed there but she wasalready dead. The doctors had not evenallowed
the police to record her statementwhile she was conscious. Apparently,
shehad also been forced to swallow acid toprevent her speaking.
About 200 angry people, many of themresidents of Malviya Nagar,
held a threehour protest outside the Patel Nagar policestation to
demand the arrest of Kanchan’shusband and in-laws. Shouting
slogans against the Chopras, the police and thedowry custom, they
squatted outside E-205 West Patel Nagar, where Kanchan waskilled
and wrote on the walls with chalkthat the killers would not be spared.
Thepolice had registered a case of attempt tocommit suicide but
were forced to changeit to a murder case, under public pressure.The
case was handed over to the SpecialCell and the local SHO transferred
to policelines, pending enquiry.
Representatives of various women’sorganizations with family
members ofmurdered women, met the Police Commissioner and Lieutenant
Governor to demand immediate action and deplore the inefficiency
and corruption of the policeand administration in attending to such
But can one hope much from the policeand the courts? They have
amply demonstrated in these thirty years their inability to provide
justice, to protect the oppressed and the victims of socialviolence
and aggression. This is therefore,a task which will have to be performed
by all of us through a systematic and sustained campaign against
this evil - begining from our own homes.
Parents who have despairingly let the deaths of their daughters
goun investigated, because they knew only too well the callousness
of the authorities,or who have been fighting lone battles for months,
found a sudden rallying-point when the recent protests took place.
They came in contact with each other and felt acertain renewal of
Like Mr. Nair with his bag full of xeroxed letters describing his
daughter’s death,which have been submitted to so many authorities
and received no reply. Like Ms. Chandel, who joined the Model Town
march. Her daughter died two years ago,when the press and the public
were silentand no action was taken. Like Ms.Chadha whose life and
whose consciousness have been transformed after her daughter’s
murder - she’s now fighting not just her daughter’s
case, but actively participates in all anti-dowry protests, even
bringing her younger girl along with her !
Yet it is other women, other mothers like these, who burn their
daughters-in-law. This most disturbing reality was sharply focused
when some members of awomen’s organization went to Patel Nagaron
July 3, for a demonstration which failed to materialize.
While the Chopras remained behindclosed doors, dozens of men, women
andchildren streamed out of neighbouringhouses. They were aggressive:
“Whyhave you come here ? Ask us the facts.We know.”
While the men sneered: “What will these interfering busy
bodies do? They’ve been hired to come here for five rupeeseach.
The police will pass judgement, notthey”, the women swarmed
around. Theyshouted each other down: “She lockedherself in
a room and killed herself. Whatis the use of such education when
parentsdon’t teach their daughters how to behavein their husband’s
house? Cursed be such education !”
“But why did she kill herself ?”
“How do we know? Now a days, girls can’t put up with
the smallest thing - they get into a temper.”
“And how is it no one heard anything?”
One hard faced old hag raises her hands to the sky: “God
knows where she got such fortitude. She burnt to death without uttering
Another advises us: ‘Teach your daughters patience. Girls
must learn to bear everything patiently.”
A newly married woman grins: ‘’What is it to do with
us? Forget it.” Her friend agrees: “The one who had
to die has died. What’s the use of making a noise about it?”
The viciousness on their faces is like something in a nightmare;
would seem exaggerated on the stage or screen. The local police
arrive—obviously in leaguewith them. And horror of horrors!
For once, there is no difference between the brutal expression on
the faces of policemen and citizens.
As we walk away, a young housewife smiles menacingly from her door
way: “So you’ve come here to fight ? Come along,we’ll
teach you a lesson !” We stare at her, speechless. She waves
her hand: “Go to hell”, and pours out a stream of abuses.
An old man sitting at the doorstep glares at us, folds his hands:
“Go, go,please go” The whole neighbourhood is out in
the street, murder written large ontheir faces. Concentrated hostility
in theair like the heat before the storm. Someone whispers that
four dowry deaths have taken place in this locality in the space
of a year.
What is it that has turned these women against each other - mother-in-lawagainst
daughter-in-law, sister against brother’s wife? Is it the
fear that the precious male, the son, will turn away andlove his
wife, leaving his sister helpless,neglecting to pay her dowry ?
Is it thenecessity to extract as much as possible from the daughter-in-law
so that the daughters can be married ? How does thesame mother who
is humiliated by herarrogant son-in-law, who trembles for her daughter’s
happiness in an alien home,find it so easy to tyrannize and torture
herson’s wife ?
As long as we women are divided against ourselves, as long as we
see ourselves not as women but as some man’s wife or mother
our struggle is hopeless. We are our own destroyers. We look to
men for salvation - we hope forgood husbands, brothers who will
protectus, (however badly they may be treating their own wives).
The woman who has been degraded, beaten, insulted through a whole
lifetime takes her revenge on her helpless daughter-in-law—
perhaps the first person who is in her power, whom she can beatand
insult. How can her bitterness betrans formed into a constructive
protest, a collective rather than a personal anger ?
Above all, how can a woman who has never been recognised as a valuable
human being learn to value others, how can she who has never known
tenderness, feel tender to human life ? Why should not she, whose
silent screams have gone unheard, turn a deaf ear to the shrieks
ofthe girl burning next door, or in her own kitchen ?
She has been made to think of this as‘normal’, ‘a
woman’s fate’. Religion, the films, her elders, her
own, her mother’s experience, all tell her that if a woman
is unhappy, nothing can be done about it. It must be her own fault.
And she who hasbeen denied happiness and freedom, grudges them to
her daughter-in-law, wh omay be educated, employed, who has aaccess
to a world she has never seen. Shegrudges them even to her own daughter.
Most mothers are viciously rigid indenying their daughters the liberty
they themselves were not allowed: ‘I never had such freedom.
Why can’t you do withoutit, too ? Why should you complain
?’ How can a systematically deadened mind andheart be brought
to life ? Our problem istoo complex,the task of women’sorganizations
too vast for any simple solution to be put forward. Our agitation
to help ourselves realize our predicament,has to be a sustained
one and permeate every aspect of women’s lives - notremain
just sporadic outbursts of anger inissue-to-issue demonstrations.
The narrow cultural and social world of women which extends only
to the market place, the templeand the Hindi film, must be enlarged.
Weneed new instruments of consciousness raising if women are to
stop seeing themselves as belonging to various families, to various
men, and begin to see other women as sisters - even though notborn
of the same biological parents.