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Women Against Dowry


INSTEAD of the usual three-line item,the newspapers carried a full report:Tarvinder Kaur, 24, of Model Town, Delhi,had died of burns. While she watched TVon the evening of May 17, her mother-in-law poured kerosene on her clothes andher sister-in-law set her afire. Inspite ofTarvinder’s dying statement to this effect,the police registered a case of suicide. Herfather said she had been under constantpressure to get more dowry from herparents so that her husband could expandhis motor spare parts business.

Tarvinder’s mother cried, but not alone.Many women in Delhi cried out with loudvoices against the murder of young Tarvinder. On June 1, a large groupmarched through the streets of the middleclass colony where her in-laws lived. It wasa mixed group - from students andteachers to working women andhousewives of all ages with their children.Shouting angry slogans: “Punish themurderers of Tarvinder”, “Stop burningbrides”, “Women will not put up with anymore atrocities”, “Do not give or takedowry”, they marched to F3/7. the housewhere Tarvinder was burnt to death. Herin-laws, the Anands, stayed behind closeddoors. But as the group approached, anold relative of theirs, seated in thecourtyard, read out verses from the Granth Sahib, trying in vain to outshout the demonstrators.

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 lives’?”

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 kept coming.

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 mouth.”

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 her parents.

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 cases.

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 hope.

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 a cry.”

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.


Designed by: Madhu Purnima Kishwar and Maintained by: Ravinder
Copyright © 2006, Manushi Trust, All Rights Reserved.