Our society is suffering from many social evils at the moment. The dowry system is prevalent virtually in all parts of India. Dowry has been defined by a young lady as "the price paid by the parents for getting their daughters the post of a daughter-in-law". Parents pay huge sums of money so that their daughters may secure a satisfactory and permanent post. Unfortunately, the whole affair has assured the proportions of a scandal. The groom's parents try to extract the maximum from a matrimonial alliance. They insist on receiving huge amount of cash, luxury items like television sets, VCR's, refrigerators, cars, scooters and in certain cases even houses. Cases of harassment of young brides and bride burning on account of in-adequate dowry have multiplied during the recent years.
Dowry system is deeply ingrained in the social texture of our country. Giving away a daughter in marriage is called 'Kanyadan'. Traditionally, no 'daan' was considered to be valid unless accompanied with 'dakshina'. The dowry was supposed to be the 'dakshina' to validate the 'Kanyadan' Kings used to give even parts of their kingdom in dowry, common people gave a dowry consisting of articles of household utility and some cash. Since a girl enjoyed no right to the parental property, the system carried some kind of a moral justification also.
In modern times, however, dowry is a contemptible social evil. It reduces the sacred institution of marriage to a business transaction. It degrades a young maiden to the level of a saleable commodity. Poor people have to incur heavy debts to provide their daughter with a handsome dowry. This wrecks them financially. Some people resort to unfair means to meet dowry demands, which poses a grave threat to the moral values of the society. The daughters of poor parents consider themselves a burden on their family and they either opt for a life of disgraceful spinsterhood or commit suicide. The dowry system is also an evil since it perpetuates the myth of male superiority. If a bride is harassed for more dowry, it may breed hatred in her mind for her husband and ruin the married life of the couple.
It is very difficult to find a good boy for a girl without paying a high price for the same. Parents of highly educated boys try to demand a large amount of dowry both in cash and in kind. In a way, they fix the rate of dowry according to the education of a boy. In some communities, if the boy is a matriculate, the parents want a dowry of Rs.100,000/- and if he is a post-graduate, they would demand Rs.250,000/- and if he happens to be a doctor or an engineer, price will go up to Rs.500,0000/- or may be more.
Thus, whether a parent can pay or not, it has become a compulsory present at the time of marriage. It has ruined the lives of many a brilliant girls, because their parents could not afford to give sufficient dowry to satisfy their in-laws. Sometimes the girls commit suicide when their in-laws persecute them to bring more and more money from their parents. Sometimes the greedy husbands along with their parents also kill their wives, when they are not given huge dowry. This accounts for the spurt in cases of bride-burning and violence on women.
The supporter of the dowry system give numerous arguments to justify it. According to them, it is a fine method of setting up an establishment for the newly weds. The second argument is that since the bride's parents are quite choosy about the groom's income, his qualifications, this property, why shouldn't the groom get a price for what he has to offer ? They think that marriage is a girls' life insurance and so the dowry is the premium. Thirdly, the supporters of this system argue, a girl carrying with her a respectable dowry feels confident while entering her in-law's house while a girl without dowry feels uneasy and apprehensive.
Social reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries clearly perceived the pernicious effects of the dowry system and assiduously strove for its abolition. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chander Vidya Sagar and Mahatma Gandhi, to name only a few, tried their best to mobilize public opinion against the system. Gandhiji unequivocally expressed his views against dowry when he said "Any Youngman who makes dowry a condition of marriage discredits his education and his country and dishonors womanhood."
From time to time the Government has enacted legislation to extricate the Indian Society from this great social evil. In 1961, it enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act, but the act proved utterly in effective. Instead of showing signs of subsiding, the system took deeper roots, Recently giving or taking of dowry has been made a legally cognizable offence punishable by imprisonment up to two years.
Now there is a great demand by the people that this evil of dowry should be eradicated completely. Many girls and boys are taking pledge that they will not accept dowry at the time of their marriage. Their is no doubt that until and unless the educated youths of the country come forward to abolish this evil from our society nothing tangible can be done to eliminate it once for ever. It is quite heartening to note that during the last few months a strong public opinion has been created against this evil.
In reality a strong propaganda should be started against this evil by all responsible persons in the society. The young men and women should stage demonstrations against those persons who give or take dowry. Of course, the Government should also pass stringent laws against this evil but social evils can only be abolished with the active co-operation of the society.
The youth can definitely play a key role in eradicating this evil practice. Young boys should take a pledge that they will neither demand a dowry nor accept it, and young girls should be resolved not to give their consent to marriage with a boy who demands a dowry. If more and more girls are educated and made economically independent, it will accelerate the process. More love marriages and more inter-caste and inter-provincial marriages should also prove helpful.
One more concrete suggestion, if the Government is really keen on solving this gigantic problem. The Central Government should enact a law by which those young men and girls who enter into 'dowry-less' marriages should get top priority in all government employment. The cases of 'dowry-free’ marriages should make the prominent news-item in the news bulletin. This would encourage the youth to take the lead.