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The Impact of the Dowry System in Christian Communities

Authors: A. Vimal Kumar, MMI, Bala Kiran Vannekuty and Joseph Thambi Gone are second year Licentiate Moral Theology students at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram.

[This is a very short summary of the report of the field study — “The Impact of Dowry System in the Christian Communities in Reference to the States of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu” — that we conducted as part of our Licentiate in Moral Theology at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, Bangalore, India. We interviewed twenty families each in each state; hence a total of sixty families. Through direct personal interviews we had the opportunity to collect the information personally from the sources concerned.]

Dowry, as practised in India, is an amount of money, property, ornaments and other gifts that the family of the bride has to pay on the occasion of the marriage to the bridegroom or his family. Though dowry is prohibited by law in India, it is widely practised. Since most marriages in India are arranged by the families, dowry is decisive in finding a suitable bridegroom. Moreover, in practice, dowry is not a onetime payment, but the husband/his family continues to expect and demand money and other gifts from the wife’s family, the denial of which leads to a lot of tension and violence. Thousands of women are killed in India every year in dowry related violence; many more commit suicide as the torture and harassment become unbearable. Consequences of dowry include female foeticide, discrimination against girls, late marriages for many girls, unsuitable matches for girls, lowering of women’s status, breakdown of marriages, unhappy married life, tension between the families of the husband and wife, increase in immorality, increase in mental diseases, increased rate of suicide and impoverishment in poor and middle class families and so on.

Dowry is widely practised by Christians, though among the Christians of some regions it is not so widespread.

The supporters of the dowry system argue that,

– It is a fine method of setting up an establishment for the newlyweds

– Since the bride’s parents are quite choosy about the groom, he should get a price

– A girl who brings a respectable dowry feels confident while a girl without dowry feels uneasy

– Dowry is nothing but the share due to the daughter

Some of Our Findings

1. Many of those who said that they did not ask for any dowry agreed that they received gifts at the time of marriage, or that the wife brought money and ornaments at the time of marriage.

2. Many said that their parents were responsible for taking dowry. But, many said that they would demand dowry at the time of the marriage of their sons since it is a social custom. Even those who complain about dowry at the time of their daughters’ marriages, demand dowry for their sons’ marriages.

3. In most cases, dowry is not a onetime payment. These continuing demands make the woman feel that she is never a full member of her husband’s family.

4. In our field study, we did not come across dowry deaths, though people narrated to us stories of dowry deaths. However, the evil of dowry cannot be limited to dowry deaths. Several forms of ill-treatment, harassment and humiliation take place for years, violating the dignity of the woman. Even her basic needs of food, clothing and healthcare may be denied as forms of punishment if demands are not met. Her freedom to visit her parents, relatives and friends may be limited as ways of isolating her and torturing her mentally.

5. Dowry continues to be practised in the Christian community. The Church does not seem to give adequate attention to conscientize the community of the malice of dowry. Instead, often we notice some kind of silent acceptance of the system.

6. Though dowry is sometimes justified as the share of the family property due to the girl, often, what is demanded and given is much more than the share. Moreover, no talk on the share of the family property due to the bridegroom takes place at the time of marriage.

7. Though all sections of society suffer from the dowry system, the middle class and the poor suffer the most. Many of them are compelled to sell their property, house, or to take loan on exorbitant interest rates.

Dowry is an outright denial of the Christian ideals of marriage. In the Christian understanding, love is the basis of marriage. But today in the Indian context in the consideration of marriage, often, the first thing which comes into discussion is dowry. Because of dowry, marriage has lost its meaning and it has become merely a business deal. Dowry related violence shows clearly how the dowry system has made marriage devoid of love. Dowry makes meaningless the Christian discourse on marital love.

The dowry system results in the denial of justice to women. Parents feel that the male child is source of income and hence they are ready to spend any amount of money for him. But they feel that investment for the girl child is a burden to the family. From childhood, this causes an unequal treatment of girls.

It is high time that the Church took a stand against the dowry system and conscientize its members of the evils of the dowry system and the havoc it does to the Christian family.