The Actual History of Dowry System in India : Why did such an evil-practice ever come into existence?

According to Wikipedia, the dowry system in India refers to “the durable goods, cash, and real or movable property that the bride’s family gives to the bridegroom, his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage.” Inspite of this practice being so obsolete, regressive and a significant reason for a higher crime rate in today’s times, people in many parts of India are still following this evil-practice in the name of society. Somehow, I have always strongly believed that the history of our culture-rich country has been distorted time and again to suit personal needs, which has resulted in baseless practices like dowry, being followed till today.

Dowry has become a social menace in modern India leading to oppression on women, often causing a financial and emotional stress on the parents of the bride, marital conflict, fake dowry harassments and so on. The irony is that this  practice exists even today in the Indian society even though it is a criminal offence to take dowry during marriage. So shallow is the state of affairs these days that people are actually following a regressive practice sincerely, without even having an idea about the origin of dowry system in India!

That brings me to some important and basic questions – 

What is the real history of this social menace called ‘Dowry’? What can be the reason for the hypocrisy of Indian society – where a Goddess is considered as most powerful, but the society is oppressive of its women?

Initial format of Dowry in India

Yes, the system of Dowry existed in India even before the British Rule, but NOT in the format that is prevalent in the society today. The history of dowry in India dates back to the Vedic period, when it was essentially followed by the upper castes as a means of benefit for the bride, who was not eligible to inherit property under erstwhile Hindu law. In the pre-colonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women and for women, to enable them to establish their status and have recourse in an emergency. In this ancient system of dowry, the parents of the bride gave wealth to her in the form of valuable gifts during the marriage. The MOST SIGNIFICANT aspect to be noted here is that, the valuables or the wealth was given to the bride, and NOT to the groom or his family. In other words, the dowry wealth continued to be owned by the wife and not by the husband or his family. This served as a required tool of financial independence for women even after marriage.

It feels so embarrassing to accept the fact that our ancestors had a much better quality of thinking and practical approach to life than us today. Instead, with our sickening mentality, we call ourselves ‘evolved and progressed’!!

The turning point where Dowry became a Social Menace

Earlier, dowry was nowhere described as the prerogative of the groom to make demands on the girl’s family. The move which affected the status of the women in the Indian society was the rule imposed by the British which prohibited the women from owning any property at all. The British at that time had not granted their own women property rights, so it was highly unlikely they would do so for Indian women. This meant that all the wealth that a woman got from her parents would be owned by her husband instead. As soon as this system of husband owning the wealth of his wife was created, the traditional dowry system got converted into a social menace. The greed that kicked in created a system where husband and his family started looking at the incoming bride as a source of property and wealth and subsequently, started demanding more dowry from the bride and her parents.

Post Independence, India gave equal legal status to daughters and sons among Hindu, Sikh and Jain families, under the Hindu Succession Act in 1956. This should have ideally resolved the conflict of inheritance and hence, completely eradicated the system of dowry in the nation back then. On the contrary, dowry is prevalent even today, more as a demand by the bridegroom’s family to appease societal masses and needs to be fulfilled under any circumstance.

Hats off to our ignorance!!

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Shwetank Gupta April 14, 2018 at 11:38 am

This practice is still prevailing in many parts of India;It should be condemned by us.

Santwona Patnaik April 15, 2018 at 3:24 am

Totally! I have seen people practising this till today, citing that ‘it is a part of our customs’. Hats off to their regressive thinking! I have done my part so far, by condemning this vocally wherever possible. I’m so lucky that I was brought up in a healthy environment and even my parents strictly condemn this so-called ‘custom’!

Shweta Agrawal April 14, 2018 at 4:46 pm

Dowry system is like a termite to the society. Marriage is a beautiful relation between two individuals. This system made hell to the many families.

Santwona Patnaik April 15, 2018 at 3:19 am

So true, Shweta! The irony is it started off as something different. I feel so enlightened now, after researching for this article.

Munendra Rathore May 31, 2018 at 7:42 pm

Nice article

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