One marries for love, companionship and support, but in Pakistan, one also marries for dowry. Even after years of progress, education and enlightenment, a large faction of our society are involved in this evil. It is often a neglected issue in the face of bigger, more pressing social problems like poverty, inequality, and unemployment, but one cannot run away from this.
Dowry, or jahez, is money or gifts that a girl takes to her in-laws at the time of marriage. It is an exchange of commodities from the bride’s family to the groom’s. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple ritual has some severe and often ulterior implications. Grooms’ families now demand dowry as their right; from gold to car and even property, marrying a daughter has become more of a burden than a relief for the parents. And this does not stop here. If a girl is married with little or no dowry, it becomes a social stigma for the rest of her life. Husband and in-laws insult and torture the girl resulting in instances of divorce, or suicide.
The funny thing is, dowry has roots neither in our religion nor in our culture, yet it is unimaginably rampant. It is not unusual to hear tales of girls being burned, thrown acid on, or even mercilessly murdered – all in the name of dowry. In the midst of this brutality, one is forced to think, is that what our society has come to? Why doesn’t the law take things in its hands? When will the lawmakers and activists stand for the victims of mindless greed for dowry?
Articles like this have been written before, cases of dowry victims have seen the light of day not once but many times, yet there seems to be no progress. It is heart wrenching to imagine just how far all this has come and just how far it will go.
I came across a case of a girl named Shehzadi, a resident of Beharipur, who was poisoned by her husband and in-laws for not bringing sufficient dowry. The neighbours reported that the girl was regularly beaten by her husband named Asadullah and her in-laws because they were not happy with the dowry she brought. They finally killed her by poisoning her and fled the town. An FIR was registered, but the perpetrators could not be brought to justice. This is just one story. There will be thousands of other Shehzadis killed every day in the name of dowry and the number will only multiply unless this evil is addressed.
To that end, certain initiatives have been taken by social activists and lobbyists. For instance, SACHET, Society for the Advancement of Community, Health, Education and Training, is one such organization which actively raises voice against this issue. It works in collaboration with Government of Pakistan as well as other international organizations to counter dowry-related issues. It aims to raise awareness of the problem of dowry and its negative implications on women in particular and the society in general.
Where on one hand such initiatives are worthy of applause, on the other hand creating awareness at grass root level is essential if such programs are to have any impact whatsoever. If you and I don’t understand the underlying complexes that force one to demand dowry and commit atrocities then the issue cannot be entirely eradicated. Just like charity begins at home, humanity needs to be taught at home too. We need to raise children, especially boys, in a way, so they grow to become those who shun rather than embrace the concept of dowry. Similarly, the government needs to address these issues by campaigns targeted at both rural and urban areas to combat dowry. Lawmakers need to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice so that no more innocent lives can be taken away.
In the final note, I would just like to mention that we, as common citizens of the country, need to do whatever we can in our capacities to fight this and any such social issues prevalent in the society. We are privileged than most to have access to education and understanding of what is right and what is wrong.
The least we can do is raise our voices against problems which prevent our country from moving forward. Our past generations had their issues to deal with, and our future generations would have their fair share of issues to address. The social problems prevalent today are ours to fight, and we need to ensure the next generation does not face the problems we are facing today. It is not the right of any to demand dowry and certainly not an obligation for the bride to arrange. With continued efforts and persistent dedication, I hope one day we will eradicate not only the social evil of dowry but other problems that plague our beloved nation.