India is the “most dangerous country in the world in which to be a girl”. This is stated in a controversial United Nations finding based on a range of distressing social statistics rooted in gender and caste prejudice, much of which can be traced back to 18th century colonialism and the destructive “divide and rule’ methodology employed by the British.
Throughout the country, and up and down the class-caste ladder, the joy of parenthood is conditioned by the gender of the child. If a boy is born, delight among the family; if it’s a girl, anxiety and disappointment. The sole reason for this is economic: when girls marry (around 70 per cent of marriages are still arranged in India), the family of the bride is expected to pay a sum of money to the groom’s family – whether they can afford it or
This is the infamous dowry system, a corrupted illegal method of financial exploitation and violence which, like much else in this extraordinary country, is sanctified by the waters of tradition and culture (a manipulated term often employed to maintain prejudicial social conditioning and resist change), which was banned by the Indian government in 1961. And yet, like so many liberal legislative statements of intent, the system continues unabated.
The Dowry Prohibition Act which makes clear that anyone giving or receiving a dowry faces five years in prison and a hefty fine, remains unenforced. In 1986 an amendment was added stating that any death of or violence to a wife within the first seven years of marriage would be treated as dowry violence. Indifference, apathy and corruption dog all areas of the many and varied government departments and offices; people have no faith in the police or the judicial system, resulting in the vast majority of dowry crimes, as with all crimes against women, going unreported.