Present dowry system is a British version of socio economic changes !!

Posted: November 4, 2012 in Children and Child Rights, Education, Geopolitics, Politics, Youths and Nation

Did you know that the dowry system is a result of the socio economic changes brought about by the British? This article is based on the book ‘Dowry Murder, The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime’ By Veena Talwar Oldenburg. To know how the British did so in brief read author’s interview or to understand in detail read excerpts from the book. Interview with Veena Talwar in Times of India, Mumbai as appeared on 31/1/03.

Q. “You blame the British for the accentuation of the dowry problem.
A. Prior to the arrival of the British in India, land was not seen as a commodity which could be
bought and sold. Notionally, the land belonged to the king and no one could be evicted from it. Kings showed concern for the peasantry and, when required, were prepared to live more frugally. Ranjit Singh, for instance, waived tax
collections for a year, to compensate for lack of rains. The produce of the land was meanwhile shared by all the villagers. Putting landed property exclusively in male hands, and holding the latter responsible for the payment of revenue had the effect of making the
Indian male the dominant legal subject. The British further made the peasants pay revenue twice a year on a fixed date. Inability to pay would result in the land being auctioned off by the government. As a result, peasant were forced, during a bad year, to use their land as collateral to borrow from the moneylender, in order to pay taxes. Chronic indebtedness, instance, became the fate of a large number of peasants who possessed smallholding in Punjab. The British resolve to rationalize and modernize the revenue was particularly hard on women. From being co-partners in pre-colonial landholding arrangement, they found themselves denied all access to economic resources, turning them into dependents. In the event they faced marital problems, they were left with no legal
entitlements whatsoever.
Q. Basically what you are saying is that the entire economy became ‘masculine’.
A. Precisely. This was one of the key factors that made male children more desirable. Also, the increasing recruitment of Punjabi peasants into the army saw more and more families practice selective female infanticide. The newly enhanced worth of sons saw families demand cash, jewellery or expensive consumer durables at the time of marriage. The situation has steadily
worsened since then but rather than calling it ‘dowry problem’, we should call it the problem of
paying,’ groom price’. The pre-colonial logic for female infanticide was unwittingly strengthened by imperial and land-
ownership policies even though the British outlawed the practice in 1870. The British charged heavy fines and apprehended and
imprisoned culprits perpetuating such a crime. They did not however think it worth their while to examine the social effects of their own methods of governance that led to an intensification of these problems.
Q. Are you trying to say there was no practice of dowry before the British arrived in India?
A. No, I am not saying that, Dowry, or dahej as it is called in Hindi, has today become a convenient peg on which to hang all explanations about discrimination against women. But in its origins dowry was one of the few indigenous, women- centered institutions in an overwhelmingly patriarchal and agrarian society. Historically, it was an index of the ‘appreciation’ bestowed upon a daughter in her natal village, and not a groom’s prerogative to make demands on the girl’s family. The dowry-infanticide blight was used to justify the annexation of India. Colonialism, it was claimed was a civilizing mission.
Q. How did the codification of customary law affect women?
A. The problem of women worsened following the British decision to codify all customary law. A key word like ‘local’ which meant village in customary law, came to be transformed to mean ‘caste’ or ‘tribe.’ This shift in terminology had implications for women, since they were now seen to belong to patriarchal lineage rather than localities. The whole attempt was to translate social and customary practice, which was flexible, into legal codes from which women were excluded. Even more significant was the act that colonial
administration replaced the indigenous version of democracy in which villagers had representatives with mechanisms of direct
control. The British courts replaced the authority of the village panchayat with the patwari-the man who kept village records-by making him a paid employee of the state. This conferred enormous powers on someone who was earlier seen as a servant of the farmers.
Q. Why has modern, independent India failed to get rid of the problem of dowry?
A. We haven’t realised that making a dowry demand is a cultural oxymoron that bears no resemblance to the historical meaning and
practice of this institution. Dowry demand must be tread on a par with crimes such as blackmail, extortion or insurance fraud. Instead, they are put in the straitjacket of a dowry case. No wonder the law takes no note of the pain and psychological trauma that a woman suffers in a failed marriage. In other words, we will not be in a position to address the problem of dowry
unless the state begins to take a wholly different view of it”.



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