Every hour, one woman in India is killed in a dowry-related crime. From 2007 to 2011, the number of women killed in “dowry deaths” rose steadily, statistics from India’s National Crime Records Bureau show:
While in 2007, 8,093 such deaths were reported, the numbers rose to 8,172 and 8,383 in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
In 2010, 8,391 such deaths were reported, according to the NCRB.
Last year, 8,233 women were killed over disputes about dowry payments provided by the bride’s family to the groom or his family.
It is illegal to give or receive a dowry — by definition, a “gift demanded or given as a pre-condition for a marriage” – in India. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, the “request, payment or acceptance” of a dowry “as consideration for the marriage” is prohibited.
As Suman Nalwa, additional deputy commissioner of Delhi Police (Special Unit for Women and Children), says in the India Times, the law contains “certain loopholes and needs to be made stricter.”
Why Are So Many Women Being Killed Over Dowry Disputes?
One Supreme Court lawyer, Kamini Jaiswal, blames the police for failing to conduct the appropriate investigations in the initial stage of a case.
But the police are only part of a broad range of cultural factors that are connected to an increase in violence against women in India. Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights activist, says that the country’s economic boom is behind the increase in the number of deaths from dowry disputes.
Nalwa emphasizes that the killings are occurring at all levels of Indian society and not just among the lower or middle classes:
“Higher socio-economic strata is equally involved in such practices. Even the highly educated class of our society do not say no to dowry. It runs deep into our social system.”
The conviction rate for those charged with crimes is distressingly low. Last year, only 32 percent were convicted.
Rise in Violence Against Women in India
The slight decline in the number of deaths due to dowry disputes from 2011 to 2012 is marginal and “reflects a broader increase in gender violence,” the Telegraph underscores. Cases of cruelty committed by husbands and their relatives rose from 2011 to 2012, from 99,135 to 106,527 last year. Not only are many of these cruelty cases thought to be related to dowry disputes, “many dowry killings are preceded by cruelty by the husband and in-laws,” says the Telegraph.
The report from India’s NCRB has appeared at the same time as there has been rising concern about violence against women after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student last December in the capital of Delhi. This past Saturday, a teenager was found guilty of taking part in the rape; due to his being under 17 at the time, he was given a sentence of three years in a reform facility.
A verdict in the case of the four other men accused of the crime is due on September 10. Expressing frustration at the defense for offering another series of pleas, the judge said that “you’ve delayed this trial far enough.” A fifth defendant, bus driver Ram Singh, was found dead in his cell in March.
In March, India passed a new bill calling for harsher punishments, including the death penalty for rapists. The government has also called a fast-track justice system to convict rapists.
Cultural Factors Must Be Addressed
A woman who had been raped told the BBC that, years afterward, she is still trying to get justice. Clearly there is a need for swifter legal action from what one activist has called a “creaky criminal justice system” to charge and convict those accused of rape. But no politician has yet taken a public stand on broader cultural factors including those of class, education and attitudes towards women.
According to a BBC report, “there is plenty of evidence that India’s wealthier, more educated classes can be just as sexist in their attitudes towards girls and women.” Due to a traditional preference for boys in rural villages and among the middle class in cities, thousands of girls are aborted every year, with medical staff often bribed to reveal a child’s gender. The result is (as in China, where the same preference for male children remains embedded in people’s mindsets) a skewed ration of men to women and a rise in trafficking of girls from rural areas and other countries including Nepal for forced marriage and prostitution.
Shocked at the brutality suffered by the student in December — and amid ongoing reports of rapes throughout India — many have been joining protests. India’s Bollywood film industry is being pressured to “justify songs and movies that portray women as sex objects.” Social worker Uma Subramanian also emphasizes that boys must be taught to “respect women” and control their urges” and of the need not to point fingers but to work collectively because “each one of us is responsible for not speaking out.”
The staggering number of women killed over dowry disputes and abused by their husbands or relatives suggest the extent of violence that women in India face both outside and within their own households.
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