Why do dowry deaths occur?
Why do dowry deaths occur? This was the central point of concern of a sociological study by Nalini Singh based on a survey of the marriages of 38 young women, aged 17-24 years, in each of which the wife died an unnatural death, reportedly due to harassment over dowry. She suggested that it is primarily the societal perception of woman being less productive than man that define woman's place in society. This manifests in what she calls "Zero-political Status", and denial of basic civil rights to them. She observes that dowry is a clear affirmation of the fact that one's gender determines one's worth or significance. Since worth is distributed unequally amongst the sexes at birth, worth-deficiency amongst females can be offset by material additives that is dowry. The roots of this worth deficiency of women are so deep-rooted that even the brides who earn more than their husbands are made to feel an obligation to supply dowry goods and services along after their marriage just as are the women who earn nothing.
The dowry deaths,
therefore, she observes, do not occur because there is a mismatch between
gifts demanded by in-laws and presents received, but because young married
women customarily have no political significance in their new families.
The continuous demand for dowry is but one of the ways in which the deficient
political status is exploited. This deficiency is used to maltreat her
in countless other ways too. Therefore, she says, the term 'dowry-deaths'
is a misnomer because dowry related harassment occurs as part of a larger
mandate to oppress a human with zero-political status. Dowry is hardly
ever the single cause of so called dowry deaths. In other words, even
if demands for dowry were to be satisfied fully, young women would continue
to face torture and harassment in their in-laws homes because of their
custom-sanctioned-inferiority that robs them of their basic human rights.
This resistance proves extremely provocative to authoritarian family members of the husband's family, not so much because of the monetary deprivation, but because of its real potential for destabilizing the power structure which sanctions exploitative behaviour within the family. The young woman's subdued non-cooperation with the demand for extortion of dowry from her parents might not be the solitary issue on which she resists blind authority, but there might be some other issues, which expose her as opinionated, as for instance, the desire to work or study, despite family opposition. All such actions are regarded as signals of disrespect and revolt. When a young woman, who is a political amputee by tradition, resists prestigious traditions such as dowry, she is a logical candidate for retaliation by the in-laws. Dowry death are a manifest example of this retaliation by the flag-bearers of patriarchial authority. In some cases, the retaliatory wrath of the in-laws expresses itself in murders of the young women by burning with kerosene (most frequent in urban areas) or drowning (common in rural areas). Other methods employed to murder include poisoning and physical battery.