Dowry system: A social evil in Pakistani society
I am teaching a graduate level course on Gender and Public Policy at Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi where students are engaged to explore local societal issues, identify the root causes of these issues and propose policy recommendations so as to make the course pragmatic.
One such identified societal issue is the ‘Dowry System’. I believe, the prevailing dowry system is a curse for the society and I am forced to write about this evil system in general and particularly to uncover the societal response and policy directions for its elimination.
This dowry system has been prevailing since ancient times when girls were not socially entitled to inherit any property.
To compensate them, girls were usually provided some gifts in cash or in-kind by their parents; such practices constitute the dowry system.
As such, the system was aimed to ensure some sort of financial security to a newly married bride.
The system initially was not having any sort of bindings, however, in contemporary times it has emerged into a socially acceptable form wherein parents are morally obliged to give dowry.
When a girl does not bring the dowry as per the expectations of her in-laws, she faces multiple issues.
She may be considered as an inferior and down not only in the eyes of in-laws but also the society may not feel charming on her.
It is reported that cases of marital conflicts and domestic violence are linked with the dowry.
When the demands are not met from the bride’s side, the girls are tortured and humiliated by their husbands and in-laws in such a way that sometimes even leads to death.
It brings the bridegroom and his family at the level of beggars and exploiters whereas the bride’s parents or family to that of helpless victims.
Likewise, thousands of cases of divorce are evident due to this disgusting malady and many girls remain unmarried due to their parents’ inability to arrange dowry.
Thousands of girls who have grown old and they cannot get married because their parents cannot afford dowry and nobody is willing to marry them.
They keep on waiting that, somebody would come and marry them without any demand of dowry, which appears a dream in most of the cases.
Sometimes poor parents wait for any miracle to happen if someone may come to provide dowry for their daughter but still there is no certainty even in this situation.
Despite knowing that this is not a legitimate or acceptable practice but shockingly it still exists in our society.
The parents/family of the groom or the society at large tries to justify dowry on the false assumptions that the newly married couple should be given dowry to set up a new home and to begin a new venture.
However, people at large are familiar with the social evils of this system but they are practically unable to contain it.
Many people remain silent on the dowry when their sons are getting married but they are against and show their displeasure against the dowry when it comes to the case of their own daughters to marry.
We must come out of such hypocritical phenomenon which is weakening the foundation of Islamic culture in our society.
Unlike other cultures, Islam commands the opposite, i.e. the girl should receive the dowry from the husband.
In Islam, this dowry is known as Mahr or Sadaq. It is the mandatory marriage gift to be presented by the husband to his wife at the wedding.
Allah Subh’anahuwata’ala commands the men: “And give the women (upon marriage) their dowry as a free gift.” ~ Quran (s.An Nisa : 4).
The Last Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said that the best nikah is the one in which the least amount has been spent.
This disgraceful system of the dowry is not only strongly discouraged by Islam but it is not acceptable even in any civilized society.
It is, therefore, needed to produce effective response to counter this social challenge. People may recognize that this is a societal challenge but practical steps are yet to be taken for its elimination.
There is a need to devise meaningful and effective social measures. Those who can afford to give the dowry should be the ones to oppose it and explain to the family of the groom that dowry is not an Islamic tradition and it has no space in our society.
If, in every wedding, the families tried to do a little less than what their friends and relatives did, these wasteful customs could be contained to eventually die out.
All efforts should be made to create an effective public opinion against the dowry system that is an immoral system and must be condemned at every level of the society.
Civil society organizations, institutions and social leaders, religious personalities and elders in the communities should come forward against this evil.
Massive level awareness campaigns should also be launched at gross root levels, especially in villages and far-flung areas of the country so that the public can be educated about the cruelties of the dowry system.
Moreover, the laws against dowry must be enacted and should be and must be fool-proofed so that the offenders may not get off scot-free.
The fight must be fought both on the levels of law and society in order to do away with it for good.
The young population must be actively engaged to mitigate the dowry culture from our society.
The young boys should also be made aware of the evils of the dowry system. They must be educated in the way so that they should reject their parents/family plea of seeking the dowry.
The youngsters can play a key role to eradicate this pathetic system.
Media must highlight where youngsters are opposing the dowry and not accepting it for the encouragement of others to follow the same.
Likewise, girls can also play their role in curbing the dowry system.In this whole episode, girls are the real victims.
They should come forward and play their role to contain this social evil. They should never let themselves be taken for granted.
Girls should refuse to marry when the dowry is demanded by the boy or his parents/family. They should revolt and expose such anti-social elements.
There must be active campaigns of girls to oppose the dowry system. It is a matter of high concern and extreme shame to all of us that mostly marriages are being settled on the basis of the value of dowry.
It is high time that the evils of dowry should be recognized across the society and practical steps should be taken for its complete elimination.
Let us stop it before it becomes more painful and damage the roots and sanctity of our society with the ever-increasing demands of greedy and evil-minded people. Let us become an agent to eradicate this social evil forever.
—The writer is working as Assistant Professor at the Department of Public Administration, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.