‘A Deep Rooted Tradition’: One Man’s Long Struggle to End Illegal Dowry in India | Global development

For more than a decade, Satya Naresh has been trying to persuade Indian men to stop a marriage custom he considers one of the country’s worst social ills.

He wants men to say, “I don’t want a dowry.” The line is the name of the site which he created in 2006 as part of his campaign. Naresh wants Indian men not to expect the money, the motorbike, the couch, the TV, the iPhone, gold jewelry, or the refrigerator that a future bride is supposed to bring.

But, as he marks the site’s 15th anniversary, Naresh concedes he’s still a lonely voice. Despite a modest goal of 100,000 registrations by 2020, it has managed 10,000, in a country of nearly 1.4 billion.

Dowries have been illegal in India for 60 years, but the custom is well established. India records over 8,000 “dowry-related deaths” every year; 20 women die every day by suicide or murder linked to dowry requests. Dowries plunge poor families into debt, and female fetuses are aborted because couples do not want girls.

“Everyone wants money. Everyone takes shortcuts. People are greedy, ”says Naresh. “It is one of India’s most deeply rooted traditions. The traditions of this country go back centuries and it is very difficult to uproot them. The dowry is no different.

Naresh, 50, a web designer from Hyderabad, lives with his parents. Her two older sisters married without a dowry. His awareness of the problem began while he was studying business at university and he saw his friend’s desperation that she would never find a husband because of her parents’ poverty. She later committed suicide. Another friend swore never to marry out of aversion to custom.

At the wedding of another friend, Naresh saw the bride’s family in an anguished group. “At the last minute, the groom asked for an additional 10,000 rupees [£100] as a dowry, or else he would cancel it. The friend’s father did not have it. He had already given so much. My friends and I got together and collected the money and gave it to him and the wedding took place, but I was shocked at how easily my friend’s future could have been destroyed without these 10,000 rupees, ”he said.

Her website also hopes to bring together like-minded people who want to get married without a dowry. He says 50 couples got married after meeting at the site.

Relatives of a bride and groom in a family court in Mumbai. Indian weddings are often spectacular affairs that last for days, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of guests. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP / Getty

Naresh is resolutely optimistic. “Women are better educated than ever, they work, some are independent. Women now have a voice. Some have the confidence to tell their father that if a future husband demands a dowry, they will not marry him. It’s a small start, but it’s something, ”he says.

He wants government action on the issue, highlighting India’s anti-smoking campaign, in which every pack of cigarettes was stamped with a macabre warning, vendors were banned from entering school gates and cinemas were showing. anti-smoking advertisements.

“Have you ever seen an anti-dowry poster somewhere?” ” he asks. In a country the size of India, it is difficult for civil society groups to change attitudes nationwide without government support.

“We have never had a forceful and determined effort to crush the conscience of the people. We haven’t had a single dowry TV series that is watched by the masses. Not a single Bollywood star has been enlisted to hammer the point. There is no point in making dowry illegal without working to make it something Indians are ashamed to accept, ”he said.

The ostentatious nuptials of the rich didn’t help. If the rich were to have smaller weddings without a dowry, it could set a trend, says Naresh, which could make it easier for poorer families to resist the pressure.

A bride performs a ceremony before her wedding in Bhopal.
A bride performs a ceremony before her wedding in Bhopal. Dowries push poorer families into debt, which can escalate with the groom or his family demanding additional payments. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta / EPA

In Kerala, in the space of two days in June, three young women died due to dowry issues – two reportedly committed suicide and one was murdered.

Naresh believes the deaths should spark public outrage. Kerala governor calls on university rectors to force students to pledge not to ask or pay a dowry, or lose their diploma.

“We planted a seed. Give the tree time to grow. In time, I hope that the canopy of this tree will cover all of India and protect all of its young women, ”he says.

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted at 116 123 or by e-mail jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the United States, the National lifeline for suicide prevention is at 800-273-8255 or chat for assistance. You can also send a HOME SMS to 741741 to contact a Crisis Text Line counselor. In Australia, the crisis assistance service Safety rope is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

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