|Talk 9 of equality !
Nisha Shanna is a reminder of the pathetic status of women in India today
Dowry Deaths Home
Talk 9 of equality !
Two women set ablaze
Dowry harassed woman
Two get life sentence
Woman ends life
Dowry harassment leads..
Dowry victim leaves
Two dowry deaths
SECTION 4 SECTION 5
NISHA SHARMA and Madhumita Shukla - two women who led vastly different lives, and have been in the news for vastly different reasons. Their lives and stories are as different as chalk and cheese, but there lies in their tales, a common bond of exploitative society.
Both lives bring out in stark relief, the value placed on women in today's Indian society, and both prove that education, or urban middle class background make little difference to the low status of women, and the atrocities they face on a daily basis.
Madhumita was a spunky woman who tried to work the status quo to her own advantage. She confronted a patriarchical system by befriending the very brokers of power, and making herself a part of them. She must have slipped up somewhere, whereupon she had to pay for her mistakes with her life. Women who take on the system like Phoolan Devi, or those who try to mould themselves to its demands like Madhurnita, face similar hazards, for retribution from the establishment is swift and merciless.
It is dangerous business being a woman In India today, and the very few exceptions to this rule, only highlight the dire straits of other women. If you survive foeticide, infanticide, lack of education, health, and nutrition, if you survive violence, and economic and political disempowerment, and rise beyond all that to take on the system, then the fate that awaits you could easily be similar to what happened to Phoolan Devi and Madhumita.
Yet, for every Phoolan and Madhumita, there are lakhs of rural women, who lead lives of quiet desperation. Victims of unspeakable violence, cruelty, and exploitation. often being treated worse than animals. The drudgery they are enslaved by throughout their lives is unrewarded, as productive work in the national census.
It was for this very reason that the desperate publicity that followed Nisha Sharma's brave act in exposing her greedy bridegroom to be, left me more uneasy than inspired Nisha has caught the nation's imagination. A young girl living in suburban Delhi, with her middle-class family, Nisha was in happy anticipation of her impending nuptials, when them bridegroom and his family made one demand too many for still more dOwry, virtually minutes before the solemnization of the marriage. Reportedly, the mother-in-law to be, slapped Nisha's father, or perhaps it was the other way around.... the details are not important.
Nisha decided to blow the whistle on her fiance, and call off the wedding. She called the local police station, reported the dowry harassment, and in an incredible display of unusually. first action, the police swooped in and arrested the culprits, namely the erring groom and his mother. In a flash, Nisha became the nation's newest sensation, and the darling of the media. I have been in Delhi, over the last week, and not a day passes without Nisha's smiling picture appearing in all the national dailies, receiving yet another award, or being felicitated for her bravery. Virtually, a photo-op from heaven and smart politicians and professional do-gooders, are wasting no time in scrambling on to Nisha's bandwagon.
Nisha has been receiving flowers, messages, invitations, film offers, and even offers of marriage. She is a brave and intelligent girl, and nobody will begrudge her one second of her fame and popularity. There can be no question that she showed -unusual spirit, for it is rare to find a young Sheltered girl from a middle class background, who is willing to endanger her own marital prospects, by having her bridegroom-to-be arrested. To put it at the very mildest, other middle class mamas-in-law to be will be exceedingly reluctant to let their sons marry a feisty girl like Nisha.This incident is one which is bound to haunt Nisha for the rest of her life, both in terms of celebrityhood, as well as any repercussion it may have on her personal life.
At a macro, and more general level, the story of Nisha is fraught with' implications. Firstly, Nisha's family, and Nisha herself were far from being pioneering crusaders against dowry. They happily shopped for her dowry gifts, and it was only when the demands became untenable, and unrealistic, that Nisha rebelled. Secondly, In making a huge fuss over Nisha, the media, takes the easiest way to better circulation, thereby showing scant regard for thousands of other dowry victims, who actually lose their lives because of the greed of their marital families but escape media srutiny.
Conservative Government estimates, put the annual figure of dowry deaths at around 7,000, but more real istic estimate are that nearly 2.5,000 Indian girls are killed annually in dowry crimes. Politicians, Intellectuals, and society as a whole rarely focus on the issue In a systematic way, culculated to weed out the pernicious practice,preferring instead to limoit themselves to knee jerk responses to media reports. It Is obviously far less troublesome to organise a litt1e function, to felicitate Nisha that to expend a great deal of time and effort, making a deeper study of the matter, and taking steps to address the root cause of the practice of dowry.
Society is quick to piously condemn dowry, but will not ever discuss the issue of equal inheritance rights for girls. The fastest and most effective way to destroy the practice of dowry is to ensure that sons and daughters, inherit family property equally. There is of course the question of those who do not own proper ty in the first place, which is true of the vast majority of the population.
Eminent sociologists like M N Srinivas have discussed this issue, and concluded that among the lower classes, the giving of dowry is a form of sankritisation by which they ape the upper classes, where the practice began in the first place. In this process, the phenomenon of dowry has spread like wildfire among the people who can least afford it The political economy of dowry is an important issue that requires careful examination by leaders and lawmakers.
It is important for us to realise that giving and taking of dowry is not a simple matter of a bridegroom demanding money from the hapless parents of the bride. It is linked to very serious issues relating to the status of women in society, their rights to education, livelihood, and development. And above all their right to equal treatment by society,famlly and state in all aspects of life and living. Dowry can and should be abolished. But the only way to do this is to first address discrimination against the girl child, educate her, allow her to make her choices about employment and her future, and stop treating her as a second class citizen. Only then will parents and in-laws stop regarding women as burdens, and treating them as beasts of burden!