Dowry given as ‘gift’ and ‘will’ in Kerala, 212 lives lost in 13 years
Asha Unnithan also proposes a prenuptial agreement between the bride and groom on the lines of laws in foreign countries.
KOZHIKODE: Everyone knows that dowry is prevalent in the state but, legally, nothing can be done as the menace takes place in the form of gift and will. Though dowry has been banned since 1961 through the Kerala Dowry Prohibition Act, only a negligible number of people come forward to complain. “We have almost nil dowry-related complaint. If any complaint is filed and we start an inquiry, we learn later that it has been settled between the couple’s families,” says Women and Child Development (WCD) Department Director T V Anupama.
While preparing the Domestic Incident Report (DIR) during the domestic violence case, there is a column to be filled by the district women protection officer (WPO) with regard to dowry. But most often, the complainant would answer that her parents hadn’t given dowry but only gold ornaments and cash as “gift” during the marriage. “Hence, we cannot fill that column, resulting in dropping of the charge under the dowry prohibition Act,” said a WPO in North Kerala.
Officers say that besides dowry cases being largely settled between the families, the police also encourage them to go for a settlement. “We are helpless. Most of the complainants and their parents will demand settlement, rather than proceeding with the case. The girls’ parents are afraid of the social taboo when a daughter who is married stays with them for long. We cannot proceed with a case without the petitioner’s consent. But the police can take action lawfully but they don’t,” says a WPO from South Kerala, who requested anonymity.
Asha Unnithan, activist and lawyer practising in the High Court, says the consumerist culture is the basis of dowry in a social perspective. “Giving a huge quantity of gold as a parameter of social status is the theory proposed by the market. We bought that theory,” she says. She points to how parents bypass the succession laws by preparing a will that states that all their assets would go to the son(s), which has been duly agreed to by the daughter. “Such parents might have given all the gold and cash to the daughter as dowry during her marriage. Hence, she has no right to the parents’ immovable property thereafter. The practice of giving dowry will end only if it is ensured that all assets of the parents are divided equally among the children,” she says.
Asha Unnithan also proposes a prenuptial agreement between the bride and groom on the lines of laws in foreign countries.Though the women and child development department has no data on dowry cases or deaths, Kerala Police have recorded 212 dowry deaths in the last 13 years. The WCD department’s proposal to amend a rule empowering the district women and child development officer as the dowry prohibition officer is awaiting the law department’s nod. “As per the proposal, the WCD officer will be the dowry prohibition officer in each district and the WPO should be the inquiry officer,” said a source.