Gender Based Violence

Repercussions of Dowries and Arranged Marriages in India

In India, the caste system, dowries, and arranged marriages are sustaining a hostile environment for women in the country.

Immersing yourself in a culture or population to find out its needs and not imposing your beliefs upon others are lessons that have been vital in my study and practice of public service and public health. As cultures come together and the world grows smaller, this is not the time to abandon tradition, pass judgment, or foster hatred. Throughout history, fear and misunderstanding of differences have cost our world far too much. However, the shrinking of the world has also created an opportunity to investigate the fine line between tradition and injustice. Injustices can be passed on under the guise of tradition, and are costing individuals opportunities, health, and in some cases even their lives. These things need to be talked about.

It is an accepted practice for men of India’s Perna caste to “pimp” their wives as a way to earn income for the family. A detailed article in the Pacific Standard examines the lives of Perna women and includes the following quotes:

“She met her husband on the day of her wedding, becoming his second wife at the age of 17…two years later, his prostitute”.

“I knew it would happen, it’s very normal,” she said. “I do it to earn for my family.”

“It happens to every girl.”

“You get used to it.”

The article also explains why an entire village was absent of women ages 15-45. “They are all in Bombay…” Families are paid, sometimes as little as $50 for their daughters. In Calcutta (also known as Kolkata) and Bombay (also known as Mumbai), the girls are priced according to beauty and age. “Pimps (give) them to brothel managers for “seasoning”—repeated rape—and the girls, many between 9 and 13 years old, (are) then kept in bonded labor, expected to service 10 or more customers a night for an average of $3 each.”

A recent BBC article revealed that women in Kerala, India, are being abandoned by their husbands at an alarming rate. Due to economic hardship in the area, men are getting married, taking their dowries, and moving elsewhere to find work, often times never returning. The women of Kerala, who are told that the most important aspect of their lives is to become a wife, have now lost everything. These women lack opportunity to create a life independent of their husbands, and  are currently facing high rates of depression.

To me, the dowry suggests that women are inferior to men, and it often costs women much more than its monetary worth.

Outright violence such as dowry killings that occur if a man believes he should have been paid a larger dowry, or families being torn apart because of dowry discrepancies, are some of the severe consequences of dowry practice. What I hope to present here, is the problem with a tradition that creates a lack of opportunity and independence for women and sends out the message that prostituting and abandoning your wife is acceptable. This is the underlying dilemma.

Buying and selling of women is a global phenomenon. As we work to eradicate this problem, usually occurring behind closed doors, we must remember that it is also occurring in plain sight. Women are bought and sold in broad day light under the guise of marriage.

Rukshira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap, an organization that creates alternative opportunities for children of sex workers in New Dehli, explains that women in India are in danger from conception to death. “They could be victims of sex-selective abortion, if they are born they may be left out to die, if they survive they’ll get less food than their brothers, be pulled out of school to help with chores at home, be married early, risk death during pregnancy, be sold into prostitution, or die begging as widows.”

A ‘Women in the World’ article outlines inadequacies in current legislation aimed at protecting women in India, and how the caste system is playing a role in its failures.

What will it take to improve the status of women in India? Where should the line be drawn between custom and injustice?

*All images by Liz Fortier. People portrayed in the images are not related to the post.

 

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Category: Gender Based Violence
Tagged with: arranged marriages    caste system    dowry    Family    gender based violence    Gender Equality    India    Kerala    Marriage    mumbai    Pacific Standard    Perna caste    Rights    Women

Liz Fortier

Liz earned a Master’s of Public Health degree from New York University in 2012, during which she researched harm reduction measures for intravenous drug users, and worked for a diabetes prevention research study in East Harlem. Liz traveled to Mexico and South Africa with NYU to understand the approaches taken toward improving community health in those countries. Liz has consistently been invested in the health of marginalized populations and improving access to health care for those living in poverty. As a way to entrench herself in one of the world’s most impoverished cities, Liz volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Liz spent 2013 in South Korea teaching English and investigating gender issues there. She is eager to share what she has learned about health and poverty and how those issues relate to gender equity. Liz lives in Brooklyn, New York. Be inspired to take action toward global gender equity! Follow Liz on Twitter @LizAFort

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  • Great article. There’s certainly a delicate balance between tradition and human rights. A practice does not automatically deserve respect simply because it’s traditional in a certain culture. Too often such ‘traditions’ are used as a smokescreen for human rights abuses.

    • Liz Fortier

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! This issue definitely needs more attention, and I appreciate your contribution to the discussion!

  • Reblogged this on huluneger.

  • across the world, they boast about how technically gifted the indian nation is, and they present the taj mahal and all these places as stand outs in terms of world heritage. i remember a time when it was custom to stone people, torture them, custom, it’s a bit like taking a literal interpretation of something that was practiced many years ago, and pretending it was necessary because it was custom, like keeping women uneducated, i guess this article explains a lot of it. perhaps if this type of behaviour was put up on bill boards in new york and every other capital city of the world, it might have a good affect, and give the issue the pandemic affect, and likewise, out all the other so called customs. no time like the present to do such a thing, ex president clinton or bill gates should be reminded of such abuses, they have the funds to achieve this today

    • I agree! I think some things like stoning are finally getting some attention, and eventually, if we keep working to spread awareness, stoning and other similar “traditions” will be eradicated. It is sad that these issues are not in the forefront of the agenda of those in power. Usually these things persist because the ones who are affected do not have a voice. You’re right that some people do have the resources to target these problems, but in the midst of so many global health challenges we have to work hard to get our issues looked at. That is something we are working on here at Girls’ Globe. Thanks for the great comment!

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  • Brilliant post. Thank you for creating an awareness!!

    • Liz Fortier

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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