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Dowry System Definition and Deaths in India

A dowry is defined by as "the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage".

In 1961, India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act which made it illegal to give dowry under civil law. The punishment is up to 5 years for giving or asking for a dowry. But this law is hardly obliged to because women will instead give a "gift" to their husbands as opposed to calling it a dowry. It is all nomenclature.

If you were to ask me about the dowry system as late as last week, I would have said it was a superfluous concept. I am apt as an ABCD, often incorrectly, to assume that all the problems are all delegated to the lower class -- and to think they are not as prevalent as they really are.

Here are only a few of the problems amongst Indians everywhere: drinking, spousal abuse, female infanticide, etc. Or we can extend the list to bride burning, child abuse, molestation, rape. Or even further extend that to racial hate crimes, murder, theft, prostitution, etc.

Out of curiousity, I did a google search of my favourite Indian news source ( for the number of references to each of these issues just to get an idea for how prevalent these things are in the news.

Issue References
Murder 89,700
Molestation 69,900
Rape 41,000
Theft 24,500
Child Abuse 3,120
Alcoholism 1,190
Hate Crime 285
Dowry Death 174
Spousal Abuse 140
Infanticide 124
Bride Burning 30

What jumps out to anyone looking at this table is the number of references to murder, molestation, and rape. The website has a total of 837,000 articles -- meaning 24% of their articles are about these topics. Could these things really be so prevalent?

I first came across an article by the World Prout Assembly in which they discuss data from the National Crime Records Bureau, "a woman is raped every half hour and is killed every 75 minutes". This data comes from 2004 data and was released in January of 2006.

So here's a summary of prevalence of crimes as per their website.

  • Rape occurs every 30 minutes
  • Rape victim is murdered every 75 minutes
  • Murder occurs every 16 minutes
  • Murder attempt every 19 minutes
  • Riot every nine minutes
  • Kidnapping & abduction every 23 minutes
  • Theft every two minutes

If their murder statistics incorporates the murders due to rape... then about one-in-five murders are due to rape. This is easy to determine. If one murder occurs every 16 minutes, then ten murders occur every 160 minutes. During that span, about 2.1 murders due to rape would have taken place. Simply, 21% of murders are due to rape.

But the NCRB has fresh data up to as late as 2007, so let's look at that.

There are 525,600 minutes in a year. So if we use this number, we can determine the prevalence per minute.

Issue References Prevalence
Torture 75,930 once every 7 minutes
Molestation 38,734 once every 14 minutes
Rape 20,737 once every 25 minutes
Kidnapping & Abduction 20,416 once every 26 minutes
Sexual Harassment 10,950 once every 48 minutes
Dowry Death 8,093 once every hour
Dowry Prohibition Act 5,623 once every 1.5 hours
Immoral Traffic 3,568 once every 2 hours
Indecent Representation of Women 1,562 once every 5.5 hours
Importation of Girls 61 one every 6 days

I was already aware of the prevalence of rape and molestation. I just did not realize how bad it was. But the statistic that jumps out the most to me is the fact that for every 2.5 rapes, there is one dowry death!

But on, there were only 174 articles on dowry deaths yet there were 41,000 articles on rape. If they were to be in the same proportion, there would have been about 16,400 articles on dowry deaths -- 94 times more!

I will admit that the numbers are a bit inflated in favor of "rape" because has expanded into a news source for the whole world, including the USA so some of these articles are counting the instances that occur all over the world. Nevertheless, the fact that there are 94 times fewer articles on "dowry deaths" in proportion to how prevalent it is shows that there is something fishy going on.

It gets worse.

According to India-Today, the Institute of Development and Communication (IDC), a Chandigarh-based policy think-tank says "for every reported case, 299 go unregistered...and of those reported only 5 per cent, say sociologists, are legally pursued".

To accurately combine those figures, we have to make sure that the NCRB and IDC are talking about the same thing. For example, we would have to understand what the IDC means with their data. Do they mean deaths?

Here is the quote from India-Today, "in 1995, although 59 cases were reported, a staggering 17,649 cases of dowry harassment were not".

They are referring to dowry harassments not dowry deaths.

So if we put the NCRB and IDC numbers together, we basically have this conclusion:

  • there are 2.4 million dowry harassment cases per year
  • only about 400 of those are legally pursued

The IDC also may be getting the "299 out of 300" figure from a small sample size i.e. a town or a state. So this does not necessarily mean the entire country has an equal harassment but we will combine these issues for simplicity sake. And because it is an estimation -- by nature it contains some margin of error as well.

Nevertheless, I am appalled that India can have as many as 2.4 million dowry harassment cases per year!

And according to the New York Times, things are getting worse. One would think that as India westernizes, dowry demands would die out but it is not according to Kiran Walia, the Delhi Commission for Women. "There has been a rise in the materialistic way of life across India and dowry demands have risen to become more extravagant in line with these materialistic needs", Walia says.

The consumerism culture that is taking hold of India has made the demands for dowries bigger and better.

"Everyone is becoming more and more westernized - they want expensive clothes, they want the consumer objects which are constantly advertised on television. A dowry is seen as an easy way to get them," said Varsha Jha, an official with the Delhi Commission for Women.

Are NRIs As Bad? Fiji

Fiji has 350,000 Indians. For there to be as many dowry harassments in Fiji as there are in India by proportion, there would have to be:

  1. 763 dowry harassment cases per year
  2. 2.5 dowry deaths per year

Even half that number is despicable, or even a third, or a fourth, or a fifth. Even one instance is bad.

Substantiating the claim that bride burning and dowry deaths occur in Fiji is a report by the US Department of State, they stated:

"there have been a number of deaths of Indo-Fijian women that appeared to be bride burnings. (Bride burning is an attack on a wife by members of the groom's family dissatisfied with dowry payments. These attacks are often staged as kitchen accidents or suicides and result in the fatal burning of a victim.) Police investigations concluded that the victims had committed suicide, burning themselves so severely as to cause death. However, the women's rights community asserted that these deaths were bride burnings." quantifies this number by saying "there have been approximately 30 ’suicides’ by Indo-Fijian women that appeared to have been bride burning" but they fail to give specific dates and rates.

But if they measured these suicides over a 12 year span, it would equal the dowry death rate of India. Even if it was measured over a 30 year span, it would still be 40% of India's death rate.

So it can be concluded based on the US State Department that dowry crimes against women are a problem even among Fiji Indians.

We reported there being 25 Million non-resident Indians living abroad, could the same affliction be among those groups as well?

Are NRIs As Bad? South Africa

There are approximately 1.3 million Indians in South Africa. For there to be as many dowry harassments in South Africa as there are in India by proportion, there would have to be:

  1. 2,834 dowry harassment cases per year
  2. 9.3 dowry deaths per year

I was unable to find much information on the prevalence of dowries amongst Indians in South Africa but Werner Menski who wrote a book entitled "South Asians and the Dowry Problem" may explain why. He wrote a chapter specifically discussing why South Africa does not have the dowry system.

His argument is that the Indians that emigrated to South Africa did not practice and spread the dowry system.

Here are some quotes from Page 69-71 of his book.

"those who migrated... were mostly agricultural workers, uprooted peasant farmers and artisans. Could dowry have been practised to any significant extent in the Indian communities that were plagued by such poverty? It is difficult to imagine that they brought along with them a tradition of dowry practice, given the poverty in the areas from which they emigrated. Even today in India, the problem of dowry is more a middle-class malaise."

"One major reason why dowry does not prevail among South African Indians was the gender distribution among indentured labourers... From 1860 to 1866, of the total of 6,446 arrivals, 4,552 were male, 1,846 were female and 48 unknown. For the period 1860-1902, of the total of 95,382 newcomers, 61,473 were male, 26,804 female and 7,105 unknown ... With a ratio of seven men to three women, there could be little scope for the practice of dowry, since it was not the bridegrooms who were in demand.

When others analyzed the reasons for deaths among women in South Africa, dowry was not listed as a cause of such abuse by Padayachee and Singh (1995) nor Bhana (1990) as per his book.

Fiji vs South Africa

I am torn now. The reasons Menski gives for South Africa not having the dowry system could be applied to Fiji as well -- even Trinidad, Mauritius, and British Guyana. So if it applies to Fiji, how could it be that dowry is an issue in Fiji but not South Africa.

Not quite sure. But there could be something to do with the influx of new expatriates from India. I read a comment posted on one of the websites as I was doing my research -- the lady stated that Dowry was an issue in Fiji but only among the new Indian immigrants. At the time of reading it I paid it no mind as I do most "facts" / "opinions" written on blogs but perhaps it holds some bearing.

New NRIs would be of middle class stature. And since Menski believes the Dowry system is a problem of the middle class.


As stated as such, the catastrophic murders / suicides as a result of the dowry system is something that is being swept under the rug and it is important for us to bring it out to the forefront and discuss it openly.



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