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Updated on July 1, 2010

When I first read about these types of murders, I could not believe the cruelty involved and the fact that they still are happening in the 21st century. These murders are a symptom of a deeper problem of modern India: that materialism and greed have become so seductive that individuals are willing to kill their own family members. Few teachers and priests speak about these murders, so I felt compelled to do so.

India was a more matriarchial society in ancient times, was over all more prosperous and at the height of its cultural and artistic greatness. The matriarchy is based more on cooperation, equality of the sexes and on the common good. Modern India is more patriarchial and competitive, based more on the British colonial model. Even though it has been independent of British rule since 1947, its leadership has not returned to a more matriarchial system.

In ancient India the dowry system was very pro-woman in that the money or dowry would go to the woman's family as an insurance policy when she married. In modern India the system became corrupted. The woman's family is required to give money, land, consumer goods or property to the groom's family. In poor and lower middle class/caste families, this has bankrupted families. Some of the families simply refused to meet the demands of the groom's family. In the 1960's a law was passed against the modern dowry system, but many families use the corrupt, modern dowry system for marriage.

Three types of dowry deaths are common: 1. torture and bride burning on stoves or through use of kerosene and matches. 2. suicide of the daughter-in-law through use of poison and 3. drowning of the woman in a well by relatives. Often the burning deaths are deemed accidents. Courts rarely find in-laws guility. In 1995 the National Crime Bureau of India reported about 6,000 dowry deaths per year. In 1997 the police reported a 170% rise in dowry deaths. Women's organizations are reporting them more, but its it is also believed the actual number is rising. Himendra Thakur believes the actual number may be more like 25,000 deaths a year because many are not reported to the police or women's organizations.

According to Amanda Hitchcock,"The wife is often seen as a servant, or if she works, a source of support. Some 40 percent of women are married before the legal age of 18. Illiteracy among women is high, in some rural areas up to 63 percent. As a result they are isolated and often in no position to assert themselves...The inability of the bride's family to comply with these (dowry) demands often leads to the daughter-in-law being treated as a pariah and subjected to abuse. In the worst cases, wives are simply killed to make way for a new financial transaction--that is, another marriage." Also common is a higher incidence of abortions based on the sex of the child. Females are considered a burden because of the dowry involved with a female child. The UN Population Fund in 2000 reported a female mortality rate 40% higher for girl babies than for boys.

Lucy Ash, a BBC Crossing Currents reporter, in 2003 reported about a courageous young woman named Nisha Sharma who called the police on her wedding day and "had her groom arrested for demanding cash ($25,000) from her family." Several other brides "followed her and reported their greedy grooms to the police." One of these brides said, "Nisha did a great thing because the dowry system is one of the worst things in our country and it is growing uglier by the day."

Some suggestions on improving the situation were posted by Aisha on her blog on bride burning in February of 2007. One big goal should be the education of women, so that they are financially independent. Victims should be able to file a claim through NGO's. Women's shelters are needed to provide services to help women in these situations. Education in schools and on the governmental level about the situation would be helpful. Media can play a role in showing the violence associated with these murders and promoting awareness of the issue. Amnesty International can publicize these cases to promote awareness.

I think that the development of non-dowry dating/marriage services would also be helpful and the development of a modern social security system is something which could be promoted for the good of all. People are also disconnected with the ancient values of the common good and Vedic philosophy. The values of the Mother Shakti Energy and speaking against greed and cruelty are very much needed in this situation. You hear people speaking against greed and big egos often, but often they do not connect this with real life problems in which people are harmed by greed and big egos. Priests and teachers need to talk about this problem more, too. It is better when women get married when they are older than 18 and are educated beyond high school, so they have independent income. I often hear girls and women complain about their parents forcing them to marry too young before they have additional education. I would also like to refer you to an internet link on a Campaign Against Female Genocide in India concerning dowry murders and female feticide and infanticide. The website is: As more men and women work together, we can start to solve this terrible problem of treating marriage as a financial transaction rather than a commitment based on love, family, similiar interests, values & spirituality. As Krishna says, "Your wife is not a piece of chattel, not a piece of property, but your life's companion." Together--yes we can do it.





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    • radhapriestess profile image

      radhapriestess 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Actually from reading the link my understanding is dowry is really more a social custom, not really based on Hindu texts. In the USA we do have equal inheritance of property for children, but we never really had a strong dowry system here. I think it's because we had a more pioneer type society where men and women worked side by side alot. I think there were European countries who had dowry, though, but not as long as India or Nepal. I do see dowry as a dying system when more women are independent and educated it will probably disappear over time.

    • profile image

      radhapriestess 5 years ago

      Thanks for the information. It is so sad to hear about this happening anywhere. Very tragic thing.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Though the magnitude is less compared to India, dowry murders also happens in Nepal. I have recently published a short newspaper articles on dowry murders in Nepal.