Dowry Prohibition Officers were appointed to find a solution to dowry-related family feuds through consensus without fracturing marital ties.
In the past 12 years the Ernakulam Regional Dowry Prohibition Officer has received just 79 complaints. The figure pales in comparison to the thousands of petitions filed before family courts and the police year after year.
The office, set up in 2004, received the maximum number of complaints — 24 — in 2009. Seventeen complaints were filed in 2006 and 2008, eight complaints in 2004, four in 2012, three in 2011 and two each in 2005 and 2010.
“On receiving written complaints, we sent notices to both parties concerned. We aim for an amicable settlement through counselling. We cannot act on complaints pending before the police or the family court. Even cases of domestic violence are handled by the women protection officer,” said K.K. Vinayan, Regional Dowry Prohibition Officer, Ernakulam.
The number of cases resolved without severing marital ties is also low as couples settle for separation through the judicial process.
Out of the 33 cases that came before the regional officer between 2009 and 2012, only 10 were resolved. The remaining were taken up in family courts.
The Dowry Prohibition Officer can be approached before the wedding and even before dowry changes hands.
“Written complaints can be filed regarding demand for dowry made by the prospective groom’s family. We will look into the complaint and if found true will submit an inquiry report to the first class judicial magistrate who can pronounce imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months,” said Mr. Vinayan. However, often there is hardly any evidence to prove the complaint.
Despite constant demands, regional dowry officers do not have service providers to support them. Voluntary organisations working for women protection and recognised by the government can function as service providers. They are expected to help dowry prohibition offices function as an alternative redressal system for dowry-related complaints.
Dowry Prohibition Officers were appointed in three regions under the Kerala Dowry Prohibition Rules, 2004, to find a solution to the dowry-related family feuds through consensus without fracturing marital ties. The Ernakulam regional office attends to complaints from Kottayam, Thrissur, and Idukki districts apart from Ernakulam. The office at Thiruvananthapuram caters to Kollam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, and Thiruvananthapuram districts. The office at Kozhikode attends to complaints from Palakkad, Malappuram, Wayanad, Kannur, Kasargod and Kozhikode.
Sources at the Social Justice Department, under which the offices function, attributed the tepid response to the lack of awareness among the public about the existence of such offices. Meagre financial allocation for undertaking awareness campaigns, organised mainly on the occasion of Anti-Dowry Day on November 26, does not help either.