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Dowry seen as a prestige issue: Lindberg

Staff Reporter
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Says violence against women a tragedy of the system

Widening social gaps, disintegration of the joint family system, consumerism, globalisation, and commercialisation of marriage are some of the reasons for the prevalence of dowry system in modern Kerala, Anna Lindberg, director of the Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET) at Lund University has said.

Speaking on the topic ‘Dowry System in Kerala,' Ms. Lindberg said that communities that did not traditionally practise ‘bride price' also practised dowry system today.

The seminar was jointly organised by the Centre for Women's Study, Women's Cell, Sexual Harassment Prevention Cell, and the Women's Forum of the University of Kerala.

“Today dowry system is much disguised in Kerala and dowry is given as ‘gift' to the daughter. The practice is, in fact, is taken for granted today,” she said.

Ms. Lindberg said that the practice of demanding extended dowry had also increased over the years.

She added that women themselves participated in keeping up the dowry system. “Many women I interviewed, who were also employed, said that the husband needed to be compensated for maintaining the family,” she said.

Pointing out that the issue of dowry had many ramifications, Ms. Lindberg said that the biggest tragedy related to dowry was violence against women.

Ms Lindberg, who chronicled around 187 marriages held between 1935 and 1999 and researched on the practice of dowry in erstwhile Travancore, said that traditionally the dowry system was prevalent among the Namboodiri Brahmin and Syrian Christian communities in Kerala.

While among the Namboodiris initially the dowry given by the bride's family was owned by the groom, among Syrian Christians the legal ownership of dowry was for the bride. The Nairs, being a matrilineal caste, did not have the dowry system until the 1920s; nor did lower castes and tribal communities, she said.

“In fact the Pulayar caste association abhorred the practice of dowry a hundred years ago,” Ms. Lindberg said.

She said that the dowry system had a sudden spurt in the 1970s and 1980 when money from the Gulf started coming into the State. The disintegration of joint families and emergence of nuclear families, that vested the responsibility of maintaining families on individuals, also strengthened the dowry system.

“While initially dowry was introduced to encourage young men to marry and to control the sexuality of men and women, today it has become more of a prestige issue for families,” Ms Lindberg said.

She added that dowry was not a private issue in a democratic country like India but a social evil that needed to be addressed appropriately.

Earlier the seminar was inaugurated by Valsalakumari, Land Revenue Commissioner.


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