Sixty years after Parliament enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act and 16 years after the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act came into force, dowry deaths continue to proliferate. In fact, India has the highest dowry-related deaths in the world with Uttar Pradesh leading the states, according to the National Crime Record Bureau. NV Ramana, Chief Justice of India, has described dowry deaths as a “pestiferous” crime where women are subjected to cruelty by covetous husbands and in-laws.
The week that has just ended witnessed at least one dowry death a day in Kerala, socially one of the most advanced states in India.
The week began with the tragic death of a 23-year-old final year BAMS student, married to an assistant motor vehicle inspector two months ago. According to the bride’s father, the groom had demanded a plot of land valued at Rs 2 crore, 100 sovereigns and a luxury car to tie the nuptial knot.
He was not satisfied with the Toyota Corolla presented to him.
The woman was reportedly tortured to death within weeks of marriage. A twenty-four-year-old nursing graduate was found burnt to death in the residence of her in-laws in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday night. She was being tormented by her husband for not bringing a dowry of Rs 3 lakh.
On Tuesday a woman who got married to an Uttarakhand government employee on 21 March was found hanging in her husband’s house.
On Wednesday, another woman was found dead in her house in Thiruvananthapuram following an alleged assault by her husband, the son of a late Malayalam film artist. The list is endless.
According to the Kerala State Crime Record Bureau, 65 brides were found dead/murdered under mysterious circumstances during 2020-21. Kerala men set a new trend last May when a 25-year-old was found dead in her marital home. Investigations revealed that her husband got her bitten by a deadly cobra soon after the honeymoon was over to get rid of her.
There are enough laws, women’s commissions and relevant sections in the Indian Penal Code to tackle the menace of ‘pestiferous’ crimes against women, but their implementation is tardy. Women’s commissions prefer to play the role of mediators and try to save marriages, rather than bring culprits to book.
In the case of the BAMS student, parents of the victim had been persuaded to withdraw the police case filed by them. Prof VT Rema, activist and former principal of the Government Arts College, says investigating agencies do not pursue dowry-related deaths with diligence because of lethargy and inherent weaknesses.
The heart-rending events of last week prove beyond doubt that law enforcing agencies must be more vigilant to make Kerala a safer place for women.
Former Chief Minister Oomen Chandy of the United Democratic Front government led by the Congress wanted government employees to sign an affidavit stating that they would neither accept nor give dowry. Any violation should attract instant dismissal from service. Before it could be put into effect, the government changed in Thiruvananthapuram and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front took over with Pinarayi Vijayan as Chief Minister.