When it comes to bringing about social reform, in many cases change has to come from the top. This happened when India became independent, with the country’s highest legislature ecting many laws to combat social ills. But the evil of harassment and murder for dowry continues, becoming even more virulent with a consumerist lifestyle. So the recent act by Delhi legislators needs to be welcomed. In a resolution passed in the Delhi Assembly, the MLAs vowed not to give or take dowry for wedding of their children and relatives, as well as to stay away from any marriage in which dowry has been exchanged. The House resolution stressed upon the need for public representatives to motivate, encourage and support those who want to promote dowry-free marriages. Surely, this Assembly gesture will contribute towards building up social perception against dowry. In the last three years, as many as 24,771 women have been killed across the country for dowry; 3.48 lakh dowry cases have been registered. The highest number of dowry deaths were reported from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; while the highest number of complaints against husband and his relatives for cruelty were lodged in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. These are data given out recently by the tiol Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), so the actual figures will be much more. There is now a serious complaint that the law against dowry harassment has been made less severe while trying to prevent its misuse. The police in all states have been directed not to ‘automatically’ arrest the accused. Since FIR and arrest provisions are no longer mandatory, married women are being compelled to settle their cases under police mediation. Mostly, they have to compromise as their bargaining position is weak — they face social pressure, worry over shelter and security, bear the responsibility of young children while lacking fincial independence. The Supreme Court has recently agreed to go into the matter of framing a uniform policy to regulate legal procedure in dowry cases. The apex court will also examine the demand to make the police record reasons for not arresting the husband and in-laws against whom serious charges of cruelty and assault have been lodged. Making the anti-dowry harassment law effective while guarding against its misuse is therefore a serious issue before the court. In most Northeastern states, dowry is not a problem. Assam is an exception however, with senior minister Rockybul Hussain revealing in the Assembly last March that 205 women in the State were put to death last year due to dowry demands.
food for thought