Dowry is a Social Evil

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Dowry is a social evil which has affected our society very badly. It has caused too much destruction to the socio-economic structure. The dowry system has given birth too many evils. It will draw many girls to suicide to save their parents from economic drudgery.

In many families, the birth of a daughter was regarded as a curse and there was a case when daughters born in the family were put to death. The boy accepts that girl who belongs to a well-off family, highly educated in service and earns. He also wants a girl whose parents can give much dowry at the time of marriage. The system of dowry in our society is an act of discrimination against unmarried girls whose values are defined based on their respective dowries.

The practice of giving dowry is rampant in our society and has to an immense degree distorted the natural order of things; its unfettered and unregulated growth has led to bringing forth myriad of social ills and abetting of heinous crimes against women. If a woman is not able to accumulate enough dowry, she will not be able to get married which in turn can create various other social evils.

In plain words, dowry is defined as money, goods or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his family in marriage.The rationale behind dowry is to serve as a form of economic and social security for the wife against potential probability of maltreatment by her husband and his family.

In order to exploit the bride and her family, threats of divorce are commonly used in society.These threats are taken very seriously as divorce in traditional and predominantly rural society is deemed as a symbol of mortification. In addition to that, when a bride brings less than the anticipated amount, she has to live through persistent torture from her in-laws. Incidents of degrading treatment and blackmailing of the bride are prevalent, which usually result in recognized psychiatric illnesses and ultimately suicides. In extreme cases wherein the husband or in-laws are not content with the dowry, they may even go to the extent of killing the bride and the most savage form of such kind of dowry abuse is “bride burning”.

Adducing evidence of giving dowry from prophetic practices is a wrong, misconstrued and misplaced notion, absolutely based on misreading of facts and history. In early days of Islam, marriage was a simple phenomenon, without any kind of splendor or flaunt. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The most blessed marriage is one in which the marriage partners place the least burden on each other.” The Prophet (PBUH) only gave his daughter Hazrat Fatima (RA) some gifts when she married Hazrat Ali (RA),which were bought by the money of HazratAli (RA) but there is no recorded evidence of gifts to other daughters on the occasion of their marriages. This argument is further substantiated by the fact that the presents were unpretentious household items e.g., a sheet, water-bag and a pillow.

In fact in Islam, as opposed to dowry, the mehr is a mandatory part of marriage. Quran says “Give women their fariza as a free gift”. Unfortunately, mehr is often erroneously elucidated as dowry although in reality it is a gift of money, possessions or property made by the husband to the wife which becomes her absolute property. When Hazrat Ali (RA) revealed his wish to marry Hazrat Fatima (RA), the Prophet (PBUH) inquired about mehr, to which Ali (RA) replied that he had a horse and a saddle. The Prophet (PBUH) advised him to sell the saddle. He sold the saddle for 480 dirhams and gave all the money to the Prophet (PBUH).

In Pakistan dowry is roofed under The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976. Section 3 of the Act provides that “Neither the aggregate value of the dowry and presents given to the bride by her parents nor the aggregate value of the bridal gifts or of the presents given to the bridegroom shall exceed five thousand rupees.” Section 5 provides that “All property given as dowry or bridal gifts and all property given to the bride as a present shall vest absolutely in the bride and her interest in property however derived shall hereafter not be restrictive, conditional or limited.” Section 6 provides that “The total expenditure on a marriage, excluding the value of dowry, bridal gifts and presents, but including the expenses on mehndi, baarat and valima, incurred by or on behalf of either party to the marriage shall not exceed two thousand and five hundred rupees.”

Mere perusal of aforementioned provisions makes it crystal clear that the Act has become impotent due to its static and rigid nature. The superior courts whilst interpreting the said Act have also failed to interpret it in consonance with rapid socio-economic changes. Due to apathy of lawmakers towards bringing reforms in dowry law, the aforementioned statute only exists in theory, widely overlooked and candidly disregarded.The harsh reality is that it precisely deserves this kind of treatment as it lacks mechanism to take inflation into account, fails to appreciate existence and purchasing power capacity of different income level groups and lacks ability to absorb modern developments. Surprisingly, there is no provision in the statute penalising the detesting act of dowry demanding. As opposed to this, The Dowry Prohibition Act of India 1961 states that anyone demanding dowry may be imprisoned up to five years and fined up to fifteen thousand rupees or both, although this Indian legislation is rarely implemented due to its poor enforcement mechanism.

Desperate effort in Pakistan is required to enact laws penalising the act of demanding dowry. Moreover, existing statute requires pragmatic and practical amendments in line with complex and ever changing socio-economic dynamics. The amounts provided in statute are neither realistic nor rational; at the moment, the statute appears to be a slap in the face of masses. Lawmakers in Pakistan need to assess ground realities before amending, introducing or forming a new law governing dowry.

Every society needs laws because they regulate the behaviour at individual level as well as collective level, and the first and foremost condition regarding laws is their effective, dynamic and flexible character. History of jurisprudence and development of legal thought teaches us that the idea behind existence of any legal structure is offering solutions to everyday crisis, dilemmas and problems that arise. And if the laws promulgated by the state fail to serve their purpose, the whole concept behind existence of the state seems unfounded.

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