Lucky Begum (18), of a village in Nilphamari, committed suicide due to the abject poverty of her father. Ill-fated, Lucky remained unmarried due to her father’s inability to pay dowry for her marriage. Whenever any marriage proposal came, prospective grooms demanded dowry, which Lucky’s 50-year-old poor father failed to meet. Being tremendously frustrated, Lucky committed suicide by taking poison (The Daily Star, August 31, 2003). In fact, we cannot imagine reading a newspaper without any news of dowry, torture or death of women because of dowry or for other causes even for a single day! Many types of incidents such as suicide of women/brides, summary divorce, burning wives with fire or acid by their husbands or in-laws are very common in our country.
In Bangladesh 200 women are murdered each year by having sulphuric acid thrown on them, and dowry is one of the main causes. The BNWLA (Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association) mentioned in its report that 203 women were killed (some of them were burnt with fire or acid, some of them were cut into pieces with sharp knives) and 34 tortured for dowry by their husbands and in-laws in the year 2000. Actual data is hard to get because most of the cases of women’s death are not made public for many reasons. Some of the murders are disguised by the husbands and in-laws as suicides and the dead bodies of murdered women are instantly buried. UNICEF described in its 21 studies of violence against women in South Asia that over 70% of wives in Bangladesh reported that their husbands physically abused them. Nearly 50% of all murders of girls/women in Bangladesh can be attributed to domestic violence.
In Dinajpur district, 2,500 marriages ended in divorce in 1999 because of dowry-related feuds. Even an educated girl finds it difficult to get a groom who is as well qualified as she is for the lack of dowry.
“Dowry is really a curse, both in the lives of married and unmarried girls,” says Pushpa (24), an educated, unmarried girl of Manikganj who is also a coordinator of SEBA (a local NGO) and ‘uzzibok’ of the Hunger Project. She added that though poverty is one of the causes of the demand for dowry and non-marriage of girls, the greed for dowry is certainly more dangerous than poverty, and is also observed among some of the rich or so-called educated people. It is a fact that some of the parents/guardians fix a price for their sons/grooms, i.e. how much money they will demand and take as dowry from the families of brides.
Advocate Salma Khan, chairperson of the Coalition and Beijing Plus Five, said the present rate of violence against women is an “outcome of heinous social crime” and criticised the delay in the trials of the criminals. Women’s rights activist Dr. Hamida Hossain says that the criminals are not punished because of political support and protection. Ayesa Khanom, general secretary of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, opined that one of the main reasons for the increase in incidents of killing wives for dowry or violence against women is the criminalization of politics or sheltering of the killers/criminals by the political leaders/parties.
To save the lives of our daughters/sisters, let us take the necessary initiatives:
·Say “NO” to dowry and stop taking or giving it from now on.
·Let us marry without dowry to create examples, make happy families for ourselves as well as our children because they are the future of our nation. Our great Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) discouraged wife-beating for any reason and said, “How do you pass the night with your wife after beating her? Don’t you feel shame for your misconduct or cruelty, which has been done to her by you?”
·Come forward to change the attitudes of taking or giving dowry.
·Start and participate actively in the social revolution to prevent/resist dowry and to stop it permanently. Each of us should be a part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.
·Punish those who demand dowry and give death sentence to the killers of wives/girls/women.
·Eliminate poverty and create employment for unemployed girls/ women and men.
·Stop selling acid publicly and give exemplary punishment to those who throw acid on anyone.
·Educate, empower and make women aware of their human/legal rights.
·Let the law-enforcement authority work independently to prevent violence against girls/women/wives as well as to punish the violators/killers.
·Avoid smoking and taking drugs. Addiction to anything creates misunderstanding, increases demand for money or dowry, rate of violence, breaking up of relationship/divorce, etc.
·Implement and follow actively the CEDAW Convention.
·Emphasize registration of all marriages and prevent early marriage.
·The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and the Ministry of Social Welfare should pay marriage expenses of disabled, poor or destitute women. In this case the recommendations of Union Council Chairmen/ Members, Ward Commissioners will be needed. This would be a milestone in the welfare/rehabilitation of the disabled/destitute women in our country, and also a remarkable help to the parents/guardians who are burdened with the responsibility of departing from very young daughters prematurely. This process should provide the wives a copy of their marriage registration certificate, which will be useful as evidence to show the court if they face any violence for dowry or any other causes.
Parvez Babul is a Columnist; Freelance Journalist based in Bangladesh as well as the Chief Executive of SEBA Manikganj- a non-profit volunteer organization in Bangladesh. He writes regularly on Children’s Rights, Women’s Empowerment, Literacy, Prevention of Children and Women Trafficking, HIV/AIDS etc. both in Bangla and English in National Daily and Weekly newspapers. Mr. Babul believes in treating women as 1st class “human beings,” like men, instead of treating them as 2nd class citizens of any country. Contact him at: parvezbabul.