Recurring dowry harassment cases are denting Kerala's image as a progressive state | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Recurring dowry harassment cases are denting Kerala's image as a progressive state

May 23, 2024 02:47 AM IST

“The number of dowry harassment cases in the state is rising alarmingly even though the government has opened a 24-hour call centre service for victims”.

Kerala recently reported widespread outrage over a distressing dowry harassment case in Pantheerankavu near Kozhikode in which the husband and his close relatives viciously attacked a newlywed woman six days after the wedding.

Though anti-dowry pledges are mandatory in government offices, schools, colleges, and other socio-cultural establishments across the state, and the government observes every November 26 as dowry prohibition day, dowry deaths are frequently reported from across Kerala. (HT FILE) PREMIUM
Though anti-dowry pledges are mandatory in government offices, schools, colleges, and other socio-cultural establishments across the state, and the government observes every November 26 as dowry prohibition day, dowry deaths are frequently reported from across Kerala. (HT FILE)

An international manhunt has been launched to arrest the husband and primary suspect Rahul P Gopal – who is said to have fled to Germany after the incident became public – after Interpol issued a blue notice to apprehend him. Gopal’s mother and sister will be arrested for their alleged involvement in the reported brutalities, which included the tightening of a leather belt around the woman's neck.

Responding to the case and the outcry over it, the state government declared that it has zero tolerance towards dowry harassment cases, and said it will strictly deal with the perpetrators.

However, women rights activists pointed out that dowry-related crimes are nothing new to Kerala despite its progressive moorings, and that they have existed for a long time as a regressive patriarchal practice despite social reform movements and interventions by the government.

Though anti-dowry pledges are mandatory in government offices, schools, colleges, and other socio-cultural establishments across the state, and the government observes every November 26 as dowry prohibition day, dowry deaths are frequently reported from across Kerala. The deaths challenge the state's glowing credentials, including the country’s best literacy rate, an exemplary sex ratio, and gender parity.

Whenever dowry harassment cases evoke a sensation in Kerala, the state government pledges to enforce the much-hyped dowry prohibition act strictly. Yet, available statistics indicate that the conviction rates in such cases remain abysmal.

The current case

In the Pantheerankavu incident, the victim's father, K Haridas, alleged that the police were lax in registering and probing the case.

He alleged that the police mocked him for blowing' a family matter out of proportion' and helped the accused leave the country and evade arrest.

“I approached the police as I wanted my daughter not to have the fate of Vismaya and Uthara, whose dowry-related murders in the last two years triggered widespread uproar across the state. However, they made fun of me and claimed that the media had fabricated the Vismaya and Uthara cases to create a sensation,” Haridas said.

Activists supporting the family said the police initially charged Rahul under bailable sections but registered a case for attempted murder only after a strong public outcry.

In addition to the police action, the Kerala Women's Commission (KWC) and the State Human Rights Commission are investigating the issue and have sought reports from the investigating agency.

When contacted, Kerala's health minister Veena George, who also handles the women and child development portfolio, said the government has already ensured legal assistance to the victim and directed the relevant department to conduct an investigation into the police’s alleged laxity.

Agreeing that the growing number of assaults on newly married women over dowry is a matter of worry, she said steps were being taken to ensure strong legal action to prevent people from perpetrating such crimes.

The government would soon initiate a mass movement against social evils such as dowry and domestic violence, she said.

The minister expressed concern over the increasing trend of immediate female relatives of the groom abetting and involving themselves in dowry harassment.

Kerala's leader of the opposition, V. D. Satheesan, finds police apathy to be the key reason behind the growing number of dowry-related crimes in the state.

"In all the major cases that surfaced in the last several years, the police remained sided with the accused and only jumped ship after the cases started getting traction on social media and television. The first thing that warrants change is the laxity of the police towards dowry harassment. If someone demands dowry, there should be platforms for the women to lodge complaints and seek legal action easily. There must be special anti-dowry squads in the state police, and special prosecutors must be appointed in district and magistrate courts to ensure speedy convictions in dowry-related cases," he said.

Accepted tradition in society

J. Devika, a scholar and women's rights activist, said that the dowry system is common in Kerala because religious and political leaders patronise social evil.

“Grooms don't think twice about asking for it and will beat their wives, sometimes very badly, if it's not enough. The number of dowry harassment cases in the state is rising alarmingly even though the government has opened a 24-hour call centre service for victims of dowry harassment, domestic violence, and other crimes against women,” she pointed out.

“Kerala has a long, notorious history of dowry that needs to be changed. It's a sign of social standing; the more dowry someone gets, the more important they are in society. Dowry has been against the law in most of the country for over 60 years, but it is still common in progressive Kerala. Even the young generation feels nothing wrong with demanding dowry as it is prevailing as an established custom,” said K. Ajitha of the women's rights group, Anweshi.

Expensive weddings and dowry are a trend

Experts said that the state maintains an unhealthy preoccupation with expensive weddings and ostentatious displays of gold. In the state, dowry continues to be paid directly and covertly, even though a 1961 statute makes giving or receiving dowry illegal. These payments can be in cash, gold, property, or automobiles.

In addition to families belonging to the upper castes of Hinduism, a significant number of Christian and Muslim households give and receive dowry. Many grooms and their families view dowry as a source of pride and an easily gained asset.

According to many researchers, until the early twentieth century, only Nambudhiri Brahmin communities and Syrian Christians practised the custom of dowry.

"An ordinary (economically) lower class marriage in Kerala involves a minimum of 10 sovereigns in dowry. But a very large number of families would have promised 100 to 300 sovereigns. Gold has been an inevitable part of weddings in Kerala. Apart from the ceremonial thaali (a leaf-shaped gold plate), several communities offer gold as the main part of the dowry. Also, gold is the major status symbol in the state, and the bridegroom's family extracts the maximum ornaments at the time of marriage," said Devika.

Recommendations to change the dowry act

Since 2010, the Kerala State Women's Commission has registered about 1,100 cases of harassment linked to dowry. But the real number is probably higher because such cases are often reported as cruelty against women by husbands or in-laws, which is often a cover for those who demand dowry.

On June 24, 2021, the Kerala state women's commission submitted recommendations to the state government on amending dowry-related laws.

The commission wanted an addition to Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, which would restrict wedding 'gifts' given by the parents/guardians to 1 lakh and ten sovereigns and 'other items' not to exceed 25,000. Gifts presented by relatives should not exceed 25,000 in cash or items equivalent in value. The commission also wanted counselling to be made mandatory for the bride and groom at the local body level.

In this regard, it was recommended that the Kerala Registration of Marriages (Common) Rules, 2008, be amended to make counselling mandatory. The recommendations remain on paper.

Get World Cup ready with Crickit! From live scores to match stats, catch all the action here. Explore now!

See more

Get Current Updates on India News, Budget 2024, Kanchanjunga Express Accident LIVE, Weather Today along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, June 17, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On