My uncle Sadek Ali Pramanik was a quite solvent farmer who had ever lived on an easy street in his life. He had three marriageable daughters whom he married off successfully and found three handsome son-in-laws. However, he had to pay a huge amount of dowry in case of every one of the daughters, every time either by mortgaging a piece of his land or by incurring a heavy amount of debt. By the time he got rid of the burden of marrying his daughters, he was over-burdened with debt, undergoing an acute financial crisis. At one point, he had to mortgage a lion’s share of his land in order to manage the money to pay off his debt. After that, he only had a little portion of debt-free land but that was not sufficient for growing enough crops to cope up with his annual expense.
Since then, entangled in the net of debt and loans obtained from micro-credit banks, Sadek Ali led a very miserable life, a life full of hardship and anxiety. And it took more than a decade for him to clear off all his debt and free his land.
Whenever a marriage ceremony is arranged, the bride and bridegroom may dream of a new conjugal life, the neighbors and relatives may perhaps hope for a great celebration during the wedding ceremony but the guardians of a bride, especially those from financially insolvent families, really get in deep water. Generally the parents consider the event of marring off their daughter as a great success of their life. But at the same, they also anticipate a difficult situation of undergoing a financial crisis.
Now, almost all the people in our country know that giving and taking dowry is an illegal act and a punishable offence. And many of the young generation are raising their voice against this practice. But that does not mean that dowry system has disappeared from our society; in reality, it still continues to dominate the society, however, in a different form or manner.
For example, many people are now obtaining dowry from the daughters’ families in the form of gifts, which are said to have been gifted by the latter according to their own will. If you ask such a young man why he has taken dowry from his father-in-law despite knowing that it is an illegal act, perhaps he will answer in this way to justify his act- “how can I disregard my father-in-law and my new relatives when they are willing to give their daughter and son-in-law some gifts? Why should I dishearten them by refusing gifts?”
Moreover many greedy people tend to demand dowry indirectly, although they do not ask it from the bride’s guardians directly at the time of wedding contact. This has been the new fashion of obtaining dowry. Well, sometimes it may be really true that the bride's guardians want to give their daughter and son-in-law some gifts willingly, which is neither a demand nor an obligation. In fact, there is nothing wrong in this type of giving or taking, nor can it be called something against law. But the deplorable thing is that with the passage of time it has also been turning into a kind of obligation and a well-established custom in many societies. So often, although the groom's side does not ask for such gift explicitly, it is still supposed to be provided by the bride’s side. On the other hand, the girl’s parents sometimes find it obligatory to give such gifts to avoid any kind of infamy. Hence, wise readers may easily comprehend that dowry system has not been eliminated from our society yet; rather it still exists in disguise. And people have just discovered a way of escaping ‘legal nuisance’.
It is to be mentioned here that according to Muslim law, ‘Mahr’ or dower is a sum of money or wealth that becomes payable by the husband to the wife on marriage as a token of respect. It is an obligation imposed by law on the husband as a check on the capricious exercise by the husband of his almost unlimited power to divorce. But when dowry is demanded by the husband, then he is in fact going against this divine law.
In the meantime, the government has passed an Act to prohibit dowry system in our country, amending it several times. According to the Act, giving, taking or demanding dowry is a punishable offence while dowry means ‘any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly’ by any party involved in the marriage. Recently, the Cabinet has approved in theory the draft of “The Dowry Prohibition Act-2017” which incorporates the earlier Dowry Prohibition Act of 1980 and its subsequent amendments. The Act adds that any individual or individuals who will incite any girl to commit suicide over dowry will have to pay the penalty of 14 years' rigorous imprisonment along with fines. In addition, it also has a provision for a life-term of 12 years for hurting a woman because of dowry.
Well, it is not for no weak reasons that our government has passed the law against dowry system and taken many steps in this regard. Actually, dowry system creates so many critical problems in the society. First of all, it creates discrimination between boys and girls, and men and women. In a society in which dowry system exists, a family tends to consider their daughter a burden. Then, a family often has to suffer a financial setback when they marry their daughter off, paying a big amount of dowry. After that, when dowry is demanded from the daughter’s family and they are made bound to pay that, it leads people to look down upon a girl, who are thought to have a lower status in the society than a boy. And this is what also leads to people’s ‘son preference’ tendency. Moreover, owing to dowry system, many parents also develop a notion that spending money on a girl’s education is meaningless; they think they should rather save the money for paying the dowry. Besides, a large number of women in Bangladesh are tortured because of dowry by their husbands and their family members.
In fact, merely escaping the punishment administered by the court does not guarantee that one is just in his act; one also needs to apply his moral judgment. So, a man of integrity should not accept any gift on the occasion of his marriage from the bride’s family with a view to discouraging the practice of dowry system. Despite the fact that there is no legal offence on the part of a man in accepting gifts from his in-laws’ house, a sensible man should express his unwillingness to accept it and voluntarily turn down the offer for the sake of encouraging a new practice in the society.