How Dowry Abuse Becomes a Concern for Women’s Mental Health

How Dowry Abuse Becomes a Concern for Women’s Mental Health

Dowry abuse

Dowry has been a very culturally significant practice going on in India from ancient times. It is a practice of giving money, property, or goods in marriage from the bride’s family to groom’s family. In ancient times, dowry was given voluntarily as a token of gratitude towards the groom’s family. With colonialization, this dowry system has taken a nasty turn and led to abuse of the bride and bride’s family by society, the bride’s in-laws, and partner. In 1961, dowry prohibition act was passed by the Indian government, which banned dowry and enforced severe punishment for the offence. However, it is still very much prevalent in India, practiced under the pretense of gifts.

Growth of dowry system:

According to historical texts, dowry evolved in the Vedic period. It was most importantly practiced by the upper castes. It was followed as a benefit to bride who was unable to inherit the property by Hindu law. Due to dowry system, the women could have a share in the father’s property as the dowry would be registered in the bride’s name. This dowry was named ‘stridhan’, to give her an autonomy. While the upper castes practiced dowry, the lower caste practiced bride price to compensate her family for the loss of income. The bride’s price is the amount given by groom’s family to the bride’s family as a compensation.

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In the modern era, dowry has evolved, and bride price has disappeared. This dowry system has become a prevalent form of transfer. It is practiced in mostly every social stratum existing, from rich affluent families to poor village people. Many times, as a part of this mutual give and take, an attempt is made by the groom’s family to dictate the amount and gifts to be given. This puts pressure on the bride’s family and is an actual menace of dowry in today’s time.

What is dowry abuse?

As defined by United Nations Division for Advancement of Women, Dowry abuse is any act of violence and harassment associated with giving or receiving of dowry at any time during, before or after marriage. Failing to provide dowry by the bride’s family leads to extorting, emotional, physical abuse and even deaths (due to suicide or even murders). In 2019, there were more than 7100 deaths reported due to dowry in India. Dowry death is a primary social concern where a bride died by suicide or is killed by their family members due to not meeting their dowry demand. In the 21st century dowry has become a social menace that causes physical, violence, marital conflict, economic and emotional strain to the bride’s parents. According to NCRB, the national crime record bureau, a bride is burned every 90 minutes. (zeb, april 2023).

According to a cross-sectional study conducted to examine the prevalence and risk factors for dowry demand and harassment and its psychosocial correlates across different social structures in India, there were very significant results. Around 9938 women from rural, urban, and urban non-slum sites participated in the survey. The results came as follows, Dowry demand was found to be significantly higher (p<0.001) in the urban non-slum and rural areas (26% and 23% respectively) than in urban slum areas (18%).

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Dowry Dissatisfaction and Harassment:

Overall, 17% of groom’s families were not satisfied with the dowry, this being higher in rural areas (21%) than in urban slum and non-slum areas (about 14% in both). The overall prevalence of dowry harassment among this group of women was 13.3%. Mothers-in-law who had themselves experienced dowry demand were 14 (95% CI 5.0-40.4) and 5 (95% CI 1.3-18.9) times more likely to demand and harass daughters-in-law over dowry, respectively. Another significant risk factor for dowry-related harassment was mother-in law’s status in the family. Interventions related to modifiable risk factors, such as increased social support at the community level, should help reduce dowry harassment. (Visalakshi Jeyaseelan 1, 2015)

When a woman is married, she leaves for the husband’s house. The family entrusts the groom and his family with their daughter and hopes they will take care of her and accept her as their own. But these cases happening against women, are so gut wrenching and disheartening. We cannot even imagine the amount of mental stress and emotional trauma a woman goes through when she faces such kind of abuse from the people she trusted with her life.

Dowry abuse and mental health

Marriage is considered to be a sacred institution signifying a bond pre-emptly made in heaven. In Hindu culture, it is called to be a bond of seven lives, however with prevalence of dowry does it imply seven lives of mental stress and torture? Of course, not every marriage leads to dowry abuse and death but believing the statistics it is a considerable number. Even if it doesn’t lead to death the amount of mental harm dowry abuse does to the victim and their family is incorrigible. Dowry abuse is associated with serious mental health harm and risk to life with reports of patients having post traumatic stress disorder and common mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and suicidality. (manjula o’connor, jan 2022) So, let’s look at how dowry abuse effects mental health of the victim and family:

Stress and anxiety:

The pressure to fulfill dowry demand places immense stress on women, leading to heightened anxiety and fear. The fearful anticipation of dowry related conflicts and repercussions on non-compliance leads to pervasive sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Not only on the woman but also the family experience extreme mental stress. Even before the marriageable age, the family starts to collect money for the dowry. Some families even resist education for girls as they think they would have to pay more for an educated woman. The girls, due to this behavior start to feel as a burden to the family and might develop prolonged anxiousness.

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Depression and low self-esteem:

Feeling like a burden in the pre-marital home and considered as of only materialistic value in the eyes of in-laws and husband, really hampers a woman’s self-esteem. The emotional toll of enduring verbal and emotional abuse coupled with social stigma regarding dowry inadequacies erodes a woman’s self-worth and dignity. There are also feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness leading to depression. Also, the fear of judgement and social stigma, prevents women from seeking help and confiding in others about their experience.

This leads to women feeling abandoned and unsupported in their struggles. Often, this severe emotional abuse generates suicidal intentions in them. Deaths by suicide among women especially married women have been increasing in Indian society. According to an autopsy study conducted, it was found that the highest incident of suicide was found in the age group of 26-32 years, who were homemakers and within seven years of marriage. Reasons for maximum cases were abuse of dowry. (cureus, july,2023)

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder:

The trauma inflicted by dowry abuse can result in long term psychological consequences including post traumatic stress disorder. Women may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories of past abuse leading to heightened anxiety and emotional distress. They may go through persistent blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event. Also the pervasive sense of fear and hypervigilance associated with PTSD impairs women’s ability to cope with daily life and maintain healthy relationships. There has been study conducted which show that show prevalence rate of PTSD among domestic violence survivors is between 31% and 84% compared to about 3.5% of the general population.

It is important for victims of domestic abuse and violence to seek help when they feel ready to do so. Treatment for PTSD and other mental health distress includes medication in the form of SSRIs and trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy like exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Along with medical and therapeutic help, victims need understanding and strong support system to facilitate healing.

Also Read: The Mental Health of Dalit Women’s in India Receives Low Attention.

Dowry and gender inequality:

Dowry abuse is intricately linked to broader issues of gender inequality and patriarchal norms. It reduces women to a secondary gender and a commodity to be taken care of. Societal attitudes that prioritize male heirs and assign financial value to brides continue this cycle of abuse. It puts males at a position of power to exploit women. To address dowry issues, we must challenge the patriarchal gender norms settled in the society and encourage women to assert their rights and agency.

Dowry Abuse through Societal Change:

Dowry abuse remain a pressing issue with severe mental health implications and well-being of women. There have been laws eradicating and punishing the culprit of dowry abuse, but it won’t be helpful until we as a society change. There is an urgent need for collaborative action to address the underlying structural inequalities and cultural norms, which promote gender-based violence. We as a society should foster inclusive societies that value gender equality and respect human dignity. We should actively refuse in indulging in dowry practice and even stand against it.

  • cureus. (july,2023). suicide in married woman. national library of medicine.
  • manjula o’connor, a. l. (jan 2022). the health impacts of dowry abuse on south asian communities in australia. national library of medicine.
  • zeb, d. (april 2023). dowry violence against women in india. international research journal of education and technology.

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