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Needed — law against dowry

Dowry-related violence that was defined by the UN in 2009 as “any act of violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after the marriage,” gets, regularly confused with and eventually covered in domestic violence. It is indeed, unquestionably different from the former in that the husband may not be the only perpetrator of dowry-related violence or death. In-laws, former spouses, or fiancés may also execute dowry-related violence. The traditional demonstration of dowry-related violence is battering, acid throwing, nose-chopping, amputation of limbs and bride burning. The social pressure, economic abuse, psychological quandary and broad compromises on the rights of women and her personal and familial resources, structure, partially concealed and revealed viciousness.

In Pakistan, where sex-selective (usually backstreet) abortion is also opted because sons are considered assets and daughters liability and the bearer of heavy honours, the institutionalisation and internalisation of dowry assigns a diminutive footing to the girls right from the prenatal stage. The tribal custom, vulvar (bride-price) where observed, too is harmful. It not only belittles the position of the women but leaves many young men unable to get married at the right age and/or with the woman they desire.

Some relatively pro-women laws especially in Punjab are among the new and positive political realities of our turbulent homeland. However, there is no dowry violence-specific law as yet. The existing Restriction Act 1976 about bridal gifts and dowry restriction is not only unsatisfactory but also impractical. In a society where surreptitious wealth is almost a norm and tax payers are too few, imposing a ceiling, on marriage expenses, dowry and or gifts make this law (that like any other law cannot be automatically effective) even more challenging to implement. The bridal gifts and dowry must be seen and treated differently.

In the past 10 years, some pathetic attempts to upgrade the legislation about dowry in different legislative assemblies of Pakistan, remained futile and relatively unobserved even by the media that we call ‘free and fair’. The reasons for the absence of a tough and acclaimed anti-dowry law could be attributed to an elite patriarchal harmony and an organised protection of corporate interests. Some evidence of this attribution comes from pre-determined donor agendas, prevailing culture of pretention and greed, glorification of the vulgar display of wealth and power in our daily lives, festivities and even mourning, promotion of extravagant weddings through morning shows and insensate advertisement on TV channels. Therefore, the research-based advocacy, informed activism and lobbying for strategies to address the issue of dowry (an apparently benign and beautiful tradition but actually a form of human rights violation and gender violence against women, men and families), often gets elapsed or eclipsed in mainstream initiatives on gender equality, feminism, women and human rights in Pakistan.

The Restriction Act 1976 about bridal gifts and dowry restriction is not only unsatisfactory but also impractical. In a society where surreptitious wealth is almost a norm and tax payers are too few, imposing a ceiling, on marriage expenses, dowry and/or gifts make this law even more challenging to implement

The legislative impact of an anti-dowry law keeps on receiving callous criticism. There is a strong resistance and backlash against the anti-dowry law even in India and Bangladesh where dowry violence is wide-spread and where there is at least recognition at the state-level that it is a tangible exploitation that brings torture and even death to the women.

The obvious and hidden patriarchs and champions of hegemonic arrogance in social development either remain silent spectators on the inept legislation or attempt their best to ensure that a potent anti-dowry law never gets materialised in Pakistan.  The vanity and or misappropriation of any friendly women and gender responsive legislation must not be taken as an excuse to bulldoze the law or never let it be enacted. Dowry-less marriages are difficult but possible.

The dowry-custom should not be legitimatised by Pakistani elites, media, and intelligentsia, merely on the popular wisdom that dowry is a form of social security for the women. The dowry violence is not comprehended correctly in the official reports of the concerned organisations in public sectors and civil society. The limited capital is exhausted on documentaries, theatres and case studies to establish it as the distress of the domestic servants and masses. The home-grown, movement/s (if any) on human and women rights are by and large administered  by non-profits that in turn are reliant on international donors who are never informed influentially about the peculiarity and prevalence of dowry violence in Pakistan.

Perveen, Rakhshanda. Needed — law against dowry. Daily Times, October 30, 2017.

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