Dowries a ‘symbolic’ gesture in the West

April 14, 2008

Throughout the centuries, different countries and cultures have celebrated their special occasions through a myriad of ceremonies. Many of these ceremonies have been carried on by future generations and are still practiced traditionally.

The dowry, for example, a presentation of cash, gifts or property in exchange for a bride as a part of the marriage ceremony, is still practiced widely in India. Despite the fact that dowries are now illegal there. Women are still subject to the objectification that comes with the presentation of their “bride price.”

In the West, some in the Indian culture and countries surrounding still present dowries symbolically for the sake of tradition, their sexist history unacknowledged. Gifts from the groom’s side, for example, are not technically “in exchange” for the bride, but are presented in the same manner as if they were a brideprice.

Considering that here in North America our history books are filled with tales of the Suffragettes, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Temperance Movement, it is unsettling that dowries are still given.

Rehaana Manek, a fifth-year anthropology student at University of Toronto, calls the practice “patriarchal and archaic.”

“Dowries in the West are (now) more symbolic, whereas in many places in the East the practice continues with its original purpose.”

A 2007 article by Bedi Srinivasan from the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands says dowry payments in south India have recently risen.

“In recent years the practice of dowry has witnessed sharp changes in south India. Dowry has become an all caste/class phenomenon and average dowry payments have risen,” Srinivasan writes.

“While women with generous dowries may benefit, a continued upward spiral in dowry expectations will exacerbate daughter aversion and may fuel sex selective abortion and female infanticide.”

Originally published on thestar.com as part of the Global Voices program

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