Dowry an Evil? Crime? or Tradition?
By: Prof. Ayesha Kashif
Tradition of making payments at time of wedding is older than any written records. Although in some societies and cultures, there exist rules related to “Bride Price”. Bride Price is contrasted with dowry; it is amount of money paid to bride or her family at time of marriage. Where dowry is money or assets that bride brings with her. Another arrangement termed as “dower” has several alterations in different cultures; but popularly it is amount of money paid from husband’s property or by state in case female is widowed.
Anciently, dowry has been considered as more respectable arrangement than bride price. It differs in cultures, but both traditions “bride price” and “dowry” may exist in some. Reason dowry was considered more respectful was that; “bride price” used to be calculated as slave girl’s market price. Or as compensation of total labor hours that she could contribute to her parent family.
Whereas dowry was considered to be a gift given by wealthy family of women; but with time it escalated such that higher the amount of dowry, more respectable wedding arrangement would be considered. It could also be considered that it is to snub barbaric nature of male by providing even more food to his barbarism. It is commonly believed that higher amount of dowry may ensure that husband or his family will not ill treat the bride. In social war of keeping high esteem, standard expectations of dowry have increased many folds.
In Pakistani society; except few areas in North, ancient tradition of dowry is practiced and it is well known to majority of educated class. That it is aged tradition; that may have more implications than benefits. But there exists very few to have courage to challenge this tradition. I am trying to point few most common window dressed arguments that fall in favor of dowry.
- Young men cannot afford to settle with their new family
- To have peaceful life for bride, it is important to buy her house
- Everyone does this, and our daughter shall have more dowry than anyone else did
- It presents how much we love our daughter
- It compensates, less share that females get in parent’s property inheritance
- Socially desire act cannot be stopped; what will other say about it?
If all above arguments are right, then how come few societies have practiced “bride price” instead of dowry?
It may be considered as simple principle of supply & demand of both genders. Where exists more men; and less wealthy women; societies may practice “bride price”. Here men shall pay price as gift/ compensation to bride’s family to get married. Whereas societies having more women and less wealthy men; to make lucky match. Dowry is practiced. But we cannot control gender balance in society; how can we judge what is better for society? Dowry or Dower?
Where is the balance?
Majority of the poor class families still think in this cruel way that "If I don’t kill her today; tomorrow she will kill me financially or someone else will burn her for the sake of dowry," this is the reason; why millions of women are put to death; even today, especially in Indian society.
Dowry is one extreme; due to which we observe every day stories; where old man depletes all his resources that shall help him live comfortable last days of his life, in favor of his beloved young daughter.
This is why time is back; when daughter is born; and her father start calculating heavy financially burden that lies over his shoulders. It is not only with lower socio-economic class. Our educated class too is not educated. Our religion advocates, birth of female child as blessing. And fathers will be rewarded heavens for bringing up female child without discrimination. But we consider them as obligation and punishment from God.
Muslim fathers shall not be burdened with dowry, instead young men shall give women their obligatory gift (Haq Mehar) ; happily as presentation of their promised love. Nikah is considered to be simple ceremony, with few close invites and witnesses. And party thrown by groom (Waleema) is grand feast in celebration of wedding. Though, increased amount of financial burden over groom (dower /gift to bride) can cost several problems for societies too. This is why it is recommended in Islamic Religion “The best of the marriages is one which is least burdensome in the financial sense to the families of the bride and the groom"
Alas! Such nice principles we have forgotten in place of outdated traditions that we have borrowed from societies we have lived with. I am ashamed to state that; in depth of our heart, today daughters are considered as burden & curse.
We very happily consider gift to bride (Haq Mehar) as optional or extra; where dowry is accepted as mandatory practice. For Mehar applies no financial formulas, no inflation adjusters. But for all our routine life we do. Please think, where we are leading our society? Today again evil of dowry compels us to feel happy to have son, and sorrow to have daughter. Allah’s appreciated practice of Nikah is becoming challenging task for families; due to which arise many unacceptable problems that is polluting our society.