Dower is our right, dowry is prohibitted

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Offline Ferdousi Begum

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Dower is our right, dowry is prohibitted
« on: March 10, 2015, 02:31:58 PM »
DESPITE of woman's participation in the socio-economic and political development, woman has less access to enjoy their money, especially in their property rights. Instead, woman and her family continue to be deprive and victim of violence. The most important event in a woman's life is marriage in our country which is surrounded by various financial transactions including dower and dowry.

Dower is a woman's right to marital property. In practice, often a woman in Bangladesh does not receive her legal right of dower from husband due to various reasons, such as: dower is controlled by husband and social custom, unregistered marriage, non specification of the mode of payment of dower in the Kabinnama, lack of awareness of laws on dower, fixation of a smaller amount of dower by the groom's party, the traditional concept of usool (paid) by jewellery or other items at the time of marriage, the customary practice to waive dower in the wedding night, hidden intention to deprive the bride from property rights, lack of husband's sense of responsibility towards the payment of dower,  dower is being curtailed by turning a talaq case into khula where the woman has to sacrifice her right of dower in exchange for a divorce etc. In this way, the cases of dower are influenced by social practice and the question of payment arises only at the time of divorce. Consequently, a woman loses her property rights which she is entitled to both under the Shariah and statutory laws.

Similarly, dowry however, is the woman's property that she brings into the marriage when she gets married. Dowry is not supported by any personal law and prohibited by statutory law though it exists strongly throughout the country.The strongest incentive behind paying dowry demand is the daughter's security, happiness, and a timely marriage. Sometime, dowry often exceeds dower amount. If dowry is demanded, most of the times dower money is adjusted to it. Sometimes parents provide dowry willingly and most of the time husband's family demand and give pressure to provide dowry.Thus, dower and dowry is a property of woman but they cannot easily access to enjoy and implement the property rights.

In practice dower comes in a written form in marriage contract and wife can claim for the recovery of dower at any time. Unfortunately, there is no written document to recover the amount of dowry from husband. In addition to that, if a woman is incapable to fulfill the payment of the demanded dowry, she faces humiliation, mental torture, verbal and physical abuse, even murder by her husband and in-laws. Moreover, greed and commercialisation of marriage, lack of ethical practice and social values, lack of decision making power of woman in family, less economic power of woman to control the family, narrow mentality of groom's family, negative male attitude towards the female  are the reason to struggle for woman to pay dowry. 

The Dowry Prohibition Act 1980 provides, demanding dowry a punishable offence. Section 3 of the Act provides that the penalty for any person giving or taking dowry shall be imprisonment from one to five years, or a fine or both. Consequently, the court can reduce the sentence; and imprisonment is equated with a fine.

However, a fine is not fixed or properly clarified. Thus, sanctions appear vulnerable to judicial bias and any higher socio-economic status of the husband. Given the alarming increase of dowry incidents, this discretionary power must be removed.

In addition, the Act fails to recognise the gravity of the crime and the immorality involved in 'taking dowry' by placing dowry giver and dowry taker on an equal plane. It fails to take into account the unequal power balance in operation. Dowry-takers are more blameworthy as they are motivated by greed and utilise the groom's superior bargaining position. To make the Act of greater benefit and utility to women, section 3 should be amended to penalise only the takers or abettors of dowry.

There is no noticeable change in the dowry practice since the enactment of the law. Mainly for lack of cooperation from the family members, women do not get the required support from the law. Some victims do not want to continue the legal battle against their husbands for reprisal. They cannot afford to fight legal cases. However, at present, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010, is another positive initiative by the government for addressing domestic violence against women. In case of physical or psychological abuse for dowry women can take resort to the Act.

Laws alone cannot purge society of the dowry system as well as enforce dower practice. Beside laws, we need more social awareness and effective social measures. The registration of marriage should be made compulsory. The concept and the principle of responsibility should be promoted through national curriculum which impacts everyday life of citizen. Women and men all have to be more conscious and aware about the women's right of property. 

Dr. Nahid Ferdousi
The writer is an Associate Professor of Law, Bangladesh Open University.