Opinion

Normalizing ‘Dowry’ in Manipur in the Name of Custom

According to the Crime in India Reports published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there are no cases in the state of Manipur under ‘the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961’ and ‘the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005’ between 2015-18. Does this mean that there are no cases of dowry anymore in Manipur? Clearly No.

The normalization of dowry in the state has almost matured that it has become ‘customary’. It is a myth that the Northeastern states in India are almost dowry free.

Awungpot ‘, in Manipur, is a customary practise where the parents send gifts to the daughters at the time of marriage wishing her blessings for a good married life (similar to ‘stridhan‘). It has been agreed by many historians that in Manipur, even the poorest families used to give a piece of clothing or vegetables grown in the garden as gifts to their daughters as a form of blessings. What has changed now?

Awungpot ‘ is now interchangeably used to define ‘dowry‘ in the state of Manipur. With the expansion of consumerism, we can see wider options of consumerist fancy products. This comes with status and pride. The so-called gifts that parents send in the name of ‘stridhan‘ signify more of status and symbol rather than a form of blessings.

Stridhan or Dowry?

At the time of the wedding, you can see that a room at the groom’s house will be vacated to accommodate the gifts sent by the bride’s family. Guess what are the gifts they get? Not only gold and jewellery. You get everything – double bed, single bed, wardrobes, dining table, clothes for both bride and groom, decorations items for the room, refrigerator, washing machine, two-wheelers, four-wheelers, kitchen items, agricultural plots etc. On top of it, it has become customary to sent gifts for the in-laws too. So, it is no longer a gift exclusively for the daughters. It has extended to become a gift for the in-laws too.

Education level has no relevance in this. Literate, illiterate, white-collar professionals – all follow this practice! The bride’s family will send the gifts and the groom’s family will accept the gifts unconditionally.

There is a civil servant who recently got married. I remember him because he happened to be a close relative of one of my friends. At the time of the wedding, when all these gifts were sent to him, he accepted all of it. He even denied demanded anything but he said that if his in-laws wanted to send something in the form of gifts, he couldn’t deny it. Therefore, there is an easy excuse to say that it is a gift and not a dowry.

How is it affecting society?

Though the income of most of the families in Manipur have improved. But according to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the percentage of population below the poverty line (BPL) is 36.89% in Manipur, which is the third-highest state in the country surpassing the national average of 21%. There is wide income inequality in the state. Where some families can afford a lavish wedding and send their daughters gifts worth lakh of rupees, many families in the state still can not afford such extravagant weddings.

This has a huge psychological impact among the sections of the society who can not be a part of this emerging negative trend. Sometimes, parents have to sell off their properties, agricultural lands, pawn of jewellery to arrange a decent wedding of their daughters. Most of the parents remain worried all the time thinking – ‘who will marry their daughter?‘.

Why do we have discrimination against girl child or why do we prefer boys over girls? Girls in most parts of India are seen as a liability. Most of the parents know the pressure of dowry and prefer boys over girls. What I am going to say is not on pure speculation but a trend which is dangerously evolving. In Manipur, among the underprivileged families, parents have started preferring boys over girls. Although this is in a germinating phase. If not properly curbed, the repercussions will be catastrophic.

How do unmarried women prepare for their own gifts without depending on their parents?

So, we have talked that most of the gifts given at the time of the wedding are considered as “stridhan“. If your parents are wealthy, then you don’t need to worry much! However, for those who do not belong to well to do families, the girls take up the responsibility on themselves to plan for their own “stridhan” without depending on their parents. How?

As most of the jobs are informal, most of women do not earn much. And even those who work in private formal settings, the wages are pretty low. In spite of the low wages, they plan their own savings.

Informal chitfunds are very popular in Manipur. They are called ‘marup‘ in the local term. A chit fund is a type of saving scheme where a specified number of subscribers contribute payments in instalment over a defined period. Most of the chitfunds are not registered. Therefore, there is a risk of collapsing all the time and that has happened quite often. The Chit Fund (Manipur) Rules, 1994 was supposed to regulate chitfunds in Manipur. However, that is limited to only formal settings and there are no punishments or penalty set for informal chitfunds.

In Manipur, most of the people do not want to go for formal routes like – savings in the bank, fixed deposits etc. Sometimes, most of the chitfunds in Manipur are not only related to cash. There are ways you can put in your money to get clothes, two-wheelers, four-wheelers, electronic items like refrigerators and washing machine, kitchen items etc. So, most of the unmarried women put some part of their earnings in this to get the gifts at the time of the wedding. In short, the irony is that the bride is gifting herself from the money she has saved! Will you still call this as ‘stridhan‘ or a form of dowry imposed due to societal pressure?

Line Crossed

There is a thin line between ‘stridhan‘ and ‘dowry‘. The line is disappearing now. In a critically acclaimed show like ‘Satyameva Jayanti’ where Amir Khan claimed that northeast states do not follow the ill practice like dowry, that is just one side of the story! There might be fewer incidences of demand involved as compared to other parts of the country. However, it has become so normalized as part of the custom that every family follow this norm without questioning.

To the parents. You are giving your daughter. There can be no better gift than this! Why do we have to indulge in this materialistic affair? I don’t know if there are any chances of going back to the ‘non-dowry’ phase. But to all those educated people, who have glorified this practice, you need to go back to schools and start educating yourselves again! Clear your corrupt mentalities! Become a productive person!

If you are a man, do not shy away from saying ‘no’ to unwanted gifts. To all the women, make your parents understand the difference between dowry and ‘stridhan‘. To all the parents who are blessed with daughters – to secure your daughter’s future, instead of giving materialistic gifts, try to make some ‘fixed deposits’ in her name.

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Kingson Chingakham

Personal Blog. For details please mail me at observersindia@gmail.com

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