South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The Daily Star on Sep. 15 ::

ALL govern-ments in the past including the present have promised political and social equality for the sexes, but women are still victimized.

The UNICEF report in recent time stated that one out of every five girls in the country between the ages of 15 and 19 is sexually abused by her partner or husband is alarming. The report further says that as many as 47 per cent of the adolescent girls suffer through physical and sexual violence should give jolt to the administration about the state of girl children in the country.  In most cases, house wives and adolescent girls are victims  of such cruelty and repression.  The capital city has seen 20 per cent increase in murders compared to the corresponding period last year. Every year scores of women are falling victims to acid violence, torture, burning by pouring kerosene, killing by strangulation, beating and stabbing to death. In the last five years commencing from 2009, 1075 women were killed in the hands of their husbands. According to Human Rights Organization ASK, in the last six months of the current year ending in June, 153 women were killed in their husband’s house with 112 women being killed by their husbands. But only 71 complaints were filed either with the police or the court.  Reports indicate that in 2009, 197 women were killed by their husbands but only 98 cases were instituted in the court. In successive years from 2010 up to 2013, the number of wife-killing in the hands of their husbands climbed to 225 and 211respectively as reports by ASK suggest. Evidently it started with money and quickly slid into frequent wife beating sessions ending with either strangulation or kerosene burning. The perpetrators use acid or other weapons against wives, on being refused of their repeated dowry demands, as punishments because a bride did not bring enough money. These men are driven first by greed and then by revenge,  but it seems that throwing acid or pouring kerosene over the victim’s body has become something like fun for them because they know that they can get away with the  crime through the loopholes of the lax criminal justice system in the country.

A World Bank report on women in this region suggests that poverty, coupled with early marriages of girl child, and deeply etched social attitudes have produced a kind of imprisonment of the country’s female population. Notwithstanding the fact that women in the country constitute almost half of the population, hardly any major, meaningful effort has been taken to enable them to participate actively in the political, socio-cultural and economic life of the nation equally with men.

The two core issues, elimination of social injustice and economic exploitation of the girl child, can be tackled through motivation, policy guidelines and bold leadership at the government level. The genesis of discrimination and cruelty against women can be traced to the social apathy inherent in the male population of the sub-continent.  Though our constitution provides for equality between sexes with proper protection for women and children, people are still governed by personal family customs and rules that fail to give women their due.   

All findings indicate that dowry demands in the country have multiplied tenfold over the last one decade. There is a sticky web of issues surrounding it. Most males belonging to middle class or ultra-poor families,  due to lack of proper education and culture and prompted by unusual greed,  have realized that dowry is an easy way to acquire wealth.

There exists a toothless attitude in a majority of families who participated in dowry based marriages instead of opposing it. People talk glibly about dowry prohibition and anti-dowry movement but when it comes to their own sons and daughters, most people would do the same thing. In most cases, affluent   parents think that big dowries will strengthen their daughter’s position in their husband’s family. But should the marriage go wrong, there is no way that these fabulous gifts in the form of cash, jewelry and property can be retrieved.

In most cases girls do not have any knowledge of or participation in any deal. Dowry is often a monetary deal between two men – the bride’s father and the groom or groom’s father. Despite promulgation of dowry prohibition act, the number of dowry related atrocities and deaths are climbing. Most shockingly, the law has not yet been applied to put a halt to this derogatory practice. But what is needed is that women need real social, financial, moral and ideological support to stand firmly against an age–old system that has almost got an unwritten societal sanction. A big social movement is a must to stop this giving and taking of money.

Reports carried by the dailies in the recent past indicated that in Chittagong on an average marriage settlement the last three years courts are receiving 9 applications daily  for dissolution of marriage, several times more than the previous years and  seventy per cent of these aggrieved persons are women. In 2009 the number of such divorce suits in Chittagong stood at 952, in 2010 it climbed to 2881, in the last three years the number year-wise surpassed 4000. Most of these aggrieved women are garments workers or working in different organizations and offices. The reasons cited for divorce are torture for dowry, husband’s addiction problem and extra-marital affair. All these facts suggest that some women—though in a minority—are fighting back now. More awareness among women has led to a growing resistance to demands for dowry, but it has also increased familial friction. A study by NGO circles and social scientists says 80 per cent of dowry deaths and harassment cases occur among the lower and middle classes

The odd NGO groups, women activists, human rights organizations and women lawyers’ association may pursue one or two cases and rehabilitate some tortured women, but a major breakthrough is hardly possible because social intervention is low and ignorance high. So, despite the stigma dowry continues to be the signature as well as nightmare of marriage.