Over the last week, Kerala has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Three alleged dowry deaths were reported from the state within a span of 24 hours.
On June 21, Visamaya V Nair, a 24-year-old woman reportedly committed suicide at her husband's house in Kollam district. Her family alleged that she was being tortured for dowry by her husband S Kiran Kumar. Vismaya's father Thrivikraman Nair claimed that their family had given 100 sovereigns of gold and over one-acre land, besides a car worth ₹10 lakh car as dowry to Kumar during their wedding in 2020.
Nair added that Kumar had assaulted his daughter in front of him as well over the dowry demand. "But he did not like the car and wanted ₹10 lakh as cash instead. As I said it was not possible, he used to torture my daughter. He had beaten Vismaya in front of us after coming to our home at midnight last January," he added.
Two days before her death, Vismaya had sent a Whatsapp message to her cousin detailing the violence she endured at her husband's hand. She also shared some photos showing injuries on her face, shoulder, and hands inflicted by Kumar. Her husband surrendered before the police and was arrested.
On June 22, 24-year-old Archana was found dead after suffering severe burns in her home in Venganoor city of Thiruvananthapuram district. Archana's husband, Suresh, had accompanied her back to the couple's home from the woman's parent's house on Monday, June 21.
The woman's father claimed that Suresh was seen carrying a bottle of diesel but had then explained that it was to tackle the infestation of ants in their home. Archana's parents alleged that her husband quarreled with his wife and demanded money from her family.
On the same day that Archana was found dead, a 19-year-old woman was found dead in her in-laws' place. Suchitra tied the knot with Vishnu in March this year. Vishnu, who is in the Army, had left for Uttarakhand, where he is posted recently. Police said they are yet to ascertain the cause of her death.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan spoke out against the practice of dowry and harassment in its name, calling it a social evil. In a series of tweets, the CM said that "dowry degrades our daughters as commodities".
He launched a 24-hour helpline to report dowry harassment. He announced that Kerala's school textbooks will be revised and audited to sieve out words and phrases disparaging women. Steps will be taken to turn our schools and colleges into spaces that embrace the idea of gender equality and equal rights, he said. The question is while these moves are welcome, will they be enough to put an end to such incidents.
The state is ahead in terms of social and human development indicators. The literacy rate of the state the highest in the country at 96.2 per cent. Yet crime against women is increasing in the state.
Kerala had recorded 66 dowry-related deaths between 2016 and 2020 under the category of 'crime against women' as per the State Crime Records Bureau data. About 15,140 cases were registered between 2016 and April this year under the category of 'cruelty by husband/relatives'.
A police officer told the media that even if there is evident physical violence, 90 per cent of such cases are usually settled without any official complaint or record.
What Does The Law State?
Dowry is prohibited under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. However, the reality is far from different as the menace is taking place in the form of gift and will.
While preparing the Domestic Incident Report (DIR) during the domestic violence case, there is a column to be filled by the district women protection officer (WPO) concerning dowry. But most often, the complainant would answer that her parents hadn't given dowry but only gold ornaments and cash as "gift" during the marriage. "Hence, we cannot fill that column, resulting in dropping of the charge under the dowry prohibition Act," said a WPO in North Kerala, reported The New Indian Express.
The data released by National Crime Records Bureau, which furnished records only up to 2019, pointed out that approximately 21 women die every day across the country with regards to dowry-related crimes.
Despite having a charge sheet of 93.7 per cent, only 34.7 per cent of the accused have been convicted. The rest of the cases have still not seen the light of the day.
More needs to be done to stop the evil menace of dowry. A key factor here is that the attitude of society towards women has to change. As Chief Minister Vijayan rightly pointed out, "A fair society is that which treats women and men as equals. Men must accept the truth that women are not inferior and that they have equal rights."