(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 22, 2009
CPI(M) Holds Anti Dowry Convention In Coimbatore
THE 19th Congress of the CPI(M) held at Coimbatore in 2008 reaffirmed its commitment to step up the struggle against social oppression. The Tamilnadu state committee of the Party took up the issue of dowry, that social scourge of bewildering proportions, to hold a convention, exposing the evil. The statistics released by the state crime rate bureau for the year 2008 show that there is one dowry death occurring every two days in the state. This menace cannot be viewed in isolation. As the political resolution adopted in the 19th Congress points out that neo liberal policies which promote blind consumerist cultures have led to an increase in demands for dowry, and so, the fight against neo liberal policies must, per force, have, struggle against dowry, embedded in it. It also stresses that dowry demands result in degradation of women and are linked to sex determination tests, female foeticide, female infanticide and the increasing curse of falling sex ratios. One crime leads to another. In Tamilnadu, the sex ratio is less than 900 in four districts as per 2001 statistics. In the rural areas of Salem, it is 763, in Dharmapuri 869, Theni 873, and in Namakkal, it is 862. Out of 201 taluks, the ratio is less than 900 in 28, less than 850 in ten and less than 800 in six - a telling confirmation of the dowry havoc.
It was a regional convention held on January 11, 2009 covering six districts of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Nilgiris, Karur, Erode and Dindigul. As a campaign preceding the convention, more than 50,000 leaflets were distributed door to door and about 175 street corner meetings were held to explain the Party’s position on this issue. Ten thousand copies of a booklet on the subject were sold. The convention was held in the same venue where the Party congress took place. More than 1500 people, including 700 men attended the convention. The hall was overflowing. The Coimbatore district committee had made elaborate arrangements for the smooth conduct of the convention. They had also made efforts to approach the family court, collected case details of dowry harassment and sent invitations to about 250 of the petitioners and some of whom turned up for the meeting. A presidium consisting of P R Natarjan, G Rathinavelu, N Amirtham and Balabharathi conducted the proceedings. K C Karunakaran and U K Vellingiri shared the dais.
The highlight of the convention was the survey conducted by the Party in all the six districts. Two sets of questionnaires were prepared – one for the parents who had their daughters married within the immediate past five years and the other for unmarried boys and girls in the age group of 18-25 years. Totally, 1000 people were surveyed. The survey covered various sections - castes, classes and communities from rural as well as urban areas. This survey confirmed the inescapable and stark reality that dowry is still omnipotent.70 per cent of the parents said that even while arranging the meeting between the bride and bride groom families, the ‘marriage’ brokers declare upfront the dowry specifications. 60 per cent lamented that the demands were unreasonable, leading them into a vicious spiral of borrowing, mostly, at usurious rates of interest. A staggering 70 per cent of them still remain indebted. The wedding expenses varied from Rs 50,000 to Rs Ten lakhs. About 10 per cent of them had already lost their land, house and other belongings in these mortgages. The class dimension of this utter misery was palpable.
One parent reported that the grandchild was female and it triggered another round of dowry demand. Another said that even after coughing up Rs Three lakhs in cash, 120 sovereigns of gold and a wedding, incurring an expenditure of more than Rs One crore, the girl has been sent back for more money. Yet another parent said that out of their three daughters, two were married off only to be dumped back with more dowry demands which make them hesitant to get the third girl married. 80 per cent were unequivocal that daughters should have equal share in the property. Those who disagreed explained that they had already spent for the daughters during the marriage.
The refreshingly redeeming factor was that 50 per cent supported self choice marriages though apprehensive of inter caste marriages. The apprehensions centered on the cultural compatibilities and also the perceived issues of coping up for their offspring.
As far as the survey among the unmarried is concerned, 166 boys and 173 girls were covered. 90 per cent stated that taking and giving dowry is wrong. 81 per cent assured that they will neither take dowry nor give it. To a question on how to bring down the expenses, 90 per cent opted for sharing the marriage expenses and 73 per cent suggested simple marriages. Here too, self choice marriages were welcome. But here again, 46 per cent of them were not for inter caste marriages. One half of them disclosed that their parents would not agree. 1/3 of them said that dowry was in existence during their mother’s wedding and 10 per cent complained that their mothers were affected due to dowry demands.
Imparting education and imbibing self confidene in girls, stringent implementation of anti dowry enactments, inclusion of the negative impact of social evils in school curriculum, forsaking families that demand dowry were some of the salient suggestions that came out in the survey.
The survey report was comprehensively placed by Badri, secretary of Nilgiris district committee. G Rathinavelu, secretary, Karur district committee and Durairaj, chairman, state control commission from Erode, shared their experiences during the survey.
Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the Party, while inaugurating the convention, lauded the lead taken by the Tamilnadu state committee in taking up the issues of women’s oppression. She dwelt incisively on the various dimensions of dowry and its linkages with caste system on the one hand and the market economy on the other. The cultural practices vis a vis dowry of various communities have undergone a change with the strident advance of globalisation. Earlier, women were treated with respect and bride price was prevalent in different adivasi and dalit communities. Market culture destroyed these aspects and has set newer norms for 'status'. In a milieu where status is no longer in the realms of integrity, hard work and respect, acquisitions and possessions especially branded, confer supremacy of status. She said that if you want to have wedding garland, you must first have a garland of currencies for which you must have a son. Similarly caste system which prohibits marriage outside caste is a crucial source of continuance of dowry. More self choice and intercaste marriages must be encouraged, she said. Brinda concluded that the struggle against dowry must be a part of the larger struggle against caste system and market economy. U Vasuki, Central Committee member explained the objective of the convention and quipped whether the girl’s family is treated as an ATM where, even without depositing money, the bridegroom and Co., can continue to withdraw. N Varadarajan, secretary of the state unit of the Party in a fitting note of conclusion called upon the Party members to carry the message of the convention to the public at large. W R Varadarajan, Central Committee member of the Party greeted the convention. Four survivors of dowry harassment narrated their cases and sought the help of the Party.
A resolution calling upon the government, society and the Party ranks to take various steps to prevent this crime with utmost urgency was passed. The demands included equal property rights, sharing of marriage expenses by both the families, inclusion of social laws in the curriculum, ceiling on marriage expenses and gifts, doing away with media portrayal and advertisements promoting dowry.
The Tirupur unit of AIDWA and AIIEA cultural teams enacted satirical skits exposing the demon of dowry.
The Left and democratic programme of the Party talks not only about political tasks but also about social tasks. “Social justice, end to caste oppression, protection of women’s rights” is an important part of the Left and democratic alternative which means that the issue of social justice is an automatic and inalienable component of the general political agenda. The convention brought this out loud and clear.