Suffering and surviving dowry: a ‘court’ convenes in Bangalore

July 27th, 2009 - 5:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, July 27 (IANS) Radha P. was forced to leave her husband’s place in Chennai after her parents failed to fulfil the never ending dowry demands of her in-laws. She has been staying with her three-year-old daughter for the last three years.
“I found myself a teacher’s job and now earn for myself and my daughter. I left my husband’s place after repeated beatings and torture by my in-laws as they wanted dowry from my parents,” Radha, 31, who lives in Chennai, told IANS here with a tinge of sadness.

Stories like that of Radha (name changed) and 24 other women from different parts of the country will come to light Tuesday at a unique “court” here to deal with violence and torture related to dowry. They have all come to Bangalore for the event.

Vimochana, the Asian Women’s Right Council (AWRC) and 40 other women’s organisations have come together to hold the India Court of Women on Dowry Tuesday called “Daughters of Fire”.

The event will be inaugurated by V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Supreme Court judge, at Christ University Bangalore. Corrine Kumar, regional coordinator of AWRC, said the court looks at alternative systems of justice where the focus is not on “retributive justice”. However, it does not have any legal authority.

The common thread that runs through the lives of the 25 women is pain, resistance and survival.

“Through testimonies of pain and resistance narrated by the women themselves, the court creates a platform for women to speak out where they are not reduced to a mere statistic,” Kumar told IANS.

“The court is an attempt to bring the phenomenon of dowry violence that has been made invisible, normal and routine back to the centre of public consciousness and conscience,” added Kumar.

An expert committee, consisting of activists, academics and artists, will listen to the personal testimonies of the dowry victims and respond to individual cases separately.

Members of the jury include Vandana Shiva, Veena Talwar Oldenburg, Kamla Bhasin, Shiv Vishwanathan and Mallika Sarabhai.

“The Court of Women would be dealing specifically with the changing face of dowry in the context of the ethics of consumerism and materialism in present day India,” said Shakun, a senior member of Vimochana.

“Laws on dowry were full of contradictions and the delay in the legal system made justice even more elusive. The court sessions will help to discuss the issues at length and try to bring out the main causes of violence against women in the name of dowry,” added Donna Fernandes, another member of Vimochana.

A series of roundtable discussions by experts on different aspects of the issue of dowry and related forms of violence were held here Monday.

Growing consumerism coupled with a deeply entrenched feudal culture seem to be some of the reasons cited by experts for the prevalence of the dowry system in the country.

Feminist groups are unanimous that bringing in more laws against dowry is not a solution. Though the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 is perceived as “stringent”, the rising number of dowry related cases across the country indicates that it has hardly proved a deterrent.

More than 6,000 dowry-related cases are registered on an average annually, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

According to the latest NCRB report, there were about 6,787 dowry death cases registered in India in 2005. Incidents of dowry deaths during 2005 (6,787) increased significantly by 46.0 percent over the 1995 level (4,648).

According to police, every year over 2,500 cases of bride-burning due to dowry are reported.

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