As if it wasn’t already difficult enough for a woman in Pakistan, there is this bile-inducing custom to have a woman weighed in against what material and monies she brings into a marriage. Dowry determines a woman’s worth in this culture. About 95% marriages are said to practise the custom that is not built on functional need but a status symbol and a show of women’s subservience. Seemingly the more dowry a woman has, the more her takers will be and therefore the less dispensable she is. Less dispensable women are apparently treated by in-laws with more kindness. Not really.
Whereas India has the highest number of dowry-related deaths, it is Pakistan that has the highest number of dowry-linked deaths per 100,000 women. We murder and hack to death, via stove burnings and poison ingestion than any other country in the world. No amount of money gets in-laws to stop torturing new brides to seek more cash from their families. No wonder there is a funeral-like feel to a household a girl child is born to. Our customs are meant to stifle the caretakers of girls as if they bear the burden of a curse and the only way to make it up is cough up dough to marry off the girl.
This is not just a class issue. The elite in our country — do check the latest few destination weddings in our social magazines — are just as marred by it. Show more love and dote with money, flounder it across the far seas so everyone knows not to mess with your daughter. Why not equip them with the law instead? Teach them to stand up for their rights first.
K-P, in a landmark move, has barred a bride’s family from making dowry payments to the groom and his family. So basically the groom and his family have to make alternative means of extorting money, or for a change find a job or start a business. The K-P law restricts value of gifts given by the bride to Rs10,000. It is enough to buy a good juice blender, a hair dryer, a low-end vacuum cleaner or a few good books.
It’s time for men to seek out women for who they are and not what they bring. Dowry is an evil custom. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Dowry, Bridal Gift and Marriage Functions Restriction Act of 2017 has thankfully put an end to it as far as the law in K-P is concerned. It’s one of the few sensible pro-women legislation to come out of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI).
Last year in December a woman called Shumaila was forced to consume poison in Multan when her father could not pay her husband and in-laws the promised Rs50,000 in dowry. Shumaila, like the estimated 2,000 dowry deaths per year in Pakistan, are an abomination and tell that we are a nation on the brink. Don’t be fooled by the mere gains in our standing — women remain a severely neglected in all parts of our society. Rights experts say that this number is hardly reflective of how many women are actually tortured because of the heinous custom and many of their deaths remain unreported and marked falsely natural.
Pervasive in the middle class, we are extremely proud of the list of things we bring with us into our marriages — our cars, our washing machines, our furniture and the godforsaken toaster — these are spoils of the war on women. Reject it. Reject it as the girl bride, reject it as the father of the bride and certainly reject it as the groom. There is nothing dignified in it. Women must only be armed with one resource that is the real true asset for any family — their education, their aptitude, their ability to brace uncertainties like death and disease and more importantly their sense of justice. Don’t compromise on this. Everything else can be acquired, especially the toaster.
Now that we are making strides in banning dowry, can we look to please increase the haq mehr that the groom needs to pay the bride. This amount is to be allocated according to the groom and his family’s social standing but instead it is set as a pathetic token amount. This amount is payable to the woman on demand according to Islamic law. Fix the haq mehr according to the intended standard and notice how the balance of power shifts. For a start, fewer women like Shumaila will be dead by poisoning.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2017.