In the last couple of years, I have developed a deep-seated apathy and resigned repulsion towards TV news channels and other news agencies. Some of you may identify with me here. Maybe those of you who do are even more than I am willing to imagine. That feeling of irritable discontentment, its cause and shape unidentified and unattended, remained like a dormant yet real pain within me. Till last week, that is. Thanks to two fellow bloggers, today I know why news channels that dominate our nation’s airwaves no longer have my trust or respect, and remain relegated between vicious propaganda and incoherent tribal cries in my mind.
The help offered by the two bloggers, let’s call them Blogger A and Blogger B, has been unwitting but genuine. I am most grateful for what they said in the comments section of my last blog. It helped me seek and understand the world I live in a little better.
In a rather recent post titled, ‘You Sanctioned 26/11, My Grieving Friend!’ I put forth the idea that an act of terror shares its fundamental operating principle, i.e., use of fear by physical coercion as a valid negotiating tool, with equally lethal consequences, but on a much smaller scale, with certain domestic atrocities that happen right inside our homes and neighborhoods.
In order to demonstrate the idea presented, I cited four examples of violent crimes, all based on reports in our leading national dailies, that shared their core idea with the act of terror. One, incidentally, was a case of dowry death.
While misunderstanding of my standpoint was expected, and hence further discussion and debate anticipated, what I did not fancy at the time was the birth of a whole new blog idea from it. But that is what has happened.
Mistaking (!) my post for a treatise on dowry and dowry deaths, Blogger A said:
“I thought the dowry problem has come down with the women going out and earning. an earning wife is like a blank cheque. They can be drawn, they can be over drawn. If she wants she can save her dowry and spend for her own marriage. So the dowry problem is not as much as it used to be when women got married with no education, no employment and as total dependents on their husbands.
U won’t see the old breed any more.”
I read it twice to make sure I understood what was being said. This is what I understand. Blogger A’s whole argument rests on her assumption or belief that dowry deaths exist or existed because women were not gainfully employed and hence marriage was not a financially profitable proposition to the bridegroom and his family. But now since women are working, the husband and his family can enjoy the fruits of her labour and will not or should not torture, maim or kill her. This will and has resulted in reduction of dowry deaths. Well, sounds like a reasonable argument till you look deeper. The most critical aspect of this argument is what has NOT been said – as always, it is the unspoken value system or belief which gives rise to her opinion. In this case, Blogger A’s rationalization that with women being money earners today, the incidences of dowry deaths should come down is based on a belief that marriage as a financial transaction is acceptable. She believes dowry is not only valid but its existence is unquestionable. Did she consciously choose to believe in such a monstrosity or did the idea take root in her consciousness as a social, cultural or religious dogma, is secondary. The very fact that as a rational human being the real nature of her core belief on the subject is telling of our conditioning. Does she herself know it? I have no answers nor I will not try to assume. But I know, this unspoken belief is what the NGOs and other organisations/individuals against dowry have to fight and eradicate to prevent dowry deaths.
Blogger B categorically holds the victim (the girl who gets burnt) responsible for her own torture and subsequent burning in dowry deaths(!) In his comment, he says: (The highlighted italics are mine)
“…Terrorism is a one-sided affair.. but on the other side Dowry or social evil the victim has time to react.. Depending on the situation!! A girl who is harassed for dowry by her in-laws has time to decide what is important to her (her life or her husband or given to in-laws demands). Let me give you an example “When you were a toddler how many times did you try to put your finger in the power socket?? I think if you did ever get a shock you would have learnt it that if I finger this socket then I am asking for trouble” same way when a newly married girl gets beaten up by her in-laws or husband for the first time and doesn’t learn the lesson… then I think it not worth it….(?) On the other side terrorism where 200 innocent people get killed unaware.. I hope you see the difference.. If women want to get burnt or stabbed by knife.. its for them to decide.. as far as I understand within 2-3 months of marriage a women knows for sure what kind of family she is married too, and if she is sensible enough she can always take decision on her favor.. India is still democratic country…”
On the surface this argument too may seem reasonable if you stretch the meaning of reasonable to the extreme. Yes, if you are a girl and find yourself in such a horrific situation, run! I agree, that’s the most common-sensical thing to do. Self-preservation demands it. But, if you take a moment to really understand his argument, you will be shocked by the partial blindness with which he approaches the problem. What about the barbaric practise of burning a helpless woman to death for money itself? What about the husband and his parents who commit such a heinous act? The fact that he blanks all this out and holds the girl’s ‘non-sensible enough to save herself’ attitude responsible points to his tacit agreement to an unspoken yet pre-dominant belief – in a patriarchal society, women are mere possessions and creatures of re-production to be disposed of by men at will. Blogger B may not know what his deep-seated convictions are on the subject. I can only guess. He must be an educated, urban young man who treats women as equals and with respect. But, if you are woman, how safe will you feel if you are to marry him? The answer is for anyone to guess.
And does not his argument of holding the victim responsible for the atrocities committed on her, strangely and ominously reverberate with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s remark, “Women should not be adventurous.”(?) on the murder of the young, female journalist, Soumya Viswanathan three months back. Soumya was driving back from work in the early hours of a Tuesday morning when she was shot in the head. The case remains unsolved.
Does not Blogger B’s idea of holding the victim responsible for the crime find a sympathetic chorus in the insane voices that scream ‘rape happens because women wear short, revealing clothes!’(?) Do not turn away or conveniently fail to see the dangerous parallels here. These are the scattered images of our educated, urban, liberated, modernized society – the telling pieces of a scary jigsaw puzzle. These are incidents that you and I, the common man, sees as unrelated and random incidents that require no more from us than a passive indignation and at best a slogan contest. Stop, pick up those random pieces and complete the jigsaw! What you will see is an ugly monster staring at you – the monster that is eating us from inside while we soak in the warmth of globalisation, proudly parading our Gucci glasses, Bali Shoes and million dollar homes. It is the monster that is slowly but surely turning back the hands of time ensuring that our backyards become breeding grounds for the practises of Dark Ages while we look ahead indifferently at a digitised future through our rose-tinted glasses. The monster winks at the heart of our nation, whispering conspiratorially, mockingly into our collective conscious, “Women are lesser beings.”
The unspoken yet loud social message has been made ominously clear by the male tribe,“Wear a small skirt and we will rape you, work late nights and we will kill you, marry and we will burn you. We have the right to dispose of you in any which way we want. If you want to live in our world, live by our rules. Or else.”
In spirit we proclaim to our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers this: “Women of India, you have no right to your life!” Let’s accept it.
Right to one’s own life is the most basic Right of all. It is what gives birth to every other Right. An individual without a right to his or her life is a non-entity, a non-existent. And that is what we, the enlightened, emancipated, globalised, liberated citizens of India tell our women folk. Not in words, but in cold-blooded action.
Every single criminal act against women (except Sati) that can be booked under the Indian Penal Code, right from Rape, Kidnapping and Abduction for specified purposes, Homicide for Dowry, Dowry Deaths or their attempts, Torture – both mental and physical, Molestation, Physical Harassment, Importation of Girls (upto 21 years of age), Immoral Traffic (Prevention), Child Marriage, and Indecent Representation of Women has increased systematically over the years. Statistics are available from the National Crime Records Bureau.
What makes us turn an indifferent eye, quickly and compulsively, when we see the reports of such atrocities flashed on our TV screens and written in newspapers. Why are we in such a hurry to construe them as ‘just another incident’ and dismiss them from our memory? Because it is easier on our conscience that way. We all want to believe that we are emancipated and civilized in our outlook. We wish it, even if the facts paint a different picture. Somehow we want to be liberated from the shadows of the savage that our great, great forefathers were. But no amount of wishing is going to change a thing, my friend.
Let me offer you some facts and figures on dowry and dowry deaths in India. These are available to any one of you on the Internet. Not surprisingly, what I found were contrary to what Blogger A or Blogger B had said or implied. And if they had felt it necessary to base their opinion or world view on facts, they definitely would have not said what they did. [All italics, bold and underlines are added by me for emphasis.]
 Official statistics indicate that dowry death – intentional, deliberate and pre-meditated murder of a bride – happens at least 17 times per day, every single day of the year. However, unofficial numbers stand at a mind-boggling 68 murders per day. That is, 24, 820 dowry deaths per year. And this does not include the women left maimed and scarred as a result of attempt on their lives. (Obviously, ‘brides who earn’ have not solved the problem!)
 In 1995, 4648 dowry deaths were reported. It rose to 8093 in 2007. Reported cases of ‘Cruelty by husband/his relatives’ were 28579 in 1995. It stood at 75930 in 2007. (Blogger A, are you listening?)
 According to an article in Time magazine, deaths in India related to dowry demands have increased 15-fold since the mid-1980s to the middle of the 1990s. In 1995, the National Crime Bureau of the Government of India reported about 6,000 dowry deaths every year. A more recent police report stated that dowry deaths had risen by 170 percent in the decade to 1997.
 A recent survey of 10,000 Indian women conducted by India’s Health Ministry found that more than half of those interviewed considered violence to be a normal part of married life—the most common cause being the failure to perform domestic duties up to the expectations of their husband’s family. (What else can they believe in a society where they are told to have no rights!)
 Dowry deaths are not isolated to particular groups, social strata, geographical regions or even religions. As of now, they are an all-pervasive monstrosity gobbling up innocent female lives.
 According to the Institute of Development and Communication, “The quantum of dowry exchange may still be greater among the middle classes, but 85 percent of dowry death and 80 percent of dowry harassment occurs in the middle and lower stratas.”
 The other side of the dowry equation is that daughters are inevitably regarded as an unwelcome burden, compounding the already oppressed position of women in Indian society. There is a high incidence of gender-based abortions—almost two million female babies a year. (One article noted the particularly crass billboard advertisements in Bombay encouraging pregnant women to spend 500 rupees on a gender test to “save” a potential 50,000 rupees on dowry in the future.)
 The cruelest aspect of this menace is the role that brides’ parents play in perpetuating it. The Dowry Cell of New Delhi Police Department reveals that most of the parents of the bride do not want to take their daughters back. There is considerable social stigma in India against those parents who shelter a married daughter back in their family. In most of the cases, parents persuade the daughter to go back to her husband’s home, that is considered to be the highest form of behavior one can learn from the old scriptures. (Blogger B, are you listening?)
 Most dowry deaths have occurred in the upper strata of Hindu communities, i.e., the Brahmins (the caste of priests cum the Kings’ policy-makers), Kshatriyas (the caste of warriors now-turned politicians), and Vaishyas (the traders now-transformed sponsors of conservative parties). Most killing of women for non-payment of “promised” dowry have so far occurred in the urban affluent upper-caste Hindu communities.
 The epicenter of the problem of bride burning and other forms of dowry-related violence on women is Delhi (the Indian capital), western and central Uttar Pradesh (cities such as Kanpur, Lucknow and Agra have witnessed the highest number of deaths), and places adjoining Delhi (Haryana, northeastern Rajasthan, northern Madhya Pradesh, and southern Punjab), and the problem has largely been concentrated among the upper caste above-average Hindu communities.
 It may be pointed out here that it is CHEAPER for an Indian man to kill his spouse and obtain a new one with another dowry than to divorce his wife and pay her maintenance.
 Incredible as it may sound, in some cases, the convicted husband will be requested by the parents of his previous bride to marry her sister. (!!!!) The latter is an example of the severity of the problem. The sister and her parents have no place else to go but the abuser/killer man. The death of the woman has left a permanent mark of misfortune on her family resulting outcasting/abhorrence by other prospective bridegrooms. The surviving sister can’t remain unmarried: the patriarch society and the upper caste rulers would not permit that. But the incidence of the “untimely death” of her older sister prevents her parents to find a “clean” groom for her. Now, here comes the widower willing to remarry with a batch of dowry probably a little less than the first time. And, he will now probably be more “forgiving” to the bride’s family he already so much knows. So, who should the family turn to but the “closely related”?
 The widespread, statistical impact of brideburning and dowry-related deaths is a systematic, intentional gendercide of young women, unborn as well as those born to a fate they cannot control. Twelve million girls are born every year in India. Of this number, 1.5 million will never reach their first birthday. Another 850,000 will never see their fifth birthday. By the age of fifteen, only nine million will have survived childhood. At the same time, there will have been an excess of twenty-three million males in the country.
In the highlighted lines of the last paragraph culminates the murderous rampage of of a barbaric belief. That is the practical consequence of the idea that you and I never speak of – “women have no right to their life.”
To see it for what it is, without its usual cover-up of ostentatious explanation, rationalizations and justifications, you need to patiently, objectively observe the ‘symptoms’ around you – the molestation of two young women outside a star hotel by a mob, Ms. Sheila Dixit’s comment on the death of Soumya Vishwanathan, molestation and attack on two women call centre employees by their landlord and his goons in their house, Blogger A’s implicit agreement to dowry even in this day, Blogger B’s accusation of the bride in her own dowry death. Watch them carefully. These are the often missed, mostly unacknowledged and never linked incidents that in their own way point to and affirm the same deadly principle that dominates our society today.
Finally, this brings me to the point I started this post with – the instinctual aversion for media channels and agencies that I couldn’t define. When a human being speaks without ‘thinking,’ i.e., without taking into consideration the facts of reality, we term that act irresponsible. That is what Blogger A and B did. By letting wishful thinking obliterate objective truth, they prove words no longer represent reality, but instead strive to create it. With a callous indifference that would make even the most seasoned politician cringe, you can see people everywhere make statements that substitute hearsay for facts, and opinion for demonstrable truth. The consequence is a world where nothing is right or wrong, everything a matter of opinion and opinion itself a matter of whim. When a news agency does the same thing, it is not only irresponsible but plain criminal.
News is not holding camera at a burning building or rioting public. It is not showcasing a molested girl or a kid who fell in to a ditch. That is ‘reality tv.’ A News Agency’s fundamental responsibility is to help its audience make sense of an issue or event reported. We read news papers or watch TV news channels to understand our world better, not to witness in blind terror the mindlessness of our times running amuck on our streets. Only a sick, perverted mind would entertain himself with such a notion of news. Not everyone in this country can be that depraved. I certainly am not.
Bride Burning – The Elephant In The Room Is Out Of Control by Avnita Lakhani