News / Asia

In Facebook Game, Indian Women Reject Dowry

Kurt Achin

A new social-media game is drawing renewed attention to an age-old problem in India - the illegal practice of dowry, or the transfer of wealth from a bride's family to a groom's family to coax him into marriage, a practice often abused by families that make excess demands.

The Facebook game is called “Angry Brides” - reminiscent of the mobile-phone sensation “Angry Birds.”

The player assumes the role of a Hindu goddess whose many arms can throw projectiles like stiletto-heeled shoes and construction boots at potential husbands.

Every time the player hits one of the desirable professional men, the amount of money he demands for marriage goes down. The matchmaking company that developed the game says it's a lighthearted way to inspire women to take a stand against dowry.

Ranjana Kumari of the Delhi-based Center for Social Research has spent the last 30 years fighting the dark side of dowry. Kumari says dowry was historically meant to be a blessing, but now is often a curse.

“Ultimately it ends up in the hands of these in-laws who are greedy, who have lust for money, who would want to live a life of luxury without making effort for it," she said.

"Prathy," a dowry-dispute victim who withheld her name for fear of reprisals, saw her parents lose everything.

"When I moved into my husband's house after getting married, they beat me a lot because they wanted more dowry," she said. "He used to say, 'the only way I will keep you is if you bring 50,000 rupees from your parent's house.' My parents don't have any money anymore."

“My parents gave a gold ring, a gold chain, a fridge, a television set, a bed. Clothes for the whole family and relatives," she said. "They gave almost everything that is usually included in dowry and even then these people kept asking for more.”

Technically illegal

Officially, dowry has been illegal in India for more than 50 years, but it remains widespread. Thousands of women are killed each year in dowry disputes, and, according to Kumari, India's rising wealth exacerbates the problem.

"For the poor, there is a kind of agreement that you can only do this much," says Kumari. "So there is a kind of a level playing field for those families. But for the middle class, there is almost mindless desire to live in luxury."

Experts say there is a clear link between the practice of dowry and the sharply declining girl-to-boy ratio of babies in India.

Canada's Center for Global Health Research released findings last year suggesting selective abortion may account for up to 12 million missing girls over the last three decades.

Kumari says families want to avoid dowry obligations, and points out that some abortion clinics have even used that fact to market their services.

“There used to be a lot of advertisements you would see around Delhi and smaller city towns and villages - and it would be clearly displayed: 'please spend 5,000 Rupees today, to save your 500,000 Rupees tomorrow," says Kumari.

"Manpreet," a dowry-dispute victims whose name we've withheld to protect her identity, says she fought back against her family to carry her child to term after its gender was discovered.

"They found out through ultrasound it was a girl, and my in-laws said we don't need a girl," she said. "When I refused to get an abortion done, all of them beat me a lot."

Women's advocates say India needs a fast-track legal mechanism to crack down on dowry cases, and that women need to develop the courage to refuse dowry demands, even if that means remaining unmarried.

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