- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Dowry, the money , goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his family in marriage . Most common in cultures that are strongly patrilineal and that expect women to reside with or near their husband’s family (patrilocality), dowries have a long history in Europe , South Asia, Africa , and other parts of the world.
One of the basic functions of a dowry has been to serve as a form of protection for the wife against the very real possibility of ill treatment by her husband and his family. A dowry used in this way is actually a conditional gift that is supposed to be restored to the wife or her family if the husband divorces , abuses , or commits other grave offenses against her. Land and precious metals have often been used in this form of dowry and are frequently inalienable by the husband, though he might otherwise use and profit from them during the marriage.
A dowry sometimes serves to help a new husband discharge the responsibilities that go with marriage. This function assumes special importance in societies where marriages have regularly been made between very young people; the dowry enables the new couple to establish a household, which they otherwise would not have been able to do. In some societies a dowry provides the wife with a means of support in case of her husband’s death. In this latter case the dowry may be seen as a substitute for her inheritance of all or part of her husband’s estate.
In many societies, dowries have served as a reciprocal gesture by the bride ’s kin to the groom’s kin for the expenses incurred by the latter in payment of bridewealth . These exchanges are not purely economic but instead serve to ratify the marriage and consolidate friendship between the two families.
In medieval and Renaissance Europe , the dowry frequently served not only to enhance the desirability of a woman for marriage but also to build the power and wealth of great families and even to determine the frontiers and policies of states. The use of dowries more or less disappeared in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. In some other places, however, dowries grew in popularity at the end of the 20th century, even when declared illegal or otherwise discouraged by governments. In South Asia, for instance, parents of the groom have sometimes demanded compensation for their son’s higher education and future earnings, which the bride would ostensibly share.
Learn More in these related Britannica articles:
- India: Family and kinship…connected to the institution of dowry, since the family’s obligation to provide a suitable dowry to the bride’s new family represents a major financial liability. Traditionally, women were expected to treat their husbands as if they were gods, and obedience of wives to husbands has remained a strong social norm.…
- Hinduism: The religious situation after independenceThe 1961 law forbidding dowries further undermined traditional Hinduism. Although the dowry has long been a tremendous burden to the parents of daughters, the strength of social custom is such that the law cannot be fully enforced.…
- inheritance: Roman law…taken care of by the dowry, which, given to the husband, usually by her family, at the time of the marriage, was to be hers after the husband’s death. For the exceptional case of a “poor widow”—i.e., a widow without dowry—a share in the estate was provided. Distribution among members…
- family law: Marriage as a transfer of dependence…by the bride’s family (dowry). The giving of a ring had a symbolic role in many kinds of wedding and betrothal ceremonies. The word
wedderives from the Anglo-Saxon word for security given to bind a promise. The property used as security was not necessarily transferred but given symbolically…
- marriage: Marital customs and lawsSome form of dowry or bridewealth is almost always exchanged in societies that favour arranged marriages.…
More About Dowry
6 references found in Britannica articles
- In family: Family law
- family law
- In family law: Marriage as a transfer of dependence
- In Hinduism: The religious situation after independence
- In India: Family and kinship
- inheritance and succession
- In inheritance: Roman law
- In marriage: Marital customs and laws
- Indianetzone – Indian Weddings – Dowry System
- dowry – Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up)
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Advantages of Dowry System in India
Though the practice of dowry is publicly condemned, legally banned and morally despised of in practice it still persists as some of the supporters of this system argue that this practice has its advantages. Some of the arguments in favour of dowry by the supporters of this system are discussed here under.
1. Dowry helps newly married couple to establish their family:
The advocates of the practice of dowry say that the dowry, money, utensils and other house hold articles that a bride brings at the time of marriage help the newly married couple to establish their new home and also enables them to furnish their home with necessary accessories.
2. It makes marriage of ugly looking girl easy:
Practice of dowry makes the marriage of ugly looking, uneducated and aged girl easy as huge amount of dowry acts as effective and useful method for luring suitable bride groom for the bride.
3. Supports the Higher Education of poor boys:
The practice of dowry solves the financial problem of poor young bachelors and gives support for higher education to prospective bridegroom.
4. Raises the status of women in family:
Supporters of this system think that marriage is a girl’s life insurance and the dowry is the premium. A girl earring with her huge amount of dowry feels confident while entering her in-laws house and is given greater attention and importance in-laws family where as a girl without dowry feels uneasy and apprehensive. Besides, it enables for a lower Class / Caste women to marry an upper class/ caste boy through which she can be able to raise her status in the society.
5. Promotes Inter-caste, inter religion and inter- state marriage:
Dowry helps to find a suitable bridegroom from other cast, religion or form other state Dowry is practically helpful when in a particular caste we are not able to find a suitable and qualified boy for a suitable girl.
6. Acts as a provident fund:
Supporters of this practice put arguments that dowry acts as a provident fund for the girls to face many financial hazards in future as boys of other cast and religion easily allured by dowry and give their consent for inter-cast, inter- religion and inter-state marriage.
Disadvantages of Dowry System in India
In modern times this custom has taken magnified proportion and has emerged as contemptible social evil because this system has more disadvantages than advantages. Practice of dowry which assumed the form of an institution over the years has caused lots of hardship to large number of people in the Indian society. It reduces the sacred institution of marriage to business transaction. It has degraded a young maiden to the level of a saleable commodity. Dowry has virtually become a menace in the Indian society. Its practice leads to various evil consequences among which the following may be noted.
1. Dowry causes great economic burden on bride’s family:
Dowry has become a great economic burden to the middle and lower class families. These people live hand to mouth. They rarely save money. They spend their resources to meet their necessary want, for children’s education and in meeting various social obligations.
Hence they have to borrow money or sell a piece of their property or mortgage valuable articles of the family to give dowry in daughter’s marriage which becomes ultimately a great economic burden for parents to repay the borrowed amounts after marriage. Therefore Gandhiji has stated that one, who makes dowry a pre- condition for his marriage, not only shows disrespect to women but also humiliates his own nation, education and womanhood and such young person’s should be socially boycotted.
2. Increases corrupt attitude of parents:
Many parents develop their corrupt attitude to collect money for paying dowry. They accept all sorts of briberies. They undertake unsocial activities like smuggling or earn by unfair means. Thus dowry practices forces some parents to be corrupt.
3. Lowers the standard of living:
Each marriage of daughters leads the drainage of money from brides’ side due to dowry practice and breaks the backbone of the family by lowering the standard of living, if of course the family earns by legal means.
4. Dowry leads to some immoral practices:
In order to escape from the menace of dowry, some young girls prefer to undertake jobs to earn huge amount of money to meet the dowry expenses and thereby reduce the dowry tension of their parents. In the process some innocent girls are carried away by the false promises of the young boys and are often sexually cheated to be made pregnant. Subsequently such girls are socially defamed and finally they are forced to commit suicide finding no alternatives.
At times girls are bound to commit suicide when their in-laws forced them to bring more and more dowry form parents. Even the husband along with his parents or other family members do not hesitate to take away the life of bride on dowry issue if the dowry is not up to their satisfaction. This accounts for an explosive situation such as bride burning and many other atrocities activity against women in our society.
Women are ill treated, disrespected, manhandled, tortured and subject to all sorts’ cruelties in the name of dowry. Newly married girls are always the victims of harassment, violence, murder and suicide. Dowry is demanded as though it is fundamental right of the bridegroom. Violence against women who bring less dowry or no dowry includes-physical battering, emotional neglect, torture, verbal abuse, refusal of sufficient food, imposition of heavy physical work and so on.
In-spite of the varied legislation to ban the practice of dowry, the regret is that it still persists. Demands for dowry have even caused dowry death. For every 17 minutes one dowry death occurs in our society. Further some girls, who remain unmarried due to dowry system, take decision to carry on illegal sexual relations in order to satisfy their sexual urge and there by pollute the whole society.
5. Dowry practice lowers the status of women:
A girl is considered a liability in her own natal home due to prevalence of the custom of dowry practice. Some parents are unwilling to give higher education to their daughter as they have to search for highly educated boy for marriages and better educated boy will demand more dowries which creates unnecessary problem, for parents.
Dowry is thus a great impediment in the progress of education of girls and girls being deprived of higher education are unable to raise their status. In middle class family boy is always given more importance in respect of food, dresses, medical care and education only due to practice of dowry.
Besides, the boy who receives huge amount of dowry may think of himself as more dignified as having a higher status greater prestige and more respectful than the girl. Subsequently the girl develops inferiority complex. Dowry system lowers the status of women in another way. Some greedy boys want to marry several women to get monetary’ benefit in the form of dowry. This naturally affects the status of the women.
6. Dowry system makes imbalance in the sex ratio:
Parent of poor families kill their daughter from their vary birth or at the stage of fetuses in their mother’s womb. The practice of female infanticide and feticide has led to an imbalance in the sex ratio in our society.
7. Dowry practice enhances psychological tension:
Many marriages breakdown due to dowry practice and increases the tension of both parents and daughters. Besides, parents always remain worried and tensed in arranging money required to pay in dowry for daughter’s marriage.
In some cases girls with self dignity may refuse to marry a boy who demands dowry and may be forced to remain spinsters throughout their lives. Forcible suppression of sex urge may make them to become irritable, frustrated disgusted and pessimistic. They may even develop neurotic diseases and get involved in an emotional problem.
In many cases, girls are ill-treated even after the payment of dowry. So they spoil their mental peace and cause continuous irritation though they resist this treatment.
Many times just for the sake of dowry parents fix up their son’s marriage without taking his consent which finally leads misunderstanding and unhappiness between married couple.
Despite rapid globalization, liberalization and privatisation dowry has become the greatest social evil today. Both legislative and non – legislative measures are to be taken for the eradication of dowry practice.
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