The Indian subcontinent Crisis & Support Agency (ICSA) shares important information on dowry as a factor in domestic abuse.
By Kittu Randhawa
Dowry is a payment in the form of goods, assets, or materials which have a financial or economical value in marriage, usually given to the groom and his family. Dowry often quoted to be a gift is not so; it is separate and in addition to wedding gifts; as it is a fundamental part of the ‘agreement of marriage’. Dowry is considered to bind an agreement between families to a commitment of lifelong matrimony.
However, a woman’s nightmare can begin from the moment the wedding guests have departed and demands begin through her, to her family. Delays or refusals from her family lead to the onset of abuse against the woman, as a mechanism to coerce her family to pay up.
What begins as abuse then escalates to violence that can even extend to her children, in particular, her daughter/s. The correlation of abuse and violence with dowry is very evident in India, where there is even a specific category of homicide called ‘dowry deaths’ and crimes called ‘cruelty by husband and relatives’.
The practice of dowry (in spite of being illegal in India since 1961 and which can attract severe penalties including large fines and even imprisonment), is still covertly practiced.
Dowry is not acknowledge or illegal under Australian law, nor are there any remedies for relief or recovery. So the practice of dowry within the Indian subcontinent community in Australia is being practiced not just openly, but legitimately.
Regardless of how much families pay in dowry to avoid their child’s marriage ending, if eventually it still comes to divorce proceedings, property settlements here in Australia do not take into account the family’s dowry contributions. Other western countries have recovery provisions, but here in Australia, we have none. Dowry in Australia is regularly appearing as a significant contributor to domestic abuse, violence and exploitation. The modern day dowry demand structure has opened up opportunities through Australian migration for wider abuse extending through to fraud, extortion and trafficking, leaving some young people and their families with their lives in ruin.
More cases are emerging in which women marrying an Australian husband can often get little more than a useless marriage certificate. It can be the start of regular demands for money and valuables from her family, to save her marriage and her right to stay in Australia.
Unfortunately too many women are abandoned before they receive their permanent residency. This means their permanent resident spouse can move onto another wife and dowry with it, while they battle to even provide for themselves.
Modern migration in Australia has seen this situation now occur in both genders, still in greater in numbers for women than men. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for a groom to pay dowry for an Australian wife, only to become the victim of abuse and exploitation in much the same way. These young men and women are often solely dependent on the spouse and their family; therefore they suffer in silence, feeling they have no alternative.
Not only can the practice of dowry be carried out here in Australia with the comfort of impunity, the related abuse that dowry generates is missing in the wider discussion on Domestic Violence (DV).
The debate in Australia on DV focuses on the Western cultural concept of the family, domestic relationships and causes. The perpetrators are largely men; their abusive behaviour is often related to the male culture and ego, alcohol and substance abuse and cycle of behaviour for generations. Compare that to a family of vegan, non-drinking, God-fearing, hardworking and socially ‘respectable’ people of the subcontinent. By the Australian model, there wouldn’t or shouldn’t be any abuse; but there can be, and it is much more concealed. If the causes of DV are different, then the solutions to it must be too.
To the Western demographic, it’s not palatable to consider that contribution or cause of domestic abuse or violence can involve participation from a woman (especially mothers). The Western concept looks at patterns of abusive behaviour, not the potentially lucrative lure of financial gain, that many subcontinent families face. Cultural context plays an important part in developing strategies to deal with social issues. How can local solutions address a form of abuse, if it’s not even on the agenda?
There are those within the community who claim to the wider Australian community that dowry isn’t an issue here in Australia. Of course it isn’t a problem if the current status quo fits your agenda of being able to demand dowry without any fear of breaking a law. It is naïve to believe that people who would covertly practice dowry in India would not exploit the opportunity offered by the legal system here.
This is why the Indian (Sub-Cont) Crisis & Support Agency (ICSA) is asking the Federal Government to help combat this form of domestic violence and exploitation. By taking the first step, which is to amend the laws and make the practice illegal.
So what can you do? Go to our website http://www.icsa.net.au and click on the link to sign the petition on Change.org
If you or your family have experienced misfortune through dowry demands or dowry domestic abuse/ violence, then tell your story to the Government through a confidential submission. You can also ask your local politician to write a letter supporting the legislation change, or donate to ICSA’s Domestic Violence Program that provides support to victims.