The Curse of Dowry Among Sikhs (OP-ED)

Although society protests against dowry, many many Sikhs individually still continue to encourage it.This practice is no...

Although society protests against dowry, many many Sikhs individually still continue to encourage it.This practice is not confined to Sikhs alone but throughout the Indian sub continent.But in Sikhi, it has been clearly prohibited, and places women on an equal footing with men. Although religiously banned, it is culturally ingrained and many find it hard to let go of this gruesome practice of dahez.

Voices are often raised at various forums by all kinds of politicians, members of religious groups,women's activists along with many NGOs against the socially and emotionally burdening menace of dahez, or dahej, which continues to be a bane for millions. Despite protests, people continue to encourage it without remorse.

Gurduaras, which should be epicentres of Sikh culture and religion, remain silent on the matter and often visiting granthis or kathawachaks are told not to discuss or speak upon such issues in the Sangat or from Gurduara stage.

Some recent discussions and figures that have been released clearly show that the custom of dowry is becoming an ever increasing cause of violence against women, making this ritualistic custom a permanent stigma on the face of Sikh society.

When probed through private or official channels, it comes to light that it was the demand for more money later on that resulted in the battering of the newly married women and, in certain cases, the murders of women by their own in-laws.

An observation of our social circles by this writer revealed that a large number of girls remain unmarried because their parents are not in a position to arrange the expensive dowries demanded unashamedly by the groom's parents.

In India, educated and skilled girls of marriagable age who tried to help their parents and themselves by working or setting up embroidery/stitching units at their residences have not succeeded either. In fact many become greater victims as the demands made are beyond their own ability to pay.

Some found that by the time they had saved up enough money for their dahez, they had already crossed what is perceived as an eligible age.

A question that remains unanswered is how many girls' dreams have been shattered, as their parents have not been able to afford to meet the demands of the greedy parents of the groom or the groom himself?

So let's talk about the Sikh community specifically. Our spiritual teaching strongly condemns the dowry system, yet it is strongly practiced within large sections of the community. Many CMs of the Punjab, including various Jathedars of the Akal Takhat have made many passionate appeals to the community and people of all strata to declare a dharam yudh. Many others have spoken out and condemned the practice and also donated monies to the poor to support non-dowry weddings. But these appeals have fallen upon deaf ears.

We must continue the dharam yudh to eradicate this oppressive custom or rivaz, which continues to cause havoc and wreck the lives of countless families in Punjabi and Sikh communities that have now migrated abroad.

The state government must promulgate an ordinance which bans the serving of sumptuous meals at marriage ceremonies and restrict menus to only one dish at dinners and lunches hosted by parents of the brides. This will be helpful to the poor families. Gurduaras too must enforce the rule of simplicity and practice that themselves before preaching and inviting individuals to hold grand receptions.

Rather than speaking out against dowry, educated Sikhs as well are often the instigators of this evil ritual. We must exhort affluent members of our society to set worthy examples by shunning exhibitionisms of materialism and putting an end to the practice of hosting large receptions on occasions of marriages. We must encourage people not to dole out expensive items of dahez for our sisters and daughters. It is also not unknown that some people will ruthlessly continue to demand this ritual.

Dowry affects the poor seriously. It affects them financially, emotionally, mentally and often leads to physical violence and hurt. It is well known and very alarming that several married women fed up with the taunts and jeers of the in-laws resort to suicide, some even setting themselves on fire.

"Accidental deaths" from exploding of gas stoves in kitchens have also been frequently reported, which on deeper investigation indicate that suicides or "accidental deaths" were in fact planned murders committed by their husbands with the collusive support of other members of the family, including mothers, fathers and sisters.

The reasons that emerged were that the deceased wives did not or could not bring enough dowry to appease the avaricious in-laws.

This despicable custom also continues to prevail due to the double standards of our so called leaders, who are but regurgitated mouthwashes, which used repeatedly make them forget just how they stink themselves along with affluent members of society who curry their favours.

Historically, Dahez is an old custom spawned by a Hindu law of inheritance which denied daughters their due share from their parents estates. To compensate the deprived daughters, Hindu parents devised a system, which enabled them to circumvent the law and give them large chunks of their wealth. They gave their daughters as much as they could in the form of costly jewellery, expensive garments and other household items during their marriages.

This custom over the years then became an inherent aspect of not only Muslem culture, but eventually also affected the Sikh culture.

Cheap display of exuberance during wedding ceremonies and of dowry show has now become an accepted norm among Sikhs, giving rise to many traditions or rivaaz that adversely affect our collective social behaviour and national psyche.

Over centuries, exhibitionist tendencies have increased manifold, resulting in the emergence of various social and emotional problems.

In the face of the teachings of Gurbani, why have we Sikhs not succeeded in purging this social evil? What are the reasons that keep the custom alive and let it continue? Should not the SGPC/Akal Takhat or governments adopt and enforce strong legislative measures to combat this menace? Many parents have made heartening pleas for help to curb this menace in newspaper columns and letters, but to no avail, as the silence from Gurduaras is deafening and ignorantly silent.

Pompous and lavish wedding festivities have become the norm as they include large receptions held at 5 star hotels, marriage palaces and halls or on the spacious lawns of private bungalows. Furthermore, those who cannot afford such expensive venues block off streets and roads in front of their houses creating a nuisance to traffic and causing much inconveniences, both to pedestrians as well as to motorists. Ear splitting live or recorded music is played at maximum volumes while gaudy looking illuminations, and many times even excessive display of expensive fireworks, is done, not just out of jubilation, but also following the example of the rich who spend thousands on fireworks.

We seem to have forgotten the noble traditions, as guided by Gurbani, that advise us  on simplicity and humility.

The curse of dahez is more evident often in the extremely rich or the extremely poor. It was assumed that with advent of educated Gursikhya, we would have by now moved on, but regrettably, we still take much pride giving expensive dowries and lavish weddings with brand name alcoholic drinks, more to show our own wealth then help the new bride and groom to start their own home!

For the wealthy it has become a means to expand or create their social, economic and perhaps political clout and influence.

Parents of boys, especially those from abroad, are always on lookout for a match for their sons from their own social class or clan from whom they will expect gift cars, expensive jewelery and other costly items, which the poor parents of the brides cannot even dream off. This happens every day in the Punjab to parents of any girl who is looking to marry abroad.

The Gurbani and Sikh traditional rights of equality, unlike the ancient Hindu inheritance law, ensures that females and males should be treated equally and fairly when inheriting their parents wealth, if any.

It is sad that, despite the teachings of our Gurus and in the face of politicians and religious leaders who make lofty speeches that dahez is an unjust custom and that measures should be taken to stop and curb it, our gurduaras still encourage it by casting a blind eye when extraordinary items are added to langar which is supposed to be a simple meal.

The entire Sikh community is overwhelmed with lectures on what a married life is about but not a word is said about the barter and trading that has taken place within minutes of the lawan.T he rich continue to dole out as many of the dowry items as possible to their daughters at the time of the marriage, beleiving the daughter's future will be guaranteed with the dowry. In reality, the dowry given does NOT gurantee anything, instead it often acts as a future source of bullying, harassment, demands, and threats, often leading to real violence and death for the poor bride, and that for simply being a woman.

The reality is there are now more people than ever who who see the dowry as a ticket to richness acquired without much effort and toil, and also possibly a long time source of increased demands for their material needs. Fueled by their own greed, thay are not motivating people to bring about a helpful change in their attitudes about this undesirable, cancerously evil norm and practice.

Today's Granthis have failed. Sikh organisations who each take pride in themselves in being more helpful and Sikhi orientated than the next one, have failed as well.

In fact, some of the post holders themselves have encouraged, practiced and perhaps become rich from the dowry they themselves have received.

The community leaders, for the safety of their chairs, are silent and often willing partners to this act. They live by double standards.

The ragi jathas have set their eyes on the maya that is donated and so they stay silent as well. They will dispense everything else for praise but remain silent on dowry again and again.

The sad cycle goes on and on. Other communities are not our concern today. Our concerns are with Sikhi and our Sikh community. Countless Sikh girls have commited suicide by setting fire to themselves, drowning themselves or many other methods as the initial dowry given creates more greed and the demands for more and more increases makes their life unbearable and finally end it in death.

When will the Sikh community take this issue seriously and address it? When 100,000, 1,000,000 or more of our women are dead and gone? It needs to be stopped now. What can you do to help?

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