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What is Dowry Harassment?

Elizabeth West
Elizabeth West

Dowry harassment in societies that have dowry customs is an attempt to obtain more money or goods from a wife’s family after the marriage. If the wife's family does not or cannot comply, abuse and torture may follow. The practice is also used to free the husband to marry another, perhaps someone with a larger dowry. Victims can be murdered or driven to suicide by repeated abuse. This issue has been identified and researched primarily in India.

With the opening of India to more Western influences, including consumerism, the gap between the rich and poor has increased. Dowry has degenerated into a means to obtain or augment wealth by the husband or his family, using dowry harassment as a form of extortion. Beatings and psychological torture are common, as are threats of divorce and even kidnapping. The Indian taboo against divorce prevents the women from simply leaving the marriage and they often commit suicide, driven by hopelessness.

Dowry harassment has been associated with India.
Dowry harassment has been associated with India.

The families of the women must fend off repeated demands for more and more payments, rather than simply settling the dowry at the time of the wedding. A trend of gender-based abortions in India has been noted, so that families will not have to provide dowry or become subject to dowry harassment when it comes time for daughters to be married. The problem is especially prevalent in more rural parts of the country where education is lacking.

Female infanticide has been practiced in India.
Female infanticide has been practiced in India.

Recently, dowry harassment of men has come under scrutiny. Some women use the dowry law to threaten their husbands with false charges unless they comply with their demands. Critics of the Dowry Prohibition Act and domestic violence laws in India have pointed out that they don’t take violence against men into account, and instead shift the burden of proof onto the accused. The men can be arrested and jailed without any investigation.

Some men have been subject to dowry kidnapping by families that cannot afford a large marriage payment. The men are usually educated with good career prospects or from wealthy families who would normally command a huge dowry from the bride’s family. They are abducted, held captive, and forced into marriage. Criminal gangs are entering into this practice, earning substantial commissions for their efforts. Most of these kidnappings are centered in Bihar, India’s poorest state.

Prevention of dowry harassment depends in large part on education and support. Groups formed to speak out against dowry seek to enforce the laws against dowry harassment and find a more balanced solution that does not end up victimizing men. Advocates try to educate women and help them improve their earning power and self-esteem. Through strong lobbying against female infanticide and the dowry custom itself, advocates hope to eliminate what they see as the outdated and oppressive treatment of both men and women.

Discussion Comments


There may be very rare cases where the dowry act is misused, but usually, even real dowry harassment cases don't make it to the court at all. Even if they do, since it is difficult to have watertight proof for such crimes which happen within the privacy and the four walls of the house (unless the girl has been set ablaze and has severe, undeniable burns all over her body - but even then she is usually coerced to not give a statement and settle for compromise), they are usually referred to mediators or dismissed. They are not false cases (very rare ones may be), but genuine ones which, by their very nature of happening behind closed doors, will not be able to stand vigorous disclaims and 'explanations' (for visible, permanent/semi-permanent physical injuries if any) by the groom's lawyers.

Several years back there was a case in South India where the husband and in-laws pinned down a pregnant wife, held her nose forcing her to open her mouth and poured concentrated acid down her throat. Her parents and brother (who came that day to pick her up to their home for delivery) were shocked and admitted her in a hospital (where she died in a couple of days) and filed a complaint against the husband and family. She could not even make her dying declaration as her whole mouth, throat and body were burnt, but they somehow managed to get her convey the incident (microphones, video) and recorded it. Even in this undeniable case, which made it in all the newspapers, the husband still appointed a lawyer to find "explanations", escape clauses, etc., and the case went on for years long after it faded from public memory.

Had the parents not arrived before the girl was completely dead, the husband would have told them that she mistook the acid for medicine and drank it, and shed crocodile tears over the "accident". The fact that she was pinned down and her nose was held to get her open her mouth would have never been known.

This turned out to be watertight, but not all batterings can have such proof. Injuries will be explained away and even in murder cases where there is substantial evidence, the man and his parents always deny that they did anything. All such criminals would claim that they are being framed and that the dowry act is being misused all over India, etc., etc., just like any other criminal caught for any other crime.


In India, women file false cases (98 percent of them are found false in court) to settle scores of a failed marriage. Women have become leeches who want to extort money from men and live on it for ever without dropping a sweat.

Some 62,000 married men commit suicide in India because of torture from their wives. It's not a joke; it's data from home ministry.


The dowry system is present not just in Southeast Asia, but in the Middle East also. And dowry harassment happens a lot there.

Dowry is paid to the bride or the bride's father. It can be in the form of money, land or gold. This tradition was started to give women financial protection within the marriage.

But either the bride's father or the groom and his family pressure the bride to give the monies to them. I have heard of many women who are forced to turn over their gold jewelry to their husbands immediately after marriage. Or their fathers might take the dowry on the girl's behalf and use it himself. They might get beaten if they refuse to give it.


Is dowry prohibited in India or not?

I guess it wouldn't make much difference even if it was prohibited if they don't put into practice.

It sounds to me like this dowry harassment is going to be a problem for a long time there.


I was surprised to hear about men being harassed for dowry. I thought that the harassment was mainly directed at women.

I read an article though, that talked about how some women in India are finding Indian grooms in U.S. and other countries. The grooms families also pressure for their sons to marry Indian brides. The women sometimes use their knowledge of the men's status and wealth to ask for money, benefits and property after marriage. Then, they return to India and have their husbands arrested under the Dowry Prohibition Act.

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    • Dowry harassment has been associated with India.
      By: Tupungato
      Dowry harassment has been associated with India.
    • Female infanticide has been practiced in India.
      By: tanyalittle
      Female infanticide has been practiced in India.