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.
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.
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.