Celebrating Women Who Fought The Much Needed Fight Against Dowry
On the occasion of Women's day, lets salute the spirit and courage of two Indian women who fought to bring about changes in anti-dowry laws in India, punishing those responsible for our shameful dowry deaths.
For years in India, though dowry was legally prohibited, asking for property, vehicles or money was rampant while conducting arranged marriages. The family of the bride usually gives money under the name of ‘blessings’ for starting a new life, which then would be usurped from the daughter after marriage.
(Also Read - Are ‘Customary Gifts’ In Marriage, Dowry In Disguise?)
The dowry prohibition act of the time attracted a penalty for demanding dowry, but had a big loophole, as the penalty could not be applied to the gifts given at the time of marriage, unless they were demanded beforehand. Requesting dowry as ‘gifts’ then gave way to physical and emotional abuse of women leading to either their suicide or ‘bride burning’ as a convenient way to dissolve the marriage.
When her six months pregnant daughter Shashi Bala died due to the bursting of the kitchen stove, Satya Rani Chadha knew that it was not suicide. She got to know that her son-in-law was asking for a scooter as a ‘gift’ to the newborn from her family. Satya Rani went upto the Supreme Court to get justice for her daughter, but as per the law, Subhash could neither be arrested nor charged.
Shahjahan Apa's daughter too was brutally beaten and allegedly burnt to death by her in-laws for dowry. Owing to poverty, Shahjahan could not take forward the court trials, and get the guilty punished.
In 1987, Satya Rani Chadha and Shahjahan Apa formed the NGO Shakti Shalini, and held campaigns, rallies, seminars, protest marches which forced the government to take actions to make the anti-dowry laws stricter. Section 498A was included to Indian Penal Code and 198A to Criminal Procedure Code making dowry a punishable offence. This paved the way to hold the husband and his family accountable for murder or abetment to suicide, if a woman died because of burns or bodily injury within seven years of her marriage.
Shahjahan Apa worked for women's rights as she never wanted any women to go through what her daughter suffered. She died in a car accident in 2013. Satya Rani passed away in 2014 after battling cancer, but not before pursuing her case for 34 years in court to get her son-in-law convicted for murder.
This Women's Day, let’s remember the resilient strength of these women, whose struggle gave confidence to the women of this decade. Though violence against women continues to happen in India, we now have a path to walk on to demand justice for ourselves.
Written by Archana KB