Bridal burning is one form of an array of dowry abuse
practiced in India
. It has its roots in an ancient rite called sati
, in which a widowed woman would throw herself on her dead husband’s funeral pyre
. In antiquity this practice was seen as honorable, but was outlawed by Lord William Bentinck in 1830 (Banerjee, Injustice Studies, 1997). Another product of sati is jauhar
, “the practice of the mass burning of all the wives and daughters in an entire town/district to prevent them from falling into the hands of enemies.” While sati and jauhar are no longer widely practiced (if at all) in modern India, bride burning is alive and well.
Bride burning is often practiced within the bounds of dowry abuse. Marrying off a daughter in India requires the daughter’s family to present the groom’s family with valuables, money, land, and the like. This presents the groom and his family the opportunity to extort
mind-boggling amounts of wealth and assets out of the bride’s family as a direct result of Vedic
decrees enforcing dowry practice. If the bride’s family cannot produce enough dowry to satisfy the groom and his family, the bride is often burnt to death as a result. This can happen at any time following the actual marriage, as dowry requests and disputes often span several years and in some cases even decades.
The scope and extent of bride burning is chilling: “…government figures show that at least 7300 women were killed by their in-laws in the first nine months of 1995 for bringing inadequate dowries…” (Agarwal, Genocide
of women in Hinduism
). And many major news organizations report that bride burning has occurred as recently as 1999, although many assume it is ongoing today as many if not most cases of bride burning are never reported or written off as accidents or suicide
In a report from late 1996 (http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9608/18/bride.burn/), CNN
gave yearly statistics and even interviewed a rare survivor of this practice. The United Nations
produced a documentary
in 1999 outlining the causes of bride burning and how it is practiced in India (http://www.un.org/av/radio/bride1.htm).
Social consequences of bridal burning exist – it is obvious from the outrage expressed by many Indian women on the Internet
(http://www.indiatogether.com/wehost/nodowri/stats.htm) and in scholarly journal publications. Social consequences of bridal burning may include:
Dehumanization of women – In many areas of India and the Middle East in general, women are seen as property at best. This has created and will perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy in that women will view themselves this way in the mass perspective and never break free of the stigma placed upon them by the male-dominated culture.
Female infanticide and population unbalance – More and more married couples have begun to view having a daughter as a curse. In Modern Social Problems by James Henslin, a billboard in India is described as claiming that spending 5,000 rupees on an abortion now is less expensive than a 50,000-rupee dowry later on. Thousands of baby girls are strangled shortly after birth each year, and many gender-based abortions are also performed. Eventually, this will cause the ratio of men to women to shift to extreme male-dominance as only boys will be allowed to live at large.
Civil unrest – The women of India and the Middle East may eventually have enough numbers and communication to start a serious, damaging civil movement against the male-dominant government of the Middle East. Certainly, some government offices and committees exist today to combat female abuse, but it may come to pass that women begin to perpetrate acts of violence against men and the government in general.
Reputation – More and more the advanced, educated, “civilized” industrial nations of the world learn of the horrifying and archaic practices perpetrated and speak out against it. In the past, major world players and organizations have punished governments for condoning and practicing far less horrifying things – communism, for example. It may come to pass that India’s growth as a nation is stunted or halted altogether by embargoes and sanctions placed upon it by world organizations in response to its total disregard of civil rights.