EDITOR’S NOTE: Because of the controversial nature of dowries, most women will not share their stories openly. The names of the women in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
A wedding is one of the greatest events in a family — a joyous occasion that represents hope for the future as two families are united.
“In India, it is no exaggeration to say that there is no greater event in a family than a wedding,” said Sreekanth Gundoji, CFCA communications liaison in India.
However, weddings bring serious financial pressures for families living in poverty as they try to meet cultural demands. For parents in India, the marriage of a daughter can require money for dowries.
“Dowry was established originally to provide seed money or property for the establishment of a new household, to help a husband feed and protect his family and to give the wife and children some support if he were to die,” Gundoji said.
But dowry abuse, extorting money from the bride’s family through a dowry, led to passage of the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act. Although the practice is prohibited by law, it still exists secretly among people of all religions, castes and regions of India.
In Hyderabad, sponsorship through CFCA’s Hope for a Family program is empowering women and their families to cope with dowry abuse.
Sukshmana Thakur, a CFCA social worker, works with mothers groups in the slums of Hyderabad. She has seen the negative impact of dowry abuse.
“This practice does not stop even after the marriage,” Thakur said. “The in-laws and husband demand more money. If they fail to pay, the in-laws will harass the bride and force her parents to give. … In some cases, the girl attempts suicide.”
Thakur and other CFCA social workers in the Hyderabad slums offer counseling and moral support to families facing dowry abuse. Mothers groups encourage members to discuss dowry problems.
“Because of these efforts, some mothers are coming forward to share their problems and identify solutions among themselves,” said Suresh Singareddy, coordinator of the CFCA program in Hyderabad.
But the most important way that sponsorship is helping families cope with the destructive pressures of dowries is by supporting the education of girls.
“CFCA aims to empower women through its programs,” Singareddy said. “Helping girls to take advantage of education through sponsorship is a first step. When we support the girl to get her education, it helps her to live with dignity without depending on others and it also gives self-confidence to solve her problems.”
The following are stories of women in the sponsorship program who have been impacted by dowry abuse. Their real names were not used because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
Maheshwari married in 1996. Because her family’s limited financial resources prevented them from paying the full dowry, the husband harassed her and beat her publicly, demanding more money. He finally left but has returned occasionally and continued his abusive behavior.
With the help of CFCA, Maheshwari bought a sewing machine. She now earns income by selling the clothes she makes.
In addition to basic necessities and education, sponsorship of one of her sons provides Maheshwari’s family with counseling. CFCA provided medical care for her injuries and has counseled Maheshwari on her legal rights.
With the help of CFCA sponsorship, Mallika encourages her three daughters to study. She believes that an education will help the girls get a good job so they can earn their own money instead of depending on a husband for economic support. This will eliminate the pressure for a dowry.
Therefore, Mallika does not worry about her daughters’ marriages or about saving money for dowries. She believes it is her duty to see that her daughters finish their education.
CFCA sponsorship has given Mallika and her husband confidence to keep their girls in school.
Anjamma and her husband have three daughters and work as day laborers in construction. The first daughter married with a small dowry. They saved three years from their small household income for the second daughter’s dowry. The third daughter is sponsored and in school.
To obtain the second daughter’s dowry, Anjamma and the daughter did domestic work in nearby houses. They put their hard-earned family savings into a fund that promised a high rate of return. After 20 months, the fund manager absconded with their money and they have no hope of recovering it.
Social workers at the Hyderabad project guide families on household spending and educate them so they are not vulnerable to such frauds.