BY: NADIA ZAIDI
India – the land of the Kama Sutra, Bollywood, and a folk culture so rich and influential, it often outweighs the authority of law. When tradition takes precedence over fundamental rights, crimes against women are justified and perpetrators are vindicated.
In a society that reveres sons, daughters are considered the wealth of another man, or the “paraya dhan” due to the custom of dowry: paying money, goods, or estate to a husband and his family as a condition of marriage. As such, daughters are perceived as expensive, burdensome, and the reflection of a family’s status.
But two latest public-service ads playing across cinemas in India denounce the practice in efforts to change perceptions.
As part of the national campaign,”Beti Padhao, Beti Badhao” (save girl child, educate girl child), the reformatory ads place power and prestige in the hands of the bride who claims to own her husband after paying a dowry.
Director Shubhashish Bhutiani wanted men to experience the same level of humiliation that women do. In an attempt at reverse discrimination, the woman’s dowry ultimately serves as leverage over her husband and his family.
Even though the 50-second videos strive to neutralize bias, they are criticized for ineffectively questioning the existence of dowry. Still, they must be commended for their efforts to sanitize the garbage rhetoric and distorted belief system that subjugate and tyrannize women.
Over the last few years, ads in India have attempted to address sex discrimination. In 2013, a jewelry ad featured a dark-skinned bride as a statement against the country’s obsession with fair-skinned women. The same ad portrayed a new bride who had a daughter from her first marriage – a taboo in most communities.
India’s Prime Minister, Narinder Modi, launched the campaign in response to the declining child-sex ratio, which points to low female birth rates. An Indian girl between the ages of 1 and 5 is 75 per cent more likely to die than a boy – the world’s biggest child mortality gender difference.
India’s daughters are being killed.
Even though dowry was prohibited in 1961, it is customary and serves as a catalyst for female feticide and infanticide. It’s also illegal to determine the sex of an unborn child; nevertheless, sex-selective abortions are widespread due to poor monitoring of ultrasound clinics.
Figures from The National Crime Records Bureau point to a woman being murdered roughly every hour over dowry. For many women, monetary obligations continue well into marriage, often increasing with time.
Despite Modi’s efforts with this initiative, he lives under a shadow of misgivings and offensive statements. In 2015, he came under global scrutiny after commending Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, for her courage against terrorism “despite being a woman.”
Bias against women in India is perpetually exhibited in various ways, like rape. It is estimated that a woman is raped every 15 minutes.
This is not to paint the entire country with a single stroke. Indeed, various social movements and celebrity activists are supporters of female justice.
But it’s not enough.
Widespread negative dispositions toward women continue to threaten their existence and leave them vulnerable to unspeakable malice.
So why is there seldom public outrage or support for India’s missing girls?
Countless baby girls will be slaughtered, abandoned, and aborted because they must pay a price.
Families paying for the marriage of their juvenile daughters to pedophilic adult men who will abuse, sexually violate and burn them should evoke as much global outrage as Donald Trump’s rhetoric does.
We have become a world that is complacent over what occurs in the foreign “third world.” The normalcy of such barbarisms has degraded our susceptibility to react and repeal against those actions.
We can express our dissent over fancy lattes, but it doesn’t mean anything if we lack the moral fibre and gusto to fight against those injustices.
The mortification of the girl child is unacceptable, but remains steadfast – in large part because we fail to acknowledge or react against it.
The thought of selling your daughter to the highest bidder is unfathomable to most of the western world. And yet it happens every single day.
It is happening as you read this.
Dowry is not just an Indian problem. It is a global problem.
I can’t begin to scratch the surface of what occurs in the remote villages of Bhambla, or in the outskirts of Delhi to a family who can’t afford to give away their daughter.
The caste system seems to be an arbitrary justification for female shaming and selling. The commodification of the girl child is culturally ingrained and groomed for continuity. It must be stopped in its disgraceful tracks before it continues to gain the leverage that has long fueled it. Ads like these must serve to arouse global cognizance on the condition of the Indian girl child.
If global intervention and outrage cannot effectively condemn a practice as detrimental to a gender as dowry, India will continue to lose their daughters.