Dowry Deaths Continuing in India

For Manta Singh, an angry argument with her mother-in-law was apparently the last straw.   Shortly afterward, the 27-year-old mother of two jumped to her death from a fourth-floor apartment in Delhi's Vivek Vihar district.    Married for nine years, Singh had reportedly faced regular harassment from her in-laws and her husband over the size of her dowry which they insisted was inadequate.  Although her brother, Mukesh Singh alleges that she had been murdered instead, dowry-related suicides appear to be on the increase in India.    Manta Singh's death was one of three reported in Delhi during the same September weekend, all involving women who had faced abuse from  in-laws demanding larger dowries from their families.   Following one of these incidents in which a 28-year old bride hanged herself from a ceiling fan in a East Delhi neighbourhood, the woman's husband and mother-in-law were charged with abetting the suicide.  According to police, the suicide was directly linked to the abuse she had been receiving from her husband and family members.

While payment of dowry gifts has been formally prohibited under Indian law since 1961,  it is still commonly practiced in many parts of the country.  High-profile cases of bridal abuse has spurred calls for further crackdowns and stricter legislation although police are often reluctant to pursue formal complaints laid by brides and their families.  The Indian Law Commission has called for stringent anti-dowry legislation to be loosened so that family members charged with harassment can be freed on bail although women's groups in India maintain that anti-dowry legislation is actually causing more problems with domestic violence due to poorly defined conditions and inadequate implementation in many cases.   Any suspicious death occurring within seven years of marriage is often assumed to be a "dowry murder" whatever the actual circumstances. 

Whether or not the most recent deaths are prosecuted under current anti-dowry laws, there seems little doubt that the clash between ancient customs and current reality will continue for Indian society.

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