Increased cases of dowry-related harassment in Kerala; law unable to help

Data presented to the Kerala Assembly showed that the Kerala Police has registered 223 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act 2011 as of February 10, 2022. 79% of these cases have been charged but the conviction rate hovered at a low 4%.

The suicide of Mofiya Parvin, a 21-year-old law student from Aluva, allegedly due to dowry-related harassment has created a storm in Kerala for more than one reason

Mofiya Parvin, a 21-year-old law student from Aluva in Kerala, killed herself last year. She took her own life on November 22, 2021, after leaving a note revealing how she had been harassed for dowry by her husband and family.

Mofiya’s suicide has created a storm in Kerala for more than one reason. In the suicide note, she had demanded action be taken against an Aluva station cop for ignoring her complaint of domestic violence and harassment. The Youth Congress took up the case and protested the then police station officer, CL Sudheer, whom the girl had mentioned in her suicide note. Later, he was suspended and the investigation was taken over by the criminal section of the district, Ernakulam rural.

Dilshad Saleem, Mofiya’s father, told the Federal he did not trust the Kerala police and wanted a CBI investigation into his daughter’s death.

“Suhail (Mofiya’s husband) asked us for ₹40 lakh rupees as dowry. His family members including his mother supported him and kept harassing her for not giving the money,” said said Saleem, aggrieved.

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Mofiya’s death is the latest in a series of suicides and murders of young girls in Kerala due to dowry-related harassment. On June 21, 2021, newlywed Vismaya (22) from Kollam committed suicide unable to bear the dowry related harassment. Her husband Kiran Kumar, who was a motor vehicle inspector, was arrested.

A day before killing herself, Vismaya sent WhatsApp messages to her relatives about the harassment she was facing to bring more dowry. She had also sent photos of wounds and physical injury marks on her body.

According to Vismaya’s father, he married his daughter by giving her 100 gold sovereigns, an acre of land and a car worth ₹10 lakh. According to an indictment submitted by the police, Kumar and his family demanded more dowry and tortured the girl.

Data presented to the Kerala Assembly by the government on February 22 showed that Kerala Police had registered 223 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act 2011 as of February 10, 2022. Seventy-nine percent of those cases were charged, but the conviction rate hovered at a low 4 percent. Of the 176 cases charged, the defendants were convicted in only seven cases. On the contrary, the acquittal rate was higher – defendants were acquitted in 32 cases.

There is a marked increase in the number of cases of dowry-related harassment in 2021 – the year of the pandemic. Seventy-five cases were recorded, of which 45 cases were charged. Worryingly, domestic violence and divorce cases are also increasing in the state.

The state is among the top in the number of family court cases. The Divisional Bench of the Kerala High Court recently observed: “The state of Kerala, which accounts for 3% of the country’s population, has one of the highest numbers of matrimonial cases in the country.

Read also : Cobra Murder: How Kerala Police Nailed Husband For Wife’s Death

“Compromise is the norm, providing evidence is difficult”

According to lawyers, police and women’s rights activists, it is very difficult to pinpoint the culprit in a dowry case. “Often, the two families make compromises. The cops are encouraging them to do this and they are negotiating with the families to sort it out at this point,” said attorney Asha Unnithan, a lawyer and activist.

She told the Federal that there are cases in which women have committed suicide or been found dead in mysterious circumstances and families have reached a compromise at police stations. As the system is very patriarchal, of which the police are a part, everything is suppressed, lawyer Asha said.

Take the example of Mofiya Parvin. The police officer against whom Mofiya alleged he was biased told the media that “Mofiya hit her husband when they were called to compromise.”

The dowry is not defined in the law

The very notion of dowry is not properly defined in the law. “It is permissible to give ‘gifts’ during the wedding, as long as they are listed. The dowry concerns gifts that are not listed during the celebration of the marriage. The Dowry Prohibition Rules of 1985 state that both parties must maintain a list of gifts, but it remains vague on how to make such a list.

“The law itself somehow promotes the dowry under the disguise of a gift. The law or rules do not specify how the list is legally valid. Should it be registered or not? Would a private gift list have any validity? There are many issues that still remain in the gray area of ​​the law. In general, the prosecution and the courts take a case-by-case approach, depending on the facts available,” said attorney Sandhya J, who has served as a lawyer and women’s rights activist in several domestic violence cases.

Not only accepting a dowry, but also giving is considered a crime. This provision of the law providing for the punishment of the donor frightens many people from the idea of ​​going to report the crime to the police. Lawyer Sandhya told the Federal there was an urgent need to raise awareness. Also, according to Sandhya, the bride’s family will not be punished if they are harmed by the dowry request.

“The relevant section of the law has recently been amended and this provision has been incorporated, but many people are unaware of this,” she added. Even the cops threaten the girl’s family saying they will also be arrested for giving the dowry.

Read also : To curb threat, Kerala appoints dowry interdiction officers

Since marriage and the giving and accepting of “gifts” is a “private family affair”, providing evidence for a dowry demand offense often becomes difficult. “Who will testify against a member of his own family? We will have to go through circumstantial evidence; there will be no proof of the gold or silver given at the time of the wedding. It is difficult to differentiate whether it was a gift or a dowry,” a policeman told Ernakulam.

After the uproar created by the media followed by a series of dowry-related death incidents, the Kerala government changed the rules and created a new position – the district-level dowry prohibition officer. Previously, there were three Regional Dowry Prohibition Officers in the three zones – South, Central and North Kerala.

As per changes made in July 2021, the Women and Child Development Officer of each district would also function as the Dower Prohibition Officer. It was also made mandatory for officials to provide affidavits that they would not take or give dowry.

A deeply rooted social evil; The law has a limited scope

The dowry exists and continues despite the penal provisions provided for by law. It’s a social ill that can only be addressed through law enforcement, experts say. L Rajan, who had served as the regional dowry prohibition officer in the southern region from 2015 to 2018, told the Federal that they had organized 70 to 80 awareness campaign programs in higher education institutions in the districts of the South.

“We often ask students, program participants if they would give or accept a dowry. Their response is very weak, even from the girls. They have been conditioned by the idea that the dowry is an integral part of marriage. Unfortunately, they don’t find a problem there,” he said.