Regular reports on dowry-related violence, often resulting in the death of women, brings to the fore how persistent the practice of dowry is in Bangladesh. Seventy-five women were killed for dowry in the first six months of the year, as statistics of the Bangladesh Women’s Council, which New Age quoted in a report on Wednesday, say. Such a large number indicates an alarming increase in dowry-related violence. In this context, the government’s move to amend the Dowry Prohibition Act with a clear definition of dowry and provisioning for more stringent punishment is a noteworthy step. The cases of dowry related torture reported in current time, however, demands more than juridical attention. Besides, there are adequate number of laws that exist in paper but prove futile because of enforcement failure. The discrepancy between incidents of dowry violence and legal cases filed illustrates this point. In 2015, as Ain O Salish Kendra says, only 158 cases were filed against 298 incidents of violence. All the authorities concerned, therefore, must look into the root causes of such heinous practices rather than restricting its efforts only to legal amendments.
The government must ensure that legal cases of dowry-related violence are not taken lightly. Rights organisations campaigning against such violence have named the failure to bring perpetrators to justice as one of the reasons for the alarming increase. Around 80 per cent of cases filed under the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act are related to dowry and a very few of them see conviction, as a judge of the tribunal said in a judicial conference in December 2016. Feminist scholars working to unravel the cause of such practice argue that the way women are valued in a male-dominated society, women are primarily seen as being less productive than man and this defines her place in society. Many even argue that dowry is a clear attestation to the fact that her gender determines her economic worth or political significance in society. This patriarchal assumption that women are economically burdensome provides men with ideological ammunition to demand dowry. Without addressing the structural inequality that women face in society — unequal status in inheritance law, wage inequity and asymmetrical political representation, it will, therefore, not be possible to radically change the overall status of women. Taking into consideration this structure of oppression, it is evident that any piecemeal, superficial approach to prevent this practice will fall through, which has become the case in Bangladesh today.
In what follows, the government must effect the passage the Dowry Prohibition Act 2017, approved by the cabinet in January, and ensure its judicious implementation. Rights organisations and civil society groups must also leave their foreign-funded routine activities that are more rhetorical and oriented towards producing project output than making ideological changes happen. People at large must raise their voice against the structure of oppression that treats women as economically burdensome and also work towards establishing an equal society for women and all.
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