Dowry abuse is any form of abuse that occurs around, during or due to dowry.
Abuse can be in one or all forms of family and domestic violence up to fatalities. This is the reason dowry is outlawed in some countries and restricted in others. In Australia growing evidence shows dowry is a common cause and exacerbator in family violence matters, particularly in new migrants.
Dowry abuse follows some common pathways:
Demands can come prior to the marriage, where considered unfulfilled or insufficient, the proceedings are put on hold or threatened to be cancelled. This being a huge shame to the bride’s family and with the potential to ‘soil’ her good name and any further prospect is the pressure and coercion used to extract the demand.
Demands can come just after the nuptials – again using leverage of putting shame and dishonour on the bride’s family if the groom doesn’t take the bride with him.
Demands can come shortly after the marriage, leveraging off shame and honour if the bride is returned to her maternal home.
Demands through a marriage are the most common that are linked to domestic abuse and violence. The means of coercion and pressure for the woman or her family to meet demands.
- It starts with psychological abuse; silent treatment, exclusion and isolation,
- It maybe she is sent to her family for a period – allowing for shame and humiliation for her family to set in.
- Emotional and social abuse can include overt public taunting and humiliation of her and towards her family.
- Withdrawal of privileges (not allowing her to go out, who she can talk to, limiting what she can eat)
- Escalation then moves to physical abuse starting with aggressive behaviour and low-level violence enough to show her family the marks.
- Then extending to prolonged assaults and possibly sending the woman home to her family to recover, consider the consequences of their refusal and suffer some humiliation in a married daughter being kicked out of her marital home – indicating some wrongdoing on her part.
- In the extreme case violence leads to death. The attempt always is for this to be in the guise of an accident (eg bride burning – a kitchen accident)
- Anecdotal evidence indicates the modern preference is to gaslight the person or put so much intense pressure that they see no option other than taking their own life.
The abuse is intended to force the woman to pressure her family to pay more dowry. Even when demands are met, the abuse can continue to escalate to ensure further demands are met without resistance.
Regardless of how many demands are met, this can be the pattern for the duration until the man’s family decide there is no more to gain. In some cases this is at the point where the abuse may stop, or at the stage she will be ‘discarded’ and divorced.
The man usually moves on to marry again and the process of demand and abuse may begin again with the new wife and her family.
In Australia ‘discarding’ wives after securing significant dowry is relatively easy for new migrants who gain residency after an extended period of temporary residency (student/work visa entrants). Difficult and prolonged residency pathways appear to have a direct correlation to dowry demands and therefore dowry abuse.
The practice of dowry in its traditional form, be it the western concept of the blanket draw or glory box or dowry as a South Asian concept of cash payment/assets in itself was not pernicious. It has even been linked to being a woman’s inheritance, when women could not inherit or own titles.
Laws changed to give women ownership rights, but in some cultures, women still do not get to inherit or own any share in their father’s/family property; that remains with the men of the family, logically she would be part owner of her husband’s estate.
The husband’s family may see her as an opportunity to extend their own estates through demanding ‘her entitlements’ from her father or brothers. Unfortunately, the woman can be subject to domestic abuse and violence from both her own family, for being a burden as well as her husband’s for failing to deliver.
Dowry abuse takes on many forms but ultimately it is about control and power (over a person/their family) gained through financial benefit.