Monday, September 24, 2007

Taking Gold-Digging to a New Level

Women in India are being tortured and even killed as a result of spousal abuse resulting from a highly gendered topic in the West: gold digging.

According to the LA Times piece "Wedded to Greed in India" by Staff Writer Henry Chu, ever 77 minutes, a woman is murdered in India for failure to meet the demands of her spouse and his family, demands directly linked to her dowry. While we have our own form of dowry practice in the United States with the family of the bride customarily footing the wedding bill, the bride and her family are expected to give far less after the marriage has begun, our gender roles dictating that the woman rely primarily on her husband for financial security and, in pop culture, making men look more like small business loan officers than spouses to love, honor, and cherish. In India, however, as Chu reports, the roles are reversed. While the man is still considered to be the head of the household, the bride and her family were to provide a dowry for reasons that were once quite feminist:

The practice of dowry in India goes back thousands of years. Its original intent,
scholars say, was to protect women, who by bringing property and belongings to the marriage could enjoy some creature comforts and not have to depend entirely on their husbands.
But somewhere along the line, what was supposed to be security for the bride came to be seen as a boon to the groom and his family, a way for them to augment their wealth.

Chu goes on to describe the increasing correlation between India's economic growth and the unrealistic dowry expectations women from all walks of life are expected to meet upon marriage.
A few years ago, the Times of India listed the expected price tag on grooms from different professions; the more prestigious or lucrative the job, the bigger the dowry a man's family could demand. A businessman with an MBA could fetch 1.5 million rupees (about $37,500 at today's exchange rate), and a member of India's storied civil service could ask for 2 million rupees ($50,000).

And what used to be simple dowries of livestock and everyday household furnishings have given way to packages of cash, jewelry and big-ticket items, often just to help the groom and his relatives keep up with the neighbors. In many cases, the bride is hounded for more well past the wedding day."Whatever the latest consumer goods are in the market is what gets demanded," said Neelu, a women's rights advocate here in Patna, the capital of Bihar state, who goes by only one name.

"Cars, refrigerators -- now there's a demand for computers, too."

And while made illegal in 1961, the practice of demanding dowries continues, the law widely unenforced, and overlooked despite the continued abuse of women linked to the custom. Experts have also suggested that a high incidence of abortion of female fetuses may also result from the fear of pending abuse if their girl children were to marry as adults.

This alarming information seems ironic considering India's recent election of its first female president, Prathiba Patil and rising rates of women continuing their education beyond high school and even holding more positions in the workplace. It's possible that just as things are looking up for women in India, their rising status comes as a threat in a rapidly changing society, proving that despite progress, social norms, no matter how archaic, often outweigh reason. Unfortunately, India is not alone. Citizens in countless other countries, including many in the West, frequently make decisions marred by their own inability to see beyond "tradition."

-Wendi Muse


Fal said...

My name is Fallon and I’m organizing with other women of color around the Dunbar Gang Rapes and West Virginia Torture/Rape case. Well, I was wondering if you have time to participate in a phone conference on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 9pm/central about organizing to end silences surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida as well as stories that go unheard because it involves a woman of color such as the Newark imprisonment of the four lesbians for protecting themselves from a male aggressor.
Well, I’ve been circulating a 2 minute movie entitled, “How do you keep a Social Movement Alive.”
This movie documents the silence surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida. The purpose of this movie is to document the silences within our relationships, within our homes, within our families, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our churches, temples, and synagogues, within our governments, and within our world.
We have a blog, but given the organizing we are trying to do, I need to reorganize the blog and use wordpress instead of blogger. This is the current blog,
If you can’t do the phone conference would you interested in being apart of the Women of Color Bloggers Breaking the Silences Contingency on the Web which would mean inundating the web with information about Wearing Red Campaign on October 31, 2007 as well as circulating clips and other media trying to inundate the web with stories of violence committed against women of color.
I look forward to connecting with you,
You can email me at

Fal said...

here's the link to the movie,