“Ente kutty!” was what a man said as he wailed about his younger sister, who was found dead in her husband’s house in Kollam, Kerala. For those unversed with Malayalam, “ente kutty” means “my little girl”. The word ‘kutty’ shows how much you love the girl, in most cases your sister or your daughter.
As the grown-up man wept about his sister’s death, the news anchor described the horrific dowry death that has shaken Kerala. Vismaya, a 24-year-old Ayurveda student, was tortured by her husband and in-laws for dowry. Her parents did everything to give their daughter a comfortable life. But the husband’s materialistic pleasure didn’t stop. He wanted more.
He tortured, harassed and threatened her. She sent WhatsApp pictures to her relatives of the torture she went through. Before we point fingers at Vismaya’s parents for whatever convenient reason we have, her husband has been arrested and the police have promised strict action.
The national media covered Vismaya’s case. But there have been at least 4-5 dowry deaths in the past week in Kerala. Who’s to blame? Well, the list starts young.
I remember attending a Marathi wedding as a kid. When we walked into the hall, there stood a Godrej almirah, multiple sets of vessels, kitchen equipment, a motorcycle and some more items that I can’t remember. These were displayed by the bride’s brother as the dowry items he was ‘gifting’ his soon-to-be brother-in-law. Well, he had to display them because ‘log puchenge’ (people will ask). Has marriage become a business deal?
With friends now uploading their pictures as if they are mugshots on matrimonial sites, one of the questions asked is, ‘how much property do you own?’ Has marriage become a business deal?
Today, Kerala is demanding justice for Vismaya and other young lives like her. The Chief Minister has promised action and set up a helpline. The Education Minister has promised to include gender equality in school textbooks. These are welcome steps.
But Vismaya is gone. Her brother’s wails still ring in my ears. Her parents’ future has faded off. Vismaya’s dreams and ambitions to become an Ayurveda doctor have been cremated with her.
I am outraged yet not surprised by these dowry deaths in Kerala. I have seen and known women who are forced to stay in abusive marriages not just because of dowry, but because some men find it convenient to mistreat their wives. Because they are told to adjust and of course, log kya sochenge?
“If you behave like this, who will marry you? What will your in-laws think about us?”
This society looks down on the girl’s parents, however qualified and career-oriented she is.
The dowry system has been a curse for Kerala, the State which boasts of empowering women and also stays consumerist with its love for gold and money. Yeah, yeah, not all Malayalees. I’d dare not generalize. As you move up north, the issue stays the same. No amount of legal provisions will help, unless men and their families are taught to respect women for who they are, and not just money vending machines.
Also, a piece of advice: If you want the girl’s family to pay dowry because you want more and more money, why not invest in mutual funds or open an account under Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana? You may someday receive the Rs 15 lakhs the Prime Minister promised.
By Sarah Jacob
Sarah Jacob is a communications and social media professional working in the development sector. She’s passionate about women’s issues and poetry. In her free time, she likes to stare at the clouds from her balcony or listen to music.