”Public bodies don’t know what the word ‘dowry’ means, let alone the abuse women endure because of it.”
Police have launched for the first time, an investigation into dowry violence in Britain.
The investigation comes after The Independent discovered evidence that hundreds of women a year are being subjected to horrific acts of violence.
This includes being burnt, scalped and even being imprisoned in the family home.
The reason for the violence stems predominantly from financial disputes between the brides and their in-laws.
For those unsure about what a dowry is, it is a centuries-old tradition that is observed in many countries which involves the bride’s family giving money, property and goods to the groom’s family, for the sake of taking their daughter’s hand in marriage.
The dowry can take different forms such as the traditional cheque or cash payment but also includes handing over property, expensive clothes, goods and appliances, jewellery and even cars, as part of the package.
The dowry custom can be seen carried out in parts of South-Asia, such as in India and Pakistan, the Middle-East, parts of Africa, some parts of Eastern Europe and even in certain communities in Britain, where dowry is still legal.
Dowry violence cases in India have had extreme outcomes against women including acid attacks, setting brides on fire and other forms of severe physical humiliation. It has even led to many women taking their own lives.
In the cases of abuse, senior officers have began a formal investigation of violence against women after being given evidence that highlights the sheer scale of the exploitation.
Commander Mak Chishty, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead officer on fighting against forced marriages, honour-based violence and female gential mutilation, said working to fight dowry violence would now be incorporated in the training of 140,000 police officers in the England.
Commenting on the substantial evidence presented to him upon dowry violence, he said: “Following this information there will be a real hard line with this. We may need to create some sort of new system.”
Currently, the Crown Prosecution service does not provide guidelines for dealing with dowry violence.
There are strong calls to educate health professionals, social services, immigration officials and even school children on the topic of dowry, in order to spot it taking place and heavily clamp down on dowry violence.
Polly Harrar of the Sharan Project says: “The impact it has on women is that they are subjected to severe physical violence and emotional abuse. They are then isolated and do not know where to go for support.”
A BBC News report on the issue highlighted the story of Kiran who was subjected to dowry based violence and abuse:
Unfortunately, there have been many cases where the perpetrators go unpunished due a lack of knowledge on dowry violence.
One famous dowry related abuse case that highlights this is Dwinderjit Kaur’s case.
In 1997, she made history by being the first British woman to successfully sue for the return of the dowry given to her in-laws after an agonising 18 months of marriage and dowry related abuse.
Ms Kaur had married when she was 26. Prior to the wedding her soon to be in laws had asked her family for cases of jewellery and a few hundred pounds as a dowry.
However, after marriage her in-laws informed Ms Kaur that the dowry they had received from her father was not enough and as a punishment she had to take on more households chores.
Ms Kaur then came to the realisation that the reason for her ex-husband marrying her was to make enough dowry money to buy a bigger house and set up a business.
When Ms Kaur’s father had said refused to hand over that much money, thats when Ms Kaur’s 18 months of abuse begun.
She chillingly retells her abuse:
“I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone on the phone, wasn’t allowed into the garden alone, or allowed to make eye contact with neighbours over the fence in case I told anyone. I was in a slave house.”
Things went from bad to worse for her, when she was in labour with her first child she was not taken to hospital by her in-laws because they believed she was a “bad investment.” Ms. Kaur said candidly.
Luckily, she had managed to get to the hospital alone and used this opportunity to phone her parents and inform the hospital staff of the violence she had suffered.
Ms Kaur retells: “The hospital staff rang the police I had to go with them to the house to collect a few things, but no one could be arrested because the police didn’t know what dowry abuse was.”
What Ms Kaur had to go through was undoubtedly horrific and brutal. Unfortunately she is not the only victim.
Usha Sood, a barrister in Nottingham has dealt with 50 cases of dowry related abuse in 2014 alone.
Sood said: “If police and coroners were trained to know about this, a proportion of unexplained deaths involving immigrant women would become explained.”
Sandip Kaur, a community worker for the Sahil project, an organisation set up in 1986 in Coventry to help Asian women with isolation and abuse.
She also echoed Sood’s point on abusers getting away with the violence because law officials are unaware of what a dowry is:
”Public bodies don’t know what the word ‘dowry’ means, let alone the abuse women endure because of it,” said Kaur.
It is a shame to see the practice of dowry and dowry related violence taking place in the 21st century due to not knowing what a dowry is.
While younger generations are following old customs less and less, the dowry tradition is still alive and is subsequently leading to substantial amounts of abuse and violence against women.
With the investigation launched and a focus on educating society on the dowry process, it is hoped that this first step will commence the battle to end the dowry practice and the terrible and inhumane violence that takes places because of the so called tradition of dowry.