Dowry system, the truth behind female foeticide

Frankly, we are not sure how rampant is female foeticide in Manipur. But the news report about the State Government’s failure to implement the PCPNDT Act 1994 (Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act) effectively enough is still disturbing. No doubt, Manipur is always having more than its own share of violence against women including rapes, murders, rapes plus murders etc. Thankfully, we have so far heard very little about dowry-related death in the State which is a very serious issue in many parts of India. The term ‘female foeticide’ is also relatively new in the social milieu of the State. In fact, the term female foeticide sounds absurd if one takes into account the vibrant Meira Paibi movement and the historic Nupi Lans. This does not mean there is no gender discrimination in Manipur. Female foeticide or selective-sex abortion is the most extreme form of gender discrimination. Dowry system which is embedded in the cultural practices and ethos of mainland Indian people is primarily responsible for gender discrimination in India, and by analogy, female foeticide. Dowry has become such a huge burden to millions of poor parents across India that majority of them would not have any girl child, if they can choose. In another word, dowry system gave birth to the highly detestable practice of female foeticide. Another factor fuelling female foeticide across the country is the hackneyed but often misplaced notion that males are assets while females are liabilities. This notion has certain truths if one takes into account the dowry system which is a widespread cultural practice in the country. Perhaps on account of proselytization into Hinduism, dowry system is very much prevalent among the majority of people dwelling in Manipur valley. Although presentation of dowry is said to be something voluntary (not compulsory), it has evolved into the form of an unavoidable cultural practice in the valley, if not the whole State. In fact, a marriage ceremony not preceded or accompanied by presentation of dowry is no longer regarded as a proper marriage. It is a big solace that presentation of dowry has not yet assumed the characteristics of a bargaining chip for arranged marriages in Manipur unlike many parts of India.
Female foeticide committed in Manipur, if any, might have been driven by reasons different from the primary reasons fuelling rampant female foeticide in different parts of the country. Yet, we need to understand the close link between dowry system and female foeticide. We don’t think there is any legislation which can prohibit parents from presenting gifts to their daughters during marriages in the form of dowry or otherwise. But at the level of the community, one should never promote dowry system. If we must check female foeticide, only the PCPNDT Act would not be enough. We need to re-think our cultural practices, particularly with regard to dowry system and also our psychological disposition towards gender (in)equality. We must admit that the practice of dowry system is bulging out in Manipur over the years rather than waning. As a matter of fact, the burden of dowry hangs heavy on all (Meitei) parents who have unmarried daughters until all their daughters get married. This is one socio-cultural issue which demands immediate attention of the community at large. At the same time, there is a growing need for women empowerment. As far as female foeticide and PCPNDT Act are concerned, medical professionals are the principal actors. In fact, medical profession serves as the guillotine for committing female foeticide. As such, there is a need to enforce the PCPNDT Act in the most stringent manner without leaving any room for leniency. At the same time, community level awareness programmes must be launched to drive home the points that marriages are not solemnised for dowry, dowry is not necessary for the union of two individuals and dowry system is not some cultural practice in which a community should take pride.

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