Long ago (I don’t know how long ago) I had argued that dowry is a contract between two families (effectively) and the government has no business regulating it, and that all “dowry harassment” cases need to be reclassified as just “harassment”. Now, thinking about property succession and the Hindu Succession Act, I realize why the law is in place. Please note that I’m just trying to explain here why the law is in place, and I’m not defending the law. I stick to my stand that an “anti-dowry” law makes no sense.
The “traditional view” of dowry is that daughters don’t need to wait for their parents’ death in order to inherit property – they get “their share” of the property as soon as they move out of the household – i.e. get married. And this “share of parents’ property” that daughters got at the time of their wedding came to be known as “dowry”. So essentially dowry demand/harassment/etc was basically some kind of a negotiation between a daughter and her acquired family, and her parents about how much of the latter’s property the daughter would get.
So each daughter in the family would get her share of the property as soon as she got married, and later when her parents passed on, wouldn’t demand a further share of the property from her brothers. And this system seemed to be in steady state for ages (again note that I’m not saying this system is ideal. just stating observations)
But then the Hindu Succession Act turned all this topsy-turvy. By giving daughters an equal share in her parents’ property, this old arrangement of daughters receiving their inheritance in advance got broken. Now, any “payments” received in advance were a bonus for the daughters for they could still stake claim to an equal share of their parents’ property from their brothers. Since the law had now granted this concession to the daughters, the sons too needed to be protected.
And thus they came up with the anti-Dowry law. The purpose of this law was to essentially protect a woman’s brothers from being cheated out of their “rightful share” of their parents’ property. Now, if their sisters got dowry, they could challenge that in court, since it was effectively a reduction in the pie from which their inheritance would get paid out following their parents’ death. The anti-Dowry law was thus essential for maintaining balance in the family.
It is another matter that the law is hardly used for this purpose.
I spent some time this afternoon looking at the address book released by the association of descendants of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather (yes, I’m serious; there does exist one such association). Since I didn’t have much else to do, I did go through much of the book in detail. The makers seem to have put hajaar fight in order to prepare it – calling up thousands of descandants and asking them for addresses and phone numbers. It also took quite long to make I suppose – my address and phone number that is put there are from last August.
The first thing I noticed about our family is that there is no such thing as a “family tree”. Us being Kannada Types and the customary incest being there, there are lots of cycles in the “family tree”. I noticed at least two cases of first cousins being married to each other. The book has handled this rather inelegantly – putting the same pair of names and addresses in two places. However, I don’t know how they could’ve handled it more elegantly without embarrassing the incestuous couples – since the concept has become taboo only recently.
It was also interesting to look at the geographical distribution of the family. As expected, the maximum number of addresses are from Bangalore. Interestingly, Mysore also seems to have a lot of people from the family, with not too many people inhabiting other parts of India. There is an incredibly large number of people from the family in America, and they seem to be distributed in almost all parts – though with a bias to California (not just the Bay Area – I saw a number of southern California addresses.
Interestingly, other countries have little representation. There is one family in Australia and a couple of families in the Gelf. Interestingly, there is no one in England (the book lists two families with England addresses, but both of them have since returned to India (one of them is scheduled to move to the US soon) ). There also seems to be a high proportion of ABCDs – a large number of people seem to have emigrated in the 60s and 70s.
It seems like a large number of ABCD cousins and aunts and uncles have ended up marrying people of non-Indian origins, but it is hard to say where their spouses are. In true Kannadiga tradition, everyone has been listed by given name only (with a few initials thrown in here and there) which makes it hard to determine who is from where (talking about in-laws of the family).
Another interesting phenomenon is the strange names that have been given to people who seem to have been born in the last 10 years or so (I’m only talking of people with two Indian parents). Some people still continued to get named after Gods and other popular Indian names, but quite a few names of this generation seem to be the types that won’t be found in any Sanskrit dictionary.
I had a few other pertinent observations as I was going through the book, but I seem to have forgotten the rest. I’ll add them here if I remember any of those.