Mass marriages are becoming a common custom to help families meet dowry expectations. (Pic: AP/Ajit Solanki)
Mass marriages are becoming a common custom to help families meet dowry expectations. (Pic: AP/Ajit Solanki)

No bride deserves to be abused in this way

BACK in the day - some day, anyway - unmarried women kept glory chests (I know, it sounds like a euphemism for virginity, but it's not).

They were also known as a trousseau, or a dowry chest.

When the Australian Senate started an inquiry into dowry abuse, it was a little confusing. Were unmarried women stitching particularly horrid quilts to store in their chests?

Obviously, no. What this critical inquiry is looking into is an utter bastardisation of the tradition of the dowry, to the point where it is deadly. You can line that with linen.

Dowry is an ancient practice, established in different forms around the world. A gift from a bride's family to the groom.

And now, right here in Australia, it's become a precursor to evil, to men enslaving their wives. It's become a trigger for violence. It's part of a culture that leads to men threatening, intimidating, and assaulting women.

The inquiry has heard from a range of sources that the cultural institution of dowry has been transformed in recent times - specifically within cultures from the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian continent.

It was once an asset a bride would bring to her marriage.

It is now an excuse for a groom and his family to extort the bride's family for luxury cars, tens of thousands of dollars, and whitegoods.

Not always, of course. Not everywhere. Not all couples, not all cultures. But more than there should be.

Increasing poverty in countries like Pakistan has made it difficult for the country's low-income group to get their children married because of the custom of dowries. (Pic: AFP/Asif Hassan)
Increasing poverty in countries like Pakistan has made it difficult for the country's low-income group to get their children married because of the custom of dowries. (Pic: AFP/Asif Hassan)

The Legal Services Commission of South Australia statistics show two and three-fold increases in requests for help during the past five years from women from India, the Middle East and Sudan.

They say more and more women are calling because of dowry abuse. A typical scenario would be an Indian guy with permanent residency in Australia - that's a "high premium" husband. He shoots home to pick up a wife and the tens of thousands of dollars that her parents scrape together to make her an attractive package.

Back to Australia. Where she might be waiting on her own permanent visa.

He - and in some cases his parents - then start coercing more money out of her family. They might threaten to stop her getting her visa. He might end up bashing her or kicking her out of home, leaving her penniless and alone.

She might end up a virtual slave while he lives with someone else he has met.

"In our experience, this abuse takes the form of further financial demands on the bride's family from the groom, the refusal to allow the woman access to the dowry funds and physical violence," according to the commission's submission.

"These women are often overwhelmed by their circumstances, compounded by the fact that they are frequently new migrants to Australia."

There's the flip side - a "bride price" where the bride is more directly bought by the groom.

Either way, the woman is seen as property or a source of income.

Other submissions to the inquiry note how often in some communities dowry abuse leads to violence and/or death.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia says dowries are meant to be a resource for a new wife, but that meaning has "shifted quite dramatically".

Mass marriages now take place in India to help families share dowry and ceremony costs. (Pic: AP/Ajit Solanki)
Mass marriages now take place in India to help families share dowry and ceremony costs. (Pic: AP/Ajit Solanki)

Now it's demanded by grooms to buy luxury cars and clear debts, and it easily becomes a tool of abuse and violence. The amounts demanded can be huge - many times a family's annual wages, leaving them bankrupt and the woman "homeless, stateless, unwanted by anyone" because of the complicated matters of honour and shame involved.

The inquiry will report later this year, but has already heard a range of ways to tackle this mutant system.

While the Federal Government seems sanguine - it says that current domestic violence laws would cover dowry-related abuse - the frontline forces dealing with abandoned and abused women are not so relaxed.

The Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health wants to see dowry explicitly included in legislation as an example of "financial coercion, extortion, abuse".

That it could still be done symbolically - a nice ring, say - not as a new source of income for a groom.

The United Indian Association says it's completely unacceptable and should be made illegal - as it has been in India since the 1960s.

The Australia India Society of Victoria, on the other hand, says it doesn't happen that much and is more prevalent in students.

President Gurdip Aurora says that the "consensus" in India is that couples separate because of differences and the women bring in the dowry issue to win court cases.

This flies in the face of all the empirical and anecdotal evidence given to the inquiry so far.

And it shows that, while ingrained cultural traditions can be bastardised by those who stand to profit, ingrained cultural traditions like blaming women are often maintained by those who stand to lose.



WATCH: Incredible drone footage of our beaches

WATCH: Incredible drone footage of our beaches

DPI scientists watch from above

Man hides speakers down trousers

premium_icon Man hides speakers down trousers

Brazen shoplifter hid Bluetooth speaker down pants

548 HSC students with same name

548 HSC students with same name

THE most common surname among HSC students has been revealed.

Local Partners