Friday, 12 October 2007

Women in India

Dowry deaths were a big issue in the 1980s. Morchas were taken out and slogans were shouted whenever any young woman was burned to death by her in-laws and husband. Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code has been in force since 1986, but has had little or no effect. Now, the Law Commission in its wisdom has decided that those convicted of conniving at a dowry death will not face the death penalty but will be given a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Although the National Commission for Women (NCW) has welcomed this decision, I feel that capital punishment should be the norm in all cases of murder, including dowry deaths. Capital punishment might be just the right deterrent, when a man and his family gang up to harrass a young bride to get more money and goods from her parents. This harrassment is nothing more than extortion by another name. Moreover, the criminals, who are often from the middle class or lower middle class, might be able to get away by serving half their terms on the grounds of good behaviour.

The reason why I'm so upset by this decision of the Law Commission is that there's yet another case of a 21-year-old girl committing suicide in Gurgaon. She was the wife of a banker and alleged, in her note, that she had committed suicide due to harrassment over dowry. Education and the spread of modern media channels have done little to change the Indian tendency to look down on women--most people surveyed think there's nothing wrong with wife-beating.

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