Woman Dead After Eating Cow-dung, Kerosene: The Evil Of Dowry System


In a horrific incident in Bareilly a woman was force-fed cow dung and kerosene by her in-laws to which she later succumbed in a hospital where she was taken in by her brother. Before her death, the 28-year-old Sheela went on to reveal to the staffs in the hospital that she had been suffering for almost 10 years as a result of bringing in insufficient dowry to her in-laws.

Sheela’s relatives also alleged that she had become a victim to various kind of torture at the hands of her in-laws because she was unable to bear a boy child; Sheela was a mother of two girls. According to her relatives, Sheela was made to eat cow dung, kerosene and washing detergent. She died after a prolonged poor health condition following years of torture.

Sheela’s case highlights two important issues that the country has had to deal with for the longest of time: The practice of dowry and the preference of boy child over girls. Dowry-related killing continues in India on almost a regular basis. It is one of the major reasons behind domestic violence against women, and even murder.

As a result of the practice of the dowry system, marriages have come to lose their sanctity and instead have turned into business transactions. Families halt ceremonies even at the last minute because of their demands being remained unfulfilled. Even if the wedding ceremony is completed, the bride becomes the victim to torture and violence until the demand is met. Human values and emotions of love, respect, and understanding all come to cease and a marriage becomes a business deal devoid of all feelings that otherwise characterise a marriage.

Though taking or giving of dowry has been criminalized in India, the practice is widely accepted; even growing by the day.

Now, the system of dowry leads to the second issue that is explicit in Sheela’s case: the preference of boy children. Families in India, especially rural India prefer boy child over girls as a result of the pressure of dowry. Many fear that giving birth to a girl child will later cause the family the pressure of the dowry system. As a result, many resort to female feticide. This has led to deteriorating sex ratio in the country; current ratio being 940 females for every 1000 males.

The horrific torment that Sheela had to undergo was a result of these two problems, which are in fact very much linked to each other. About three months back, a dowry-related harassment case involving the head master of a school was reported by the Times of India.  The incident has much to say about the dowry practice in the country; someone as educated as a headmaster who leads a school, a temple of learning, being involved in such a case is saddening.

Both these systems are deeply rooted in the patriarchal system of the Indian society where women are mistreated to the extent that they become victims to domestic, sexual and emotional abuse. The fact that the education of girls are neglected by parents as a result of prioritising the education of the sons, only aggravates the situation further; girls (especially uneducated girls) have come to believe that in order to find a suitable groom she needs to be prepapred to pay huge sums as dowry because she apparently will become a “burden” to the groom and his family.

Patriarchy in the country has given rise to a vicious circle of crime and backwardness, to fight which the entire country needs to come together. Compulsory education is a need of the hour, especially of the girl child. The government needs to focus on the development and security of women in the country and focus should wholly be towards their education.

Pallavi Sharma

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