It is a universally recognized truism today that “an affluent society tends to grow into a violent“. Gandhiji highlighted this truth long ago, when he pointed out that you cannot get American dollars without American vice. The truth of this statement is brought out by the conditions that prevail in India today. With the success of its five-year plans and the constructive efforts of the government, there is a marked increase of production and rise in per capital income. There is an all-round increase in affluence and prosperity and with this affluence there is also an increase in crime and violence. On the slightest pretext there are strikes and an upsurge of violence. Public property is recklessly destroyed and there is frequent arson and looting on a large-scale: terrorists have become more active, and murders have become the order of the day.
This escalation in crime and violence is seen in its worst from in the case of crime against women. Chain-snatching, Rape, Molestation of women is on the increase. Wearing of ornaments has now become out of the question, and women are teased and harassed as they go of their houses, or take a bus to go the place where they work. The international woman’s year was intended to highlight the plight of women in this male dominated society, but it has in no way succeeded in improving their lot. They are weaker, and so they continue to be exploited in various ways. Laws have, no doubt, been framed to secure a better deal for Indian womanhood, but not too much avail. They have been granted the right of success in to the ancestral property, widow re-marriage has been legalized, child-marriage has been declared illegal, but all such measures of social reform have failed to ameliorate their lot. Crimes against women are on the increase.
Dowry-system and the sati-system are the worst forms that such crimes assume. The parents of a girl have to pay heavy amounts to the parents of the bride groom, if they want to see their daughters comfortably married and settled in life. Exorbitant amounts in the form of cash and various items of luxury demanded, and they have to be paid even if the bride’s parents have to borrow the amount, and sell their houses and other assets. The marriage of a daughter often means the financial ruin of her parents. Their plight is worse still, if more than one daughter have to married.
Even if the huge dowry has been paid, and the demands of the other party have been satisfied in their entirety, there is no guarantee that the daughter will enjoy a happy and comfortable life in the home of her-in-laws. Additional demands are constantly made and if the parents of the girl fail to meet them, brides are subjected to untold torture and suffering. That is why in recent times there has been an increase in the number of cases of wife-beating and wife-burning. Their life becomes insecure and unbearable in the house of their in-laws, and often they flee in fear of their lives to the house of their parents. Thus greed and violence wreck the home and cause untold of suffering to the young, innocent bride and her parents. All remain helpless spectators to these wicked going on, and to the horrible sacrifice of girls on the altar of dowry. There seems to be no limit to human greed and animalism. Dowry is sought to be justified on grounds that it enables the young couple to get comfortably settled in life, that it is a kind of security, a kind of insurance paid for the future health, welfare and well-being of the girl concerned. However, all such justifications are hollow and are intended to cover up the evil and brutality of the dowry-system.
Equally pernicious is the age-old sati-system. Raja Ram Mohan Rai has raised his powerful voice against it over a century ago, and Gandhi, too, did much to focus attention on the evil. Anti-sati laws were passed public opinion was created against the evil. But despite such efforts and measures of social reform, the evil still continues. This fact has been highlighted recently by the Sati-scandal in village Deorala, near Jaipur, in Rajasthan. Roop kanwar, an innocent bride who had hardly live with her husband for six months, and did not have much love for him, was brutally and violently forced to Commit Sati. She was burned on the funeral pyre of her husband without her wish and consent. It is reported that she tried to run away, but was prevented by the use of brute force. It is also said that some injection was ultimately given to her to break her resistance. This is horrible in the extreme.
The Deorala Sati-Scandal is not an isolated scandal. Satis are performed frequently; though the incidents do not come into limelight. To cover up the brutality of the whole system it is sought to be justified in the name of religion. However, it has now been established that sati has no religious sanction, it is merely a form of crime and violence against woman, too weak and helpless to defend herself.
Following the Deorala-Incident, laws against sati have been made more stringent. Much for severe punishment is to be awarded to those who are responsible for the crime, and the onus of proving that they are not guilty will henceforth lie on the accused. Abetting of sati and glorification of it has also been declared to be heinous crimes. Sati Melas and festivals have been declared illegal, and construction of temples to honor a sati has also been forbidden. Public opinion has also been shocked by the happenings, at Deorala, and many a religious a body has come out openly against this evil. Let us hope in time to come, Sati would become a matter of history.
Urgent steps must be taken to put down crime and violence against woman. Healthy public opinion must be created against such undesirable, criminal activities. Films depicting sex and violence must be strictly censored. Advertisements and hoardings depicting women as desirable objects of sex must be severely discouraged. Both social organizations and religions bodies must come out openly against the dowry-system and the sati-system. The government should see that none guilty of such crimes escapes scot-free. Special courts should be set up for the trail of crimes against womanhood. Women’s organizations, which are now quite large in number, should carry on an intensive propaganda against such offences. Young men and women should also themselves resist such malpractices. We are happy to note that the government is quite alive to the need of such reforms. Separate family courts have been set up for the purpose with lady judges as presiding officers. if there is a case of bride-burning during the first seven years of marriage the onus of proving that no dowry was demanded lies on the other party. Stringent punishment has been laid down for such offences.
In short, the war should be waged on several fronts. It is bound to be a prolonged and intensive fight, if the desired results are to be obtained.