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Advice on How To Protect Yourself From Dowry Extortion and Violence

December 5, 2011

Photo by Vishal Majithia © All Rights Reserved

December/January is wedding season in India.  In light of the fact that there are more than 100,000 women murdered for dowry in India every year, we are making an advisory post for Brides-To-Be and their families.  Please protect yourselves from dowry extortion, violence and murder.

1. Back Out Of Any Wedding Arrangement Where Any Kind of Financial Demand is Made in Cash or Kind:  

  • A gift is something given with love; it is never asked for.
  • But when grooms and their families start specifying how much money they want for the wedding, what kinds of gifts – houses, cars, etc. they want for the wedding, what other favors such as jobs, promotions etc. they want for the wedding, and they threaten to call the wedding off if these ‘gifts’ are not given to them, then this is not gift-giving.  This is blackmail!  It is illegal! It is extortion!  It is a criminal act.
  • Indian women and their families must think about the morals and social values of such families.  If they are criminal extortionists what else are they capable of?  The thousands of dowry murders of young brides in India show that these greedy, blackmailing families continue to extort money after the wedding. They inflict terrible violence on the brides, and eventually thousands of young women get murdered by them!!
  • Why should any woman want to get married into such a family?  Why should women and their parents pay money to people who blackmail and inflict violence?
  • Therefore we repeatedly warn all brides-to-be and their families – if the groom’s family asks for anything before, during or after the wedding please take it as a sign of extreme danger!
  • Get out fast!  No matter how far into the wedding preparations you are! Even if it is the wedding day!
  • Once they have made a demand, get out and do not return to the arrangement, even if they tell you that they will lower their demand.  Case after case shows that even if they suddenly decide not to press on with the dowry demand, they wait till after the wedding to do so.

2.   The Bride Must Quickly Leave The Marital Home if Any Kind of Financial Demand is Made Any Time After The Wedding:

  • Nowadays, dowry demands are being made not before but after the wedding.  What the families of grooms realize is that if they make a dowry demand before the wedding, the bride’s family might not agree to the marriage.  So they wait till after the wedding to make the dowry demand.
  • Because there is such taboo against divorce in India, and girl when married is considered ‘spoiled’ – many families of brides who might not give in to dowry extortion before the wedding, give in to the sustained blackmail after the wedding.
  • However, this is dangerous.  Because the demand for money and financial resources from the bride’s family is never ending, and there is tremendous violence inflicted on the young bride every time the in-laws want her to get more cash or monetary favors from her parents.  For e.g. this woman manager of the HDFC bank (one of India’s largest banking networks today), who was earning top management salary, was harassed for more and more money – made to pay off her in-laws’ home loans, and then forced to pay for her brother-in-law’s university education in the United States.  It got to the point where she could not bear the abuse and torture anymore and committed suicide (her story here).  In many cases, ever after children are born, the dowry extortion and physical abuse continues, and women get murdered when they stop bringing in the money.
  • Do not wait for things to get “better.”  Once the process of extortion and violence starts, they only get hungry for more and more.  It will NOT GET BETTER!  It will only worse!  You need to get out soon.
  • See Anshu Singh’s Story – she was murdered just 45 days after her wedding.  In that short time she took out (lakhs) huge amounts in loan from the multinational company she was working with to pay her in-laws.

3.  Make Sure The Wedding Is Legally Registered Before The Traditional Ceremony:

  • Most Indian families focus on a fancy and traditional Indian wedding and neglect to get an official registration.
  • Indian laws on religion based traditional marriages are very murky.   There have been situations where the families of women killed for dowry have been unable to press charges because they could not prove that the couples were even married.
  • Therefore we would strongly emphasize that an official registration MUST BE DONE BEFORE the traditional wedding.
  • Make sure that the registration is done by a properly certified government official.  Make sure you have a few copies of the official certificate, stamped and notarized, and that a copy of this document is in the safekeeping of the bride’s family as well.

3.    Do A Pre-Nuptial To Register Everything Given In Gift To The Bride As ‘Stree-Dhan’:

  • The reason for ALL dowry murders is extortion, blackmail and grand larceny.  [See our War on Dowry campaign].
  • The reason violence is inflicted on the bride is to put pressure on her and her family to keep meeting the financial demands of the husband and the in-laws. But the reason the bride is murdered is because legally in India it is easier to get away with murder than with divorce! If the bride gets a divorce, she can demand her money and goods back from her in-laws.  But if she is murdered, the in-laws know only too well, that most cases of dowry murder are not even properly investigated by the police.  They are written off as ‘suicide’ or ‘accident’ and the case is closed!!
  • Dowry murders happen in two situations.  One, when the bride’s family gets tired of the never-ending blackmail, and finally often after 4-5 years of the marriage decides it cannot keep giving any more.  Then the bride is of no “use” to the in-laws.  Often her parents do not want her back either because they see the money they’ve given as ‘payment’ to the in-laws to ‘keep’ her.  That’s when the husband and in-laws will kill her.
  • In middle and upper class homes, where the bride’s parents might take her back and help her get a divorce, killing the bride before she leaves her husband, is the perfect and chilling way to ensure that her husband and in-laws get to keep all the money and goods they’ve extorted from her.  This way they also make sure that the bride is not around to try to get her money back!
  • The best way to prevent this from happening is to register everything that the bride’s family gives as ‘gifts’ to the bride.  It is illegal to give or take dowry.  But a bride’s parents can gift her things in cash and kind for her wedding, which are her sole property and are called ‘Stree-Dhan.’  Families of Brides must take advantage of this law to protect themselves.
  • That way, even if dowry violence and threats begin after the wedding the bride can safely leave the marriage and make sure she or her family get back all the gifts given to her.
  • It also is a disincentive to grooms and their families who are likely to extort and kill.  Since money is their prime motive, a legally tight arrangement that prevents them from getting their hands on the money – gives them no incentive to continue with the wedding.
  • So before the wedding, the bride’s family must insist on a legal documentation of all the things they have given as gifts as stree dhan. 
  • We would also strongly recommend that you consult your lawyers, and have both the bride and the groom sign a PRENUPTIAL clause that everything that is stree dhan must be returned to the woman or her parents should the marriage break up or if the woman leaves the marriage or dies. In the clause indicate everything that you will regard as stree-dhan.  Keep detailed records and bills of everything gifted of value before, during and after the wedding.   Families must make sure their daughters’ signatures are taken as proof of acceptance each time, and the list is kept with her parents.
  • If the groom’s family is unwilling to be party to the legal documentation of stree dhan and the clause of its return then the bride’s family has every reason to be suspicious of their motives.   Please do not proceed with this marriage.

5. File A Police Report Against The Family That Makes A Dowry Demand:

  • If a prospective groom’s family makes a dowry demand, do not agree to that marriage arrangement.  BUT ALSO PLEASE file a report against them with the police, so they will think twice before harassing another family.
  • Simply asking for dowry is punishable under law and can get you 2 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs.10,000/-
  • Be a part of our fight to end this terribly ugly, and brutal tradition!  Your action against dowry demanders will protect the life of many young women in India.

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. Please see our copyright notice.


1 Dowry Murder Every 20 Minutes

Dowry Laws Every Indian Must Know

Dowry Murders Out of Control

Her In-Laws Fed Her Acid: Helping Roopa Survive

How High Profile International Celebrity Weddings in India Perpetuate Dowry Violence

Killed 45 Days After Her Wedding: Anshu’s Story

Murder By Fire: 136000 Women Every Year (Video Discussion)

Take Our Anti-Dowry Pledge! Be Counted!

War on Dowry: The 50 Million Missing Project

What is the Real Reason For Dowry Murders?

Dahej Lena Paap Hai; Sasur Nahi Saanp Hai! (poster)


Vishal Majithia is a member of the 50 Million Missing Photographer’s group, which is supported by more than 2400 photographers from around the world.  To see Vishal’s other works  click here.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Neelam sharma permalink
    December 16, 2011 6:06 am

    Dowry is very biggest crime in our country. This is happen specially where people are educated and earning good salary. Same thing is happen with me this time, My husband is in govt job and i am also working, but now this time my husband demand my whole salry, m jewellery, my certificate and even he keep all my almirah keys in his custody. His main target is to quite my job. Recently I gave birth to my little angel, my angel is 4 months old. He never show any responsilbilty asa father and as a husband. Even from my marriage he never give me single penny from his money. I spend my money to purchase my own items as well for my son.

    Now this time demand of my Mother-In-Law ans Father-in-law are out of my limit. At the time of marriage they said we want only girl in marraige, but now they are showing there culture and trend. My In-laws are from Amritsar, Punjab. My father-In-Law itself working in Govt Job but he is very arrogant, greedy. My mother-In-Law always provoke to my husband for dowry. Now you tell me what should I do.

    • December 20, 2011 7:02 am

      @Neelam — We advice all women in your position to take your life back in your hands. You are and educated, working woman, and from your comment it is clear that you are also intelligent and have the strength to look the truth in the eye. Your battle is already half won. Because for most women, the biggest challenge is they are unable to look the reality in the eye. You love your child and part of that is raise your child with people who will love him and love and respect his mother. YOur husband and in-laws will be a bad influence on your child. You don’t want him to grow up with values like them. In India, it is not easy, because our society is harsher to women who choose to leave their husbands even if the husbands are bad. So that is the second thing you need to be clear and strong about. But there are lots of people like our campaign for instance, who are fighting to change society and its values. WE need women like you to be strong with us, to make the right decisions, and fight to live a life of dignity for yourself, raise your child as a decent human being with good values. We hope you will find the strength to decide to leave your husband with your child, save your earnings for yourself and your child, and don’t give your safety and life away to people for whom you have no human value. We are with you and so are all the people who are part of this campaign! Please come back and share your thoughts with us.

  2. emery permalink
    March 1, 2012 10:46 pm

    Ive got an idea but your not going to like it. since your working you can buy a gun. under Indian law citizens of the republic of India can own firearms. you can do this so your husband and his family lose there monopoly on power . I’m not saying you should shoot them but it would help you a lot if you could defend yourself. you don’t tell them that you got a gun because then they will just take it away and probably shoot you. your in-laws will probably not know what to do if next time they hurt you or your child you reach into your sari and pull out a gun. they might even just run away. being able to defend yourself will make it much easier to take the necessary steps to keep your self and your child safe.

  3. June 27, 2012 1:27 pm

    Indian attitude towards women divorcing their husbands will change if more and more women stand up and say ‘no’ to dowry violence and leave. It’s hard to see clearly when an entire family are bullying you though, acting like you owe them, feelings of guilt and shame are not to be underestimated in this situation, teamed with complete isolation it’s easy to see why so many marriages end up in murder. There are definitely some good laws in place to prevent dowry violence and murder, I just hope women and bride families are aware of them and know that they are not alone and that nothing is carved in stone, even when it seems too late.

  4. August 31, 2012 6:03 pm

    This is an old article, but I will comment anyway, just in case you are still reading.

    Take a job, or if you already have one, save up money where your husband cannot find it. Perhaps bury it somewhere on your way to work, or give it to a friend you can trust.

    Use that money to buy a lawyer who will defend you in a divorce, or use it to take your child and run away to Europe or America or Canada.

    • emery permalink
      September 6, 2012 10:12 pm

      also add Australia, New Zealand, and Israel to that list.

  5. August 31, 2012 6:05 pm

    Reblogged this on whitevalkyrie and commented:
    Important! translating this into Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, and Bengali later!

  6. December 2, 2012 8:52 am

    I feel very stupid after reading these posts and somewhat misled as i read indian literature and i have never heard that it is no longer legal to ask for a dowry i feel that my previous comment will look patronising it was not put forward with that intention,I wonder if your population or rather a percentage of your population are aware of such laws if one is unable
    to have an education would they be aware of such laws i am certainly leaving your posts with a lot on my mind which is a good thing.

    • December 2, 2012 12:34 pm

      Hi Lisa — Absolutely not! The problem is that there is a gap in how the media and the older feminist generation has put out this information. They’ve often been defensive about and even protective of the system that is violating women and girls in India. And that’s why blogs like ours, which are fund-free, with no vested interest, other than justice for women in India, have to step into that gap — and provide the real picture to the public. So we are really glad that you are listening and responding. Thank you! That’s exactly why we are doing this. Please remember to also support our petition. Thanks 🙂

  7. June 18, 2013 6:07 pm

    i also suferring as my inlaws are torturing me by not giving mobile, and told me to not to talk to anybody and demanding flat… many times they try to burn and manhandled me.and if not then they asking for divorce… now what in short span of 10 months of marriage how can people do this…. how can i leave him as such who spoil my life… i’m indian girl… in our hinduism divorce is bad… i don’t want divorce but want to make them realize that they are doing wrong…

    • June 21, 2013 11:36 am

      @rg Divorce is not bad, but people who commit violence and torture on you are bad. If your neighbors beat and tortured you would you try to change them? Would you continue to live with them? No you would not. Because you know that people who are bad, who have no conscience, cannot be changed. Thousands of women get killed in India because they think what you are thinking. We advise you to get out of this marriage as soon as possible. Yes, our society is backwards. But there must be people in your life who believe you deserve to be safe and happy and who will support you. Even if there is only one or two people, those are the real people. Their support matters. Just forget about the rest of society and their norms. Tell them to go to Hell — be strong and get out. The fact that you have written this means somewhere in your heart you know your husband and in-laws are bad and that you need to get out. Please get out!

  8. July 7, 2013 11:28 pm

    its easy to get out but it also makes things very very easy for the groom and the in-laws especially shameless ones. Is their no law to make them realize or make them do their responsibilities ?????????

  9. July 10, 2013 5:20 pm

    Reblogged this on divorced doodling and commented:
    The best way to prevent divorce is to plan for every contingency before you get married. Dowry is a huge stumbling block that unfortunately doesn’t end in divorce, which would be preferable, but in the death of the bride. This excellent blog post from 50 million missing gives some much needed advice to Indian women who are about to get married.

  10. July 11, 2013 4:48 pm

    Stopping over from the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Thanks for posting this well written article. I must admit, this entire concept caught me unaware. I appreciate your ability to open my eyes to an entirely new culture. I’m going to read additional posts on this site.


  11. July 13, 2013 11:06 am

    Very well written article.
    If only women were not forced into marrying at the so called appropriate age, and from the same caste, religion and such other limitations, there would definitely be a decline in this is what I feel.

    Such a shame, our country is said to be progressing and this is what is happening in the name of progress. Sad. Shameful.

  12. July 26, 2013 6:57 pm

    what about handling post wedding extortion…. especially when they use the woman’s child as a trump card to exploit her ?

    • July 27, 2013 12:09 pm

      That’s what we’ve mentioned. The first demand after the wedding — get out! Don’t gamble with your life. If you have money to give, give it to yourself. Don’t give it to greedy people who can kill and abuse you. Secondly, the demands don’t start after the child. They always start much before. So if you’re in a situation where they are abusing you and your child, you’ve just foolishly waited too long.

  13. Melissa permalink
    July 30, 2013 12:32 pm

    It is so good to read an article which has practical advice for women who are likely to get caught in this horrible trap. I wish I could do more to encourage Indian women to be strong and stand up for themselves.

  14. January 22, 2014 4:29 am

    When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify
    me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now
    on every time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same
    comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove
    me from that service? Cheers!

    • January 24, 2014 12:02 pm

      You should have an option in the email you receive that allows you to “unfollow” the comments.

  15. Nikita permalink
    May 24, 2015 10:23 am

    I have been into a relation ship for last 4 years. We both are well educated and working at mnc , he earns more than me. Last year we decided to get married, boys family was always nice to us and when things were being decided they said they don’t want a penny , all they want is that the marriage should take place at a best venue. But every time our families met they increased their demands to the extent that my parents can not afford .we are 4 sisters and no brothers . I spoke to the boy regarding this and he says that what his parents are demanding for is not dowry and the marriage has to happen the way they want.. Moreover they will not spend a rupee , if we want them to organise any function like tilak from their side we need to give cash to them. Boys mother said ” we do not keep any cash give to us we spend that cash on reception and tilak and giving gifts to the girl” .
    I wanted to get married to him, but now I am not able to understand why he is doing so? Did he want money and not me?

    • July 31, 2015 12:23 am

      Nikita – All he wants is money. And the demands keep getting bigger, after the marriage, and very importantly it is very dangerous. Too many women have been killed. What this man is doing is abuse. If he can allow his family to blackmail you, he can allow them to hurt you in many other ways. Would you every do the same to him? No, because you love him, right. When we love someone, we protect them. We don’t blackmail and hurt them. You have a lot of love to give, and you deserve someone who will give you that love in return. Please leave this man as fast as you can.

  16. Md Tahseen permalink
    September 24, 2016 7:35 pm

    Its a very good article but I would like to show some light on other side of picture,
    It is half truth that only groom’s family is greedy, the complete truth is groom as well as bride both party are greedy.

    Groom need a cash, jwellery, house hold item etc…..
    But bride family is also greedy the need a boy who is earning not minimum than 50K per month have at least 8 digit bank balance,car, own house etc………..

    When bride family search for groom they only search for rich people, because they think money can buy happiness they don’t care for morals or good character.But when they some how marry their daughter to some greedy rich person by paying a lot of dowry and think they have succeed in their plan and settled their daughter in a rich family and think “Meri beti mehel me raaj karegi “.
    The actual situation with the girl is that she became worse than ” naukrani “.
    When the bride family find out that after paying such a heavy dowry to groom’s family their daughter is not being treated as human they start to blame groom and his family.

    Conclusion:- Actually the guilty in this whole situation is bride’s family from start they must have chosen a good boy who have good moral, character and respect for his future wife.

    About 3 years ago me and my family was searching bride for me and bride’s family asked how much is your bank balance….

    My answer was I have enough bank balance so that I can fulfill the need of your daughter and keep her happy.

    They rejected me on behalf of this answer and almost every time I met same kind of bride’s family (GREEDY).

    Note:- I was against dowry or expensive kind of marriage party.

    On that day I promised my self I will never marry an Indian girl, and would like to die alone.
    after that day to this moment i never felt sorry or bad regarding my vow, and actually I am very happy with my solo life 🙂

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