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Facebook Game ‘Angry Brides’ Trivializes the Issue of Dowry Violence

June 27, 2012

by Rita Banerji

[Note: The original version of this article was published on The Women’s International Perspective]

I am on a Google alert for “dowry,” a practice that is recognized as one of the underlying causes of India’s female genocide/gendercide.  Some time back,  I received an avalanche of ‘dowry’ alerts as Indian and foreign media eagerly reported on internet game, “Angry Brides,” launched on Facebook by the private Indian marriage bureau Shaadi.com. In this game players are invited to throw things like virtual shoes and tomatoes at grooms demanding dowry. Every time a dowry-demanding groom is hit, the dowry amount is lowered.

What I find appalling is how the media has depicted “Angry Brides” as a commendable way to raise “social awareness.” The Vice President of Shaadi.com is quoted as calling “Angry Brides” an “innovative” plan to get more customers and engage with them about “the nuisance of dowry.” While the corporate giant Shaadi.com, with its base of 20 million customers, is recognized among the world’s top 50 most innovative companies, the term “nuisance” grossly understates the actual impact of the practice of dowry.

Dowry, which the government of India outlawed 50 years ago, has become the most widespread and lethal weapon of criminal extortion and violence against Indian women across all class and economic strata in India. Grooms’ families force brides’ families to pay exorbitant sums to seal the wedding arrangements. The monetary demands continue unceasingly years after the wedding, often with sustained violence and abuse inflicted on the bride and threats to her life.As illogical as it is for the brides’ families to comply, they do so because the fear of social stigma from a broken-off engagement or divorce is so deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. Even education and wealth do not seem to dispel the fear.The inhuman and systematic violence on women is ultimately the most grisly impact of the custom of dowry. Every year, thousands of young married women are subject to all forms of abuse and violence by their husbands and in-laws in their attempts to extract more wealth from the women and their families. Dowry among the wealthier in India includes demands for luxury cars, houses and expensive real estate, and high-end job placements. Thousands of women ultimately end up murdered when the money stops or is not enough.Thirty-one-year-old Komal Cheda was one of the thousands of Indian women who were victims of dowry extortion and violence last year. She was a manager at the HDFC bank, India’s second largest private sector bank, and a well-educated, sophisticated, urban woman, earning in India’s top 10 percentile. It was not enough to pay off her father-in-law’s loans and pay for her husband’s brother’s higher studies in the United States. When the demands for more and the abuse and violence from her husband and in-laws would not cease, Komal committed suicide to make it stop.

A study published in The Lancet last year reported that more than a 100,000 women are burnt to death in India every year, about one woman every five minutes. In a television discussion titled “Burning Women,” renowned Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaisingh points out how The Lancet report is not even close to the real numbers, given the numerous other ways – such as hanging, poisoning, and drowning – women are murdered for dowry in India.

Dowry-driven female gendercide gives rise to practices like female feticide and infanticide. Men and their families who extort dowry from women do not want daughters for whom they will have to pay dowry later. Daughters are eliminated en masse before they become women. Every year, scores of expectant mothers have repeated forced abortions, thus ridding India of millions of female fetuses. In villages of India, thousands of newborn girls are murdered, and female toddlers are starved or battered to death. The rate of mortality for girls under six years is 75 percent higher than for boys the same age.

It is very distressing that the media reports that laud “Angry Brides” do not think about the appropriateness of making a game out of one of the gravest human rights violations of this century, or the misogynistic implications of how the ‘game’ is set up. What if we were trivializing the marginalization and killing of a group because of race, religion, or ethnicity? There is an underlying misogyny in India that needs to be acknowledged, just like we acknowledge the racism in race-based hate crimes, the killing of Tutsis in Rwanda, or the holocaust in Europe.

Newspaper articles make light of the underlying issues of violence and abuse in dowry cases with statements like, “With weapons like tomatoes, brooms, and heels, the men definitely need to look out.” In fact, the picture of the ‘angry woman’ in the Facebook game is modeled after the Hindu Goddess, Durga, who is known to have defeated and slain the men (who are often characterized as ‘demons’) who attempted to molest and subjugate her. The question that should be asked is, if the idea is to invoke the power and strength of Durga, then why has she been armed with such ridiculous substitute ‘weapons’ like tomatoes and brooms instead of her original sword, trident and thunderbolt? Or better yet, why not arm the “Angry Bride” with the laws and the Constitution of India, the modern weapons of safety and protection that Indian women are struggling to use, even in the face of immense apathy from the police and judiciary?

It seems that Shaadi.com has a good reason to refer to the issue of dowry as a mere “nuisance,” and to set up their game not as an outright denunciation of dowry but more a negotiation of it. Perhaps it is because half their customers have daughters who could be potential victims of dowry, while the other half has sons and are the dowry demanders. A good business knows how to keep all its customers happy.

The image on the right is the one used to advertise the facebook game ‘Angry Brides.’ The inspiration for this image is the Goddess Durga who is depicted in the image to the left. The Goddess Durga is supposed to be the ultimate form of power in Indian mythology. She is a fierce warrior who battles and kills the demons (men) who try to molest and abuse her. Her enemies are terrified of her powers. However the version of the many armed Durga in the “Angry Brides” game is not so much a modern version as one that pokes fun at the terror and violence inflicted on Indian brides in the name of ‘Dowry.’ Look at the weapons given to the ‘Angry Bride’ — pots and pans, brooms, vegetables. There are thousands of dowry murders of women in India every year. If they really wanted to give these women clout to defend themselves, shouldn’t the makers of the ‘Angry Brides’ game have given them the power of the law, the police and the constitution at least to successfully defend themselves? Or better still guns, knives, pepper sprays?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Rebellions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

 

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. emery permalink
    June 28, 2012 10:51 pm

    when i played i thought that maybe you could unlock better weapons with enough points like in many other games. that dose not appear to be the case. all of that aside i guess having a game that calls attention to the problem is not the wost thing ever but they could have done a much better job of showing people how serous the problem is. i think of it this way if someone made a game based on the Warsaw ghetto uprising but the most damage you could do would be to throw pots and pans at the SS men than people would be confused and might even think the whole thing is just a joke. in fact it would be declared anti-Semitic even though it is a fact that the rebels in the Warsaw ghetto had few weapons. I’M shore the makers of Angry Brides would use the same excuse in this case that most women in India don’t have AK-47’s. still i think the whole thing done vary poorly.

  2. June 29, 2012 3:26 am

    The Idea of ‘Angry Brides’ is so ridiculous…definitely by a by a money-minded man from the male dominating society. Kudos to Rita Banerji to get this topic to the fore and expose it. Why is the woman in the picture not carrying a laptop or a pen and notebook…why is she only shown carrying household items? When will the men understand that gone are the days when women would be confined to the four walls of the house and cook, clean and wait for their husbands to get home awaiting their thrashings and scoldings. Off late thanks to women like Rita Banerji, women know that they not only can but they should stand on their own right and they do have a voice of their own. Vivel has come up with a unique initiative called the Vivel Active Fair Choo Lo Aasmaan Awards to honour such women who have brought about a change in the society. You can nominate her at https://apps.facebook.com/chooloaasmaan. All the best!!

    • Debnandini permalink
      July 23, 2013 8:56 am

      right….and how very socially aware is vivel to declare an award called “active fair choo lo aasman”? i mean seriously? on one hand you are awarding women and on the other you are being colour racist? how do people buy such stuff? dont these ironical awards strike to them as odd? dont they realise that profit seeking organizations like vivel and shaadi.com trivialize and usurp important causes to increase their own marketing?

  3. Sara permalink
    May 9, 2015 5:56 pm

    (Sorry, my comment got too long. So I’m splitting it up into two 🙂 )

    This game might just sound funny the first time someone describes it.
    But this is far far from practicality/reality.
    As a person who has first hand experience of physical violence for money, and hence personally know the terror felt by a beaten, threatened (with death) wife, I can readily see how completely flawed this game’s concept is:

    1) The bride/wife in the game (dares to) throws cups & saucers on the guy (and the demanded dowry comes down!! wow!)
    How practical or real is this? This happens ONLY is comedy shows. Period.
    First of all, any person (man or woman) who is alone against someone who is physically stronger than them will not resort to attacking him (unless they are very well trained in martial arts or something). No bride would dare to start off an offense when she knows she would most likely lose in a combat against a man, and that too when she is inside a house & can’t run away or hide. (Though some silly, petty men like to spread a big false propaganda that wives are physically attacking husbands, and claim that they need laws to ‘protect’ them from wives’ beatings (!!?) hmmmm..) As far as I have seen, the farthest a real angry (and brave) woman goes is to throw things on the floor with a bang (and not on the husband), or shake his shoulders if she thinks he is not responding. AND this too happens years after marriage, if and when she is sure it won’t backfire.

    Ok, even if she does dare to throw something on the husband (or is so very angry that it blinds her to ground realities & she does it), she’ll be battered back very badly & will end up like ketchup (well, not exactly, but you get the point).

  4. Sara permalink
    May 9, 2015 5:58 pm

    (Contd. from previous comment)

    2) Scenario: Dowry demands are starting
    When a guy demands huge money/’gifts’, especially after marriage (which *is* the trend these days), the first reaction in the mind of the wife would be shock – “I thought he won’t ask! What will I do now? I’m already trapped”. She knows that his mind is made up & all this is pre-planned, and asking him “You initially said that you don’t want anything. Why are you demanding now?” is going to be futile for sure. She knows that the response would be denials or bluffs or angry slurry or blows, and nothing else. She might try indirect questions or hints, but the result would be the same. Her mind is baffled, she feels helpless. Throwing tomatoes would be the last thing she can think of, but even that will NOT help, and would make matters much worse.
    Only these paths of action exist:
    (a) Comply with the demands – NEVER DO THIS, as the demands would keep coming back again & again in ever growing sizes as you already mentioned, and every time she will be back to square one.
    (b) Say something to buy time, and
    – either go back to ‘(a)’ after the timeout,
    – or get killed or beaten more severely after the timeout,
    – Or, in the time she gets, plan her escape (ideally that would be: arrange for alternate place of stay, get legal consultation from a genuine person & send a divorce notice, but not without completely recovering her stridhan & money & gold & everything she owns or gave, and getting compensated for any damages).
    As you said, the laws in the constitution of India would be the “weapons” here to protect her.

    3) Scenario: Murder is round the corner (Immediate murder threat)
    ONLY way: RUN like hell. Hopefully she has has a job & friends outside home.
    (Of course, specific scenarios will vary – like, if the she is pinned or surrounded already, she will have to throw an *unexpected* kick or something to get out – depends on her luck & on her survival instincts. Sad, but true.)

    4) As pessimistic as it may sound, the truth is that you can’t satiate any greedy person or change him permanently – be it using advice & all that, or using tomatoes & tumblers – especially if he feels entitled. Only solution is to just leave him & move on, and then keep yourself safe from “revenge” when he sees that his plan to get rich easily has failed.

    5) Some very young, innocent, inexperienced girl might assume that this kind of “winning the vegetable-war” is actually possible!

    6) And the newspaper quote you mentioned – “With weapons like tomatoes, brooms, and heels, the men definitely need to look out.”
    Whhhaaatt??? This made me really angry.
    Yeah, these men are oh so delicate flowers, and a woman’s attack with a tomato will knock them out, so they’ll have to watch out. And this is the solution to the dowry terror. Hate to be rude, but actually feel like spitting on whoever published THAT crap.

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