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