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5 Important #Advice for Women Being Blackmailed for #Dowry

November 7, 2013

by Rita Banerji

The wedding season just started in India.  And like every year, this year too The 50 Million Missing Campaign  has received frantic emails from young Indian women about to get married. They tell us that their groom-to-be and his family are blackmailing them for exorbitant dowries in cash or kind, and as the wedding date draws near the demands get bigger.  Last week we got an email from a young woman who said this:

“I am a 28-year-old school teacher and I am about to get married to an army officer whose parents though haven’t directly asked for dowry have said that their son has bought a new car worth Rs.10 lakh (U.S. $16,500.00) and they want my parents to give half of the price which my parents are going to. I have already given a hint to my mother that I won’t get married to such a family if they keep demanding things. Now they say that we are to give only branded gifts to their guests. I am really worried and don’t feel right about this and neither do my parents but because they have publicly announced my marriage, my mother says it would be foolish to back out considering there aren’t other good marriage offers. I haven’t spoken to my dad who is equally frustrated about the whole attitude of the in-laws but he feels they have a good family background. I love my parents, can’t hurt them or insult them in public neither do I want to ruin my life by marrying such a family. Pleeezzzz tell me what to do? Should I get engaged next month?”

bride skeletonThis is insane! Why do parents think that families who make unlawful demands and blackmail them for dowry even before the wedding, are “good” families for their daughter to marry into? Millions of educated, professional middle-class families marry their daughters into families that begin to show their criminal tendencies before the marriage.  And their daughters are subject to worse blackmail and torture for dowry after the wedding, and eventually thousands of women like this are killed.  After all the news we read and hear every day in India about the abuse and killing of women for dowry, how do these parents even think about forcing their daughters to marry into these families? Do they absolutely not care for the safety of their daughters?

This year one of the biggest public fights in India was about removing criminals from government – men convicted of extortion, larceny, rape and murder! But do we realize that as individuals if we continue to marry criminal-minded men or marry our daughters into families that behave criminally, we are embracing criminals in our personal lives and families? Then with what faith do we expect to clean criminals out of government and have a system that ensures the safety of women?

If you are reading this and are in this situation, or have a family member or friend or colleague in a similar situation, this is my advice:

1. Say a total “no” to any marriage proposal that makes even one dowry demand

Treat any dowry demand (whether in cash or goods) as a death threat! Do not marry into this family. And do not trust them. Do not agree to any negotiations. If they seem to be changing their mind, they are only looking for another way to continue doing the same.

2. Get out immediately of any situation of blackmail and abuse for dowry

Sometimes the in-laws wait till after the wedding to start blackmailing and abusing for dowry. We’ve found that this is often true in “love-marriages.” My advice to all women in this situation is — Get out immediately! Do not delay! Anshu was a bright, young woman, working with a multinational who married a man she was in love with. Within days of the wedding as her in-laws demanded and extorted money from her, she realized what criminal people they are. Just 6 weeks after her wedding as she planned to leave the marriage she was killed. To read Anshu’s story click here.

3. If you have daughters, you need to protect them and yourself

Studies and my campaign’s cases repeatedly show that families that abuse and kill for dowry are also the ones that force women to abort girls and also kill or try to kill the infant girls after birth. In middle and upper class families – babies have unexplained ‘accidents’ on staircases or in the bathtub. The father of Pooja Chopra, who was crowned ‘Miss India World,’ had tried to suffocate her with a pillow (her story here). The reason is, they are greedy for dowry, but don’t want to give dowry for the girls born into their family. They are a danger to both the woman and to her daughters. Click here to see one of these cases from our campaign. So women being abused for dowry need to save themselves and their daughters.

4. Know the dowry laws

If you are planning to get married soon make sure you know the dowry laws, what your rights are and how you can protect yourself. Click here for a post that gives you all this information.

5. Speak the truth about your safety to your parents directly

Finally, if you are in a situation like the school teacher in the letter above, you need to speak the truth to your parents directly. Do not beat around the bush with excuses and explanations. You need to tell them directly, that they are gambling with your safety and putting your life in danger. And that no parent who loves their daughter can do this! Make sure they know that even if they do not understand this, you will not marry this man. Your parents cannot force you. If they do, it is illegal. Get out of the house immediately, and find a friend who will understand and support you. If your parents persist, file a police complaint against them.

But whatever you do, please do NOT marry men or stay married to men who demand dowries! Dowry is illegal, and these people are blackmailing you, which is also illegal. These are criminal minded people who will continue to extort more dowry from you after your marriage.  And they are violent! We don’t want you to end up dead like thousands of women who are murdered or driven to suicide because of dowry!

In December 2012, the women of India came out on to the streets demanding protection from rape and violence. When women are tortured daily for dowry, the violence is not just physical and emotional. It is also sexual! Most sexual violence on women and girls happens within the homes and families. The women of India need to understand that our fight for our right to safety has to begin with our own families first!

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To cite, please see ourcopyright guidelines.


Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder ofThe 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 She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at@Rita_Banerji

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Robbie Price permalink
    November 7, 2013 2:32 pm

    I hope the day is not too far away when families with sons suddenly realise that they are on the back foot in these negotiations.

  2. karthu1993 permalink
    November 7, 2013 3:24 pm

    Can’t believe people still follow the dumb dowry system!!!

  3. November 8, 2013 12:28 pm

    Even though dowry is one of the main reasons why daughters are unwanted in many families in India (and causes 50 million missing girls), but there is another equally important reason. Based on my personal survey that reason is India’s social customs around marriage. Once married daughters are supposed to leave her parents and start staying with her in-laws family under the same roof. This custom not only increases the effect of dowry related consequences but also it makes some parents to feel that raising a daughter is wasteful and having a son is mandatory because when they will get old their son and daughter-in-law will stay with them to take care of them.

    So to address the root cause of why daughters are unwanted in many Indian families we should also focus on how to replace this biased custom with a fair alternative. One alternative fair custom that I can think of is the one we see in the first world countries where gender ratio is 1:1. That custom is once married the bride and groom together starts their own new family at a different place where both the parents are equally welcome and treated.

    The existing biased Indian custom worked without issue when parents used to have many kids and there was good chance to have at least one boy. But in present economic situation parents can not afford to raise more than 2 kids. So there is very less chance to have at least one boy. Even though the economic situation of the country changed, we are still preserving the old social customs.

    Apart from dowry, this is another main reason which is causing female infanticide. I know a woman who herself chose to abort many times until she conceived a boy as her third and final kid after her two older daughters. Her logic was that the daughters would go to different families once married, so for future security having a boy was mandatory. I was surprised and shocked but I was not sure whether she is a criminal or a victim. Everybody wants future security. From her life-experience that’s what she realized. She couldn’t take care of her parents, she could hardly visit them and her parents could not stay comfortably at her in-law’s place. So, is she a criminal who kept on killing her own daughters or a victim of biased social customs?

    I know this is a very hard problem (even harder than stopping dowry) to deal with as this is a socially accepted long-lived custom and there is no law so far to prevent it. Also many people are not aware that this also contributes to female baby genocide as much as dowry does. But if we continue to ignore this problem we will never be able to make daughters equally wanted in all Indian families, save those million girls and make the gender ratio 1:1.

    • November 10, 2013 12:37 pm

      Amrita, regarding your question “So, is she a criminal who kept on killing her own daughters or a victim of biased social customs?” my answer is YES if this was the killing of girls after birth! Before birth, in context of female fetal abortions, I have never known of any woman to abort without feeling emotional and psychological pressure (torture) from her in-laws. There has never been a case where a woman’s husband and in-laws want to have daughters and the woman wants to abort. It is always pressure directly. Where women make choices to kill other women, it is generally for dowry. During the Jewish genocide, there were Jews who worked as concentration camp guards to curry favor with the Nazis as an act of self-protection. They were just as criminal as the Nazis whatever there reasons may have been. The reason India or any system preserves an old custom is because it is useful to some, in this case the patriarchy. Kerala and the NE historically did no have female infanticide or other forms of femicide because they had a matrilineal system of inheritance. But when that started changing their child sex ratios started dropping too, and dowry murders etc. became prevalent as well. I believe India needs a radical haul through the legislative and criminal system. Enough is enough. I’m done with all the bleeding heart explanation for culture and customs. This kind of violation of basic human rights is barbaric. Perhaps we need to switch to a matrilineal system of inheritance for the entire country. Woman to woman. That’s reason enough to make sure all the women in your family are alive and kicking 🙂

  4. November 10, 2013 12:39 pm


  5. November 11, 2013 9:47 am

    Reblogged this on WhereMyFeetHaveGone.

  6. Tom permalink
    January 18, 2014 7:39 am

    Actually that are very good advises. I wonder why parents of girls get so blindsighted that they do not see through the grooms family. Why do they ignore the responsibilities towards their daughters? I have the suspicion that they feel somewhat ashamed of them (not beeing a boy) and are somewhat subconciously happy that there will be no more additional cost (and no benefit) after the marriage – that may be to pessimistic so maybe I am wrong. Another question that puzzles me for some while now is why is the attitude towards girls not changing in a soceity where there are significant too little? I mean if I read the statistics correctly there are 1.13 man per woman or in other words 12 guys in every 100 will not have the chance to find a wife. That should give the girls family some bargaining power (I don’t mean to revert the whole dowry thing but at least it should give the girls family the ability to chose). Or the other way round, if I have a boy (or worse many) and my standing on the social ladder does not allow them to be overly attractive since I cannot offer them prospective large inheritance, I would bargain. No dowry, certainly, the boy stays with the family of the girl – If its a decent family I cannot see why not. Certainly much better than to see one (or many) of my sons unhappy and alone. So since that is not happening I guess I am missing some clues – any suggestions? 🙂


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