A young woman in Bangladesh is taking a brave stance against the ancient practice of dowry -- whereby the family of a new bride is required to pay her husband and his family a certain amount of money or goods in exchange for insuring a proper marriage.
This practice has led to much abuse, even murder. Although dowries are illegal and a criminal offense, the act is still widely practiced in South Asia.
However, according to BDNews 24, a Bangladeshi news agency, a woman named Farzana Yasmin plans to divorce her husband (immediately after the wedding) because her groom, Shawkat Ali Hiron and his aunt had demanded a dowry from Yasmin’s family.
She has also asked the authorities to punish her soon-to-be ex-husband.
The apparently unprecedented action has reportedly sent shockwaves across the very conservative, male-dominated country.
I cannot imagine spending my life under the same roof with a man who has voiced his support for taking dowry, Farzana told local media.
Anti-dowry laws should be implemented strictly and those who demand it should be given exemplary punishment.”
Regarding the other family’s dowry demands, Yasmin declared: I was stunned initially when I saw Shawkat… voicing his support [for] his aunt's demand of dowry from my father.
Yasmin noted that both Ali Hiron and his aunt, Tahmina Begum, work as schoolteachers.
Teachers are said to be shapers of a country's future,” she said. “If they can go [so] far as demanding dowry in public, how far will others go?
In an interview with the BBC, Yasmin said she hopes her decision inspires other women in Bangladesh to follow suit.
The dowry has become a cancer of our society. I have read this in newspapers and always wondered why people should put up with it, she said.
When I found myself getting caught up with this, I thought I have to protest. I know I cannot change the fate of thousands of other similarly oppressed women in the country, but at least I have taken a stand.
BDNews24 indicated that Farzana comes from a middle-class family, the third child of a government workers and housewife. She is also a college graduate and currently works for an insurance company in the capital city of Dhaka.
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a Bangladeshi human rights group, has commended Yasmin’s actions.
Sultana Kamal, the executive director of ASK, told BBC that Farzana had taken a principled and brave stand against the gross injustice of dowry payments. Ms. Yasmin has shown considerable bravery in doing what she did to highlight the evil and oppressive dowry system. Already she is facing recriminations with several parties trying to defame her and portray her as a loose woman. In fact she is a heroine of Bangladesh.
Yasmin has reportedly fled her home in the Barguna district of southern Bangladesh and living with friends in Dhaka.
However, the expansion of women’s rights would appear to face some monumental obstacles in a country dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and centuries of a deeply-ingrained conservative culture.
Earlier this year, a proposal by the Dhaka government to guarantee equal property rights for women prompted a fierce backlash among conservative groups and violent protests.
Meanwhile, the violence related to dowry payments shows no signs of abating.
ASK estimates that in first half of this year, more than 160 women in Bangladesh were “tortured to death” for failing to provide a dowry to their husbands’ families.
Media in Bangladesh and India are awash with stories virtually every day of women being physically abused or killed for dowry-related incidents.
In late July, a housewife named Rina Bibi, only 22, was beaten to death by her husband and in-laws in Laxmipur, Bangladesh for not providing an adequate dowry.
The human rights group Amnesty International estimates that at least 15,000 women are murdered each year in India in dowry-related cases, with untold tens of thousands more beaten, tortured or wounded.
Other estimates claim at least 25,000 women die annually in India over dowries.
In extreme cases, women are sometimes set on fire (bride-burning) while others are permanently scarred by having acid thrown on their faces and bodies.
All this bloodshed -- despite the fact that dowries were prohibited by the Indian government as long ago as 1961.
Last week, Meira Kumar, the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, delivered a lecture in New Delhi where she declared: “The caste system and the dowry tradition are two major social issues we have to address to make sure that discrimination against women stops. The caste system is the root cause of honor killing and the dowry tradition is responsible for female feticide. Women are discriminated against since the day they are born. A wider social movement of education of women’s rights is needed. Human rights for all must be made the focal point in good governance.”