The History of the Dowry and Are They Still a Thing

Most people have heard of a dowry, but what exactly are they and do they still exist in modern society?

Dowries are an interesting part of many different cultures, and history is full of examples of them, from early medieval times to now. The problem is, they are becoming an antiquated practice, especially in light of the damage they can cause to the bride and her family.

Those who are struggling because of a dowry can get in touch with experts in India law statutes across the UK and India to get assistance. That said, for some women and families, even in the UK, it’s not always that simple.

In this post, we’re going to briefly explain what a dowry is, and discuss the history of the dowry in the UK. We‘ll then talk more about the issues faced by women who are still subjected to these practices today.

What is a Dowry?

Before we get into the history of the dowry in the UK, and its current significance in modern Indian culture, we’re going to give you a brief description of what this is.

The dowry is an ancient tradition found in all different cultures, religions and time periods. No-one knows quite where they originated, but they still take place in marriages today.

In Hindu culture, a dowry is a gift of significant monetary value from the bride’s family to the family of the groom. The custom is such that you never go anywhere empty-handed, and the dowry is seen as a kind gesture to welcome the bride into the groom’s home. 

The value of the dowry is usually based on several factors, such as class or income. It doesn’t have to be a cash sum, it can also be given in the form of furniture, jewellery, property or livestock.

Dowries don’t only exist in Hindu culture; they have a long history in Jewish, Slavic, Arab, East Asian, and African cultures.

What is the History of Dowries in the UK?

As we said in the last section, dowries have a long history in many cultures, and even had their time in the UK.

The dowry was common in England, but the right of daughters to inherit, as well as the right for women to own property, always separated it from dowries on the continent. 

When the Normans invaded in the 12th century, changes in the law required a wife’s property to be held in the husband’s name, custody and control.

By the 13th century, there were lots of records of disputes over dowries, and the law around them became more complex. At this point, daughters were used as a commodity to ambitious fathers who wanted patronage and wealth.

More to that, failure to provide a dowry could cause a marriage to be called off, as they increasingly became a way for families to make commercial ties with one another.

In the 1800s, the Norman law that meant a man owned all his wife’s property was repealed and the practice began to die out. 

One thing about the way dowries were used in England is that they didn’t appear to be prevalent in the lower classes, and so it was never a distinctive part of wider culture. However, in the colonial period, it became the only way for people of any class to get married in India under British law, and the trend has continued to this day. 

Do Dowries Still Happen Today?

Now that we know what dowries are, their prevalence in the upper classes of the UK, and how the British exacerbated the practice in India, it’s time to look at whether they still take place today.

Indian Dowries

Seeking a dowry has been outlawed in India since 1961. That said, the rules have been flagrantly ignored by many, and it’s been difficult for them to enforce. 

The reason for these laws is that, since British colonial rule in India, its booming economy encouraged ever-higher bride prices among all socioeconomic strata. This might not seem like a big deal but, unfortunately, it has led to more violence towards women.

Dowry violence tends to happen when the husband or in-laws try to extract a higher dowry from the bride’s family. The initial dowry payment can seem significant at the time, but one side of the family can get greedy and want more money as the marriage goes on.

UK Dowries

It might surprise you to learn that, despite India, Pakistan, Nepal, Kenya, Greece, Australia and Sri Lanka all having laws banning dowries, the UK doesn’t.

In an eye-opening article published by The Independent back in 2014, they discussed the harsh reality of dowry violence in the UK. Charities that work with women in affected communities recorded hundreds of cases of dowry violence in the UK, but not a single police force keeps data on it. 

Community groups called on the police to start recording these abuses. They also urged health professionals, social services and immigration officials to be educated on the issue so they can look out for it in their day-to-day work. 

They also want the police to open up cases of missing women from minority ethnic backgrounds to find out whether dowry violence was involved. In response to this, police chiefs agreed to create a new system where dowry violence will become a part of the training for 140,000 police officers across the UK.

Hopefully, the commoditisation of dowries in the UK will become a thing of the past. With this, marriages can go back to being a celebration of the joining of two families, not the joining of two financial bodies.

How Do You Report Dowry Violence?

In this post, we’ve managed to cover what dowries are, and how they rose to prominence in the UK and India. We’ve then discussed how they can cause dowry violence in the UK.

Now that you know what dowry violence is, you can be on the lookout for it and report it to the police if you see anything suspicious. The light that has been shed on the practice in recent years means these cases are being taken more seriously than ever. 

Thank you for reading this post, and hopefully you have a better understanding of the history of dowries and the issues surrounding them. Do feel free to leave any thoughts and comments down below.

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