Let’s not get carried away. Dowry system does exist in North-east India too. It might not be as direct or discreetly observable like it is in the other regions of India. The recent highlight by the Aamir Khan show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ revealing that there is ‘no’ dowry system in the North-eastern states of India is not completely true. The person testifying for ‘Aamir Khan’ mentions that the dress for the bride comes from the groom’s family during marriage. But does it mean complete absence of Dowry system? The answer again would be a NO. It is just a cultural practice. We can analyze it from varied angles but I shall not delve much on it now.
In my belief, there is fundamental mistake in viewing the problems of dowry and gender violence in the North-eastern states. Almost all the time it is seen in comparison with the other states thereby leading to the romanticism of the idea of lesser gender violence and increased women empowerment in the erstwhile North-East India. Any academic discussions related with gender discrimination in the North-east starts off with a hypothesis about the absence of it and an attempt to prove the hypothesis right. Thus, many of it goes unnoticed and people still remain in that state of glorification.
No doubt, women relatively enjoy more mobility and lesser gender discrimination in states like Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya etc. but questions like; Has it led to real empowerment or increased decision making power of women or has it alleviated the status of women in North-eastern states are seldom researched upon or talked about. A recent research conducted by Guwahati based organization; ‘North East Network’ reveals that there has been a considerable rise in dowry related violence over the years in Assam. According to its study many of the respondents revealed about taking loans to bear the pressure of marriage. The concept of dowry today is slowly and steadily making its progression into the north-eastern societies. Of course they are given politically correct terms like ‘Gifts’ to the bride. Parents talks about social pressures leading them to give a lot of ‘gifts’ to their daughters.
Also negating the presence of dowry system in North-east would mean completely ignoring the cultural diversity of the States. The dowry system is very much prevalent in the non-indigenous communities of Assam (By non-indigenous, I mean the communities like Bengali, Marwari, Sikhs, Punjabis, Nepalis or any other community which a non-northeasterner might not relate to while referring to the region). But again, saying that it is only limited to these communities will also be very wrong. Let me quote an example of my own community. I belong to the Mising Community, which is the second largest tribe in Assam. Almost 90% of the marriages in my community happen through eloping. Yes, Eloping as a form of marriage is socially and culturally recognized in our community. The system of ‘Gifts’ mentioned in the above paragraphs are limited to the elite sections of my community. In almost all the tribal communities of Assam (including my community), the girls when they get married, take all their movable belongings like woven clothes, sometimes domestic animals too, and jewellery with them. The question here might be what is the harm then? But on being observed it can be seen that the amount of ‘movable assets’ the new bride has brought in becomes the talk of the town. Thus, the women and their parents are forced to increase the quantity of the movable assets.
The debate can go on. The essential characteristics of any patriarchal society like absence of inheritance rights, gendered concept of ‘ideal woman’, witch hunting (limited to rural communities) are very much to be found in the North-eastern states too. There are very strict division of gender roles. And the presence of conflict situations make it even worse. If the north-eastern societies wish to progress towards more equivalent society, then there is a need to address the symptoms which are rapidly beginning to form a part of social cultural aspect of the region. Or else it shall be too late…….So till then lets stall our romanticism and not get carried away.
Note: The image shown above is only for display purpose.