Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Ahoy! India's new lady President

Read in the newspaper today that a new lady President has been elected in India.

Pratibha Patil, a 72 year old lawyer is the new president of the country, first in the 60 years of indepedence of India. It is an irony that while one woman rises and shines today, the general female population in India are still being harshly discriminated and violated.

"Dowry death" is something I learnt about when reading the internet articles. It is prevalent in India and is an act whereby a bride is murdered by her groom's family when she is unable to pay additional dowry. Let me explain how this works. When a daughter is being married in India, her family usually prepares dowry for her which are often in the form of jewellery, clothings, cash or others in kind (not quite different from our Chinese culture I say). However, when the dowry is deemed insufficient by the groom's family, more will be demanded from the bride. When the bride is unable to oblige, it will translate into harrassment of the bride's family, physical abuse of the bride and "bride burning". Yes, literally burning the girl by pouring kerosene on her and lighting her up. Such cruelty are often disguised as kitchen fires or suicides. And what does the groom stand to gain from this? Probably another wife and another dowry.

In 1961, the Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted in India. However, this does not seem to have deter such brutal crimes from occuring. A sociologist suggested that this has to do with how the worth of a woman is being perceived in the society. It is probably true that women in India have a much inferior social standing as compared to men. The fact that they can be "traded" like commodities (be it in dowry marriage or human trafficking) already sends a clear message. Because of this perception, a woman is expected to bend over and submit to the groom and his family after her marriage and couple with the fact that the bride's family will be unwilling to take her married daughter home, it is no wonder that such acts continued to be condoned in the modern India.

The dowry, as we know, is supposed to be endowed with blessings from family and friends. In olden days, it was prepared for a daughter so that she can be self sufficient and not seen as adding burden to her matrimonial family, like a safeguard to her so that she will not be mistreated in her new home. I cannot believe how these good intentions can transform into tragedies like dowry deaths. According to statics, 25,000 women are victims of drowy death each year and that is about 0.003% of the Indian population. Don't think that's a big number right? Probably that is why it is less of a pressing issue as compared to beggars, dieseases, HIV and other poverty related issues that are rampant in that country. But when you think about innocent young girls being burnt and brutally murdered each day, don't they deserve our sympathy too?

I am grateful that I live in this part of the world where men and women are almost regarded as equals. I can live and breathe freely, go to school or work with the boys, hang out late at pubs without having to worry too much about being harrassed or condemned. I don't think this come at no cost at all, as "blood" must have been shed by my predecessors, who dare challenge the social norms. I wish I have courage like that to pursue bigger things in life instead of simply being contended with balancing my accounts.

It takes a wise person with a lot of courage to want to step forward and lead. Let us pray that more of those wise ones will have the courage to do so and save us from the many absurdity in this world. In the meantime, we should all celebrate the courage of this brave lady and hope that she will do great things for the better of India and for our sisters.

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