India's highest court has asked the government to order all male government employees to declare the amount of dowry they received at the time of their marriage, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Laws passed more than four decades ago to prevent the practice of families demanding huge amounts of cash and property as dowry have had little effect. The court's request for government employees to declare received dowries is aimed at discouraging grooms and their families from seeking them.
"The conscience of society needs to be fully awakened to the evil of the dowry system," said Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan, according to The Asian Age newspaper. "The demand for dowry itself should lead to a loss of face in society for those who demand it."
In most parts of India girls are married off in their late teens, with a large dowry given to the groom's family. The dowry could include consumer durables like a refrigerator or a television set or a two-wheeler scooter, apart from gold jewelry and money. In cities and towns, even highly educated and working women are expected to pay a dowry which could include land, a house or an apartment, a car and vast sums of cash.
Dowry demands often continue for years after the wedding. Thousands of young women every year are killed - many of them burned to death - because the groom or his family regarded a dowry as inadequate, according to the Center for Social Research, a women's advocacy group based in New Delhi.
Over the last two decades, unreasonable demands for dowry have also been linked to the increase in female fetuses being aborted. Fewer girl children are being born or survive, a factor which has resulted in skewed gender ratio figures across the country.
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