“No one knows how they’ve beaten me. I’ve been crying a lot. They cut my forehead and tried to hang me. When I was pregnant, they tried to drown me in the canal. They hit me a lot and if my son had not been there, they would have killed me and I would be in the grave. They broke both my arms, my leg, and injured my whole body. I have scars all over my body. I have lived with this for 10 years because of my children. I cannot take any more of this. I was almost killed,” Taslima Begum despaired to a group of community leaders in a documentary by Al Jazeera.
She had fled to her parents’ home after enduring years of horrific torture and abuse, because her family had failed to pay the sufficient dowry to her in-laws. After 8 months, her father called for the meeting as he stated he could no longer afford to look after his daughter and her two young children. It was his wish that an arrangement would be made so that his daughter could be returned to husband.
In their native Bangladesh, dowry violence is all too familiar. And in poverty-stricken areas where women’s lower status is marred by their economic and social dependence on men, there is one likely option for Taslima – to be delivered back into the hands of her abusers.
The United Nations defines dowry-related violence as “any act of violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after the marriage.” Dowries consist of money, presents, goods, or property given from the bride’s family to the groom’s family. The rate is linked to the family’s social status, wealth, and the woman’s looks and education.
One young woman, “Aki Aktar”, kept her face concealed with black cloth, saying that she was too ashamed and frightened to show herself following a horrific acid attack. Tearfully, she recounted how her husband would burn her with cigarettes and demand more money for her dowry. After she left him, he followed her to her mother’s house and dowsed her in acid.
Her body, now disfigured with angry red welts, serves as a daily reminder of the bleak future she must now face. In small villages, women like Aki become the subject of spiteful slander and are often blamed for doing something wrong to provoke such attacks.
Over the years, payment of dowries for marriage has become an even more costly and tumultuous affair. Despite the practice being made illegal in many parts of South Asia, thousands of women still face physical violence, rape, acts of cruelty, and even death, if their dowries are deemed to be insufficient.
In 2012, Pravartika Gupta, a 25-year-old technology graduate in India, died after the bedroom in which she was sleeping in was set on fire. Her 1-year-old daughter, who was with her at the time, also suffered life-threatening burns.
It was revealed that Gupta’s father-in-law and husband had been angry because their dowry demands were not met and also because she gave birth to a girl when a boy was preferred. Her family had agreed to pay the sum of £15,000 plus a Honda car. Yet, the full amount was not received and before long, her in-laws started to demand a new apartment as part of the deal.
“They said they had given a flat to their daughter’s in-laws in dowry and we should do the same. They are economically well-off but greedy,” her uncle, Rajesh Gupta, told the Telegraph.
“We bought gold and clothes for them on the baby’s first birthday but they were not satisfied. A flat would cost between 30 lakhs rupees (£35,000) and a crore (£117,000). They said you got our royal family, you are not as good as we are. You must be proud to be our relatives and you must pay.”
Struggling to deal with the death of his young niece, Gupta echoed the thoughts mirrored by many who find themselves aghast by the callousness of such crimes.
“Why did he do this? He had everything, a beautiful wife, a beautiful girl, a prosperous house. What was in his mind we don’t understand,” asked Gupta.