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Essay on “The Roots of Dowry System” Complete Essay for Class 9, Class 10, Class 12 and Graduation and other classes.

The Roots of Dowry System


Particularly in Indian societies the dowry forms part of an exchange of wealth between intermarrying families; it is often accompanied by some payment made by the groom to the bride’s family, called the bride price or bride wealth. Bride wealth is still a fundamental part of certain African cultures, whereas dowry payments have most often been found in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and some European societies.

Prior to the entry of the British, land was not seen as a commodity, which could be bought and sold. Putting landed property exclusively in male hands, and holding males responsible for the payment of revenue, had the effect of creating the Indian male as the dominant legal subject. The British further insisted that the peasants pay revenue twice a year on a fixed date. Their inability to pay would result in the land being auctioned off by the government to recover their revenue arrears.

Not only were land holdings fragmented but this helped create a situation where a brother was no longer willing to give to a brother. Peasants, during a bad year or when the harvest was late, were forced to use their land as collateral to borrow from the moneylender in order to pay their taxes. The British determination to rationalize and modernize the system of revenue proved very hard on women. Women, who had been co-partners in pre-colonial landholding arrangements, now found themselves denied all access to economic resources. They became homeless and completely dependent on their husbands. If a woman was faced with marital conflict, she was left with no legal entitlements whatsoever. Dowry as has become a convenient foundation on which explanations for the discrimination of women are being pinned.

Dowry is one of the few indigenous, women-centered institutions in an overwhelmingly patriarchal and agrarian society. In the late 19th century and even today, dowry is their economic safety net and is a material resource over which women had at least partial control. It was an index of the appreciation bestowed upon a daughter in her natal village. In 49 separate volumes of customary law covering colonial Punjab, which today comprises Pakistan and Indian Punjab, Haryana, Jammu, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, dowry has been described in the 1870’s as a collection of voluntary gifts comprising clothes, jewellery, household goods and cash bestowed on the bride by family and friends at the time of the girl’s wedding. Nowhere was it described as the prerogative of the groom to make demands on the girl’s family. But the British at that time had not granted their own women property rights, so it was highly unlikely they would do so for Indian women. This dowry-infanticide blight was created to justify the annexing of India to their Parliament. The British wanted to paint India as barbaric and all the local custom ssuch assail and wasteful expenditure on marriages helped highlight this point of view. The East India Company was on a civilizational mission. The problem of women was made worse by the British decision to codify all customary law. A key word like ‘local’, which meant ‘village’ as a geographical locality, before customary law, was transformed to mean ‘caste’ or ‘tribe’. This shift in terminology had implications for women, since people were now identified by patriarchal lineage rather than localities.


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