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In just 2 years, 22 people joined him, all with the one purpose – to spread awareness against the dowry system

A profile of social reformer Mahesh Chandra

Story By- Farhan Siddiqui and Priyank Mani

Every day, once Babu Mahesh Chandra, a retired teacher, is free from his routine, he heads off on his bicycle towards the various villages of Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He takes with him on this journey some posters and banners carrying anti-dowry slogans. Stopping every now and then on the way, he calls out the anti-dowry slogans to raise awareness among people against the evil practice of dowry that is prevalent in our society. When he is asked whether he too was a victim of the dowry system, he simply responds, “We all are, babu.”

Describing his routine, he says, “Being an avid reader of Hindi newspapers, every day I read about the dowry-related crimes that happen daily, from harassment to murder and suicide.” “I felt myself feeling quite helpless. But one day, this evil practice consumed my neighbor’s daughter within a month of her marriage. We lit the pyre of that poor woman in front of her in-laws’ house, but they had already left the village. Being angry, the people were becoming bent on burning down the house of the in-laws. At that time I realized that burning down the house will not be any kind of solution. That was it then, the very next day I took out my cycle and made my way to many areas to make people aware of this evil.” Chandra-ji smiles as he says, “It has been almost two years now, and 22 other people have joined me. They have all been victims of dowry in some form or the other. People from as far as East Champaran are part of our group. As our group expanded, everyone started viewing us as social reformers [samaj sudharak], and that’s it, this is what we strive to be every day.”

Describing the working style of their organization, Mahesh Chandra-ji says that they are neither registered as an NGO nor as a trust. We are just a handful of people, who want to get rid of this evil of dowry right from its roots. At the end of every month, all the members gather at my residence in Khabra, Muzaffarpur. We plan which villages/towns we will cover next. Sometimes, in different places, we also regularly hold small meetings against the dowry system. All 23 members of our team carry banners and posters on which we have put the tragedies caused by the dowry system. These people also distribute pamphlets and leaflets, the cost of which is covered through mutual cooperation among all the members depending on what they are able to do.

Mahesh-Ji further explains, “We all recognize that we all have our own personal lives, and we can not be involved in this all day, so we have taken a pledge that we will devote at least one hour every day to this cause. I know that there is also a law against dowry. Yet dowry deaths are a common occurrence. Maybe the law against dowry is like all other laws in our country, which were made for the betterment of society, but seem to exist only on paper. I am cognizant that this is a difficult battle, and we also traverse that same difficult path.”

According to NCRB [National Crime Records Bureau] data, 19 dowry-related deaths were reported every day in India in the year 2020. We are not talking about these crimes, whereas these are the deaths that are most telling of the horrific situations faced by women every day in this country. According to other NCRB data, 7,167, 7,141 and 6,966 dowry-related murders occurred in the years 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively.

The reason for the slight decline in dowry-related deaths in 2020, may have been that in the pandemic if one thinks in terms of times of severe distress, our society was combating immediate questions about life and death. Though even then, however, we cannot deny the dire situation and abuse faced by women in that terrible time.

The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in 1961, yet after six decades the (evil)practice of dowry remains a socially accepted custom. In this context, the laws meant to protect women have not been able to do much except for serving to illustrate idioms such as haathi ke dant khane ke aur, dikhane ke aur [talk one thing but do another thing]. It would be irresponsible to consider dowry as merely a rural phenomenon. The evil practice impacts the metropolitan elite and urban middle class/caste families in different ways and to varying degrees. This points to the nature of Indian society, where education, being civilized and socialization are not deterrents to participation in such evils. Rather, they bolster one’s caste prestige, social status, and patriarchal violence against women in its different forms. In 2020, a staggering number of 109 dowry-related deaths was recorded in the capital city of Delhi. Moreover, the highest number of crimes related to dowry were committed in India’s most literate state, Kerala. These statistics paint a dim picture of modern India and the position reserved for women in our society.

The question then arises as to how can this problem be eliminated going ahead? The legislation already exists, and awareness is also gradually increasing. Yet, all this has little worth until the time the male gaze that stems from patriarchal lifestyles is challenged.

As Mahesh Chandra-Ji said,

“This is an uphill battle, but we are on the right way.”

To find a solution, we all need to be with him. Everyone should be on the same team. In this way, perhaps one day we will find the solution to the problem and can work towards eliminating it.

(Farhan Siddiqui is a law student, and Priyank Mani is a social worker.)

यहाँ हिन्दी में भी पढ़ें: 2 साल में जोड़े 22 लोग, सब का मकसद दहेज प्रथा के खिलाफ जागरूकता फैलाना

[Story Translated By Lotika Singha]

The Mooknayak
The Mooknayakhttps://www.themooknayak.co.in
The Mooknayak is dedicated to Marginalised and unprivileged people of India. It works on the principle of Dr. Ambedkar and Constitution.

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