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Reformer from the Hinterland: A Profile of Mahesh Chandra

Farhan Siddique and Priyank Mani

Every day, a retired schoolteacher “Mahesh Chandra”, sets on his bicycle and heads towards different villages of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, along with anti-dowry pamphlets and posters. While on the way, he stops and raises slogans to build awareness against the prevailing dowry system in our society. When asked “whether he is a victim of dowry”, He firmly answered – we all are. Revealing about his daily routine, he said, “being an ardent reader of Hindi newspaper he uses to read about crimes being committed daily for dowry ranging from harassment, murder and suicide”, I felt helpless. Until one day, this tradition (read evil) killed my neighbour’s daughter after the very first month of her marriage. We burned her pyre on the doors of her in-laws, who had already deserted the village. Everyone was full of rage, ready to burn down the in-laws’ house. At that moment, I realised this was not the solution. So, from the next day I took out my bicycle, visited different localities and started making people aware of this evil dowry.”

In frame: Mahesh Chandra of Khabra, Muzaffarpur District, Bihar

Chandra Ji, with a smile, proclaims,” Now, it’s been almost two years and twenty-two other individuals have joined me. All of them are victims of dowry in one way or the other. People from as far as East Champaran are part of our group. As our group expanded, everyone started to address us as Samaj Sudharak (Social Reformers ), and that’s what we aspire to be every day.”

Giving insight into the workings of his institution, Mr Chandra told us, “We are not registered as an NGO or even a trust. We are just a bunch of individuals who want to put a full stop to this evil practice. At the end of every month, all the members come to my residence in Khabra, Muzaffarpur. We plan on which village/towns are next to be covered. Sometimes we conduct small talks regularly in different vicinities against dowry. All our twenty-three members carry plank cards, showcasing the horrors of dowry deaths. They also distribute pamphlets and posters, the money for which is borne by our own pockets as per everyone’s convenience and capability.”

He says, “we do acknowledge the fact all of us have our individual lives and cannot afford to be involved twenty-four seven in this, so, we all pledged to devout at least one hour daily. I know that there are legislations against dowry still; dowry deaths are a common phenomenon. Maybe the legislation against dowry holds the same fate as other laws in our country, enacted for the betterment of society but only remains on paper. I know it’s an uphill battle, and we are already on our way.”

As per NCRB data, India recorded 19 dowry-related deaths per day in 2020, we are not talking about the crimes, but only deaths which reflect the horror womenfolk face in this country daily. Another NCRB data states that there were 7167, 7141 and 6966 dowry deaths in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.

If one is being cynical, the slight decline in the dowry related crimes in 2020 could be attributed to the pandemic when there were probably more existential and immediate things

to worry. However, we cannot negate the experiences of women and the hostile environment and abuse, they must have lived through in such uncertain times.

Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted in 1961, yet after six-decade dowry practice is a socially accepted custom and the laws meant to protect women lacked teeth in their delivery. Thinking of dowry only as a rural phenomenon would be naivety. This menace ravages the metropolitan elite and urban middle caste/class families in varying degrees. It is telling about the nature of Indian society, where education, civility and upbringing do not act as a deterrent from partaking in such evil practices, rather, they go on to reinforce one’s caste pride, social position and various forms of patriarchal violence against women. In 2020, a staggering number of 109 dowry deaths were reported in the capital Delhi, moreover, the highest  dowry related crimes are committed in the supposedly most literate state of India, i.e., Kerala. These statistics paint a bleak picture of Modern India and the position reserved for women in our society.

Now the question arises what’s the way forward to eliminate this menace? Legislations are there, and awareness is slowly building. Still, in the larger frame, they all seem futile until the toxic masculine attitudes stemming from a patriarchal way of life are challenged.

As Mahesh Chandra stated, “it’s an uphill battle, and we are on our way” to find a solution, we all have to be on the way with him. Everyone needs to be in the same team. Then maybe one day, we will know the solution and work towards eradicating it.

Farhan Siddique is a law student, and Priyank Mani is a social worker.

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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