Dowry is prevalent in over 95% of marriages, according to a study published on a blog by the World Bank that covered 40,000 marriages in rural India from 1960 - 2008 in over 17 Indian states.
Among states, Kerala was shown to have the highest dowry inflation since the 1970s, with such trends also being seen in Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat.
This study comes as reports of the deaths of three women in Kerala - all related to domestic violence linked to dowry demands - made headlines in the last few weeks. In Kerala, data show that over 66 deaths have been recorded over dowry, and more than 15,000 cases of dowry-related harassments over the last five years.
Average dowry, however, showed a decline in Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Despite these divergences in the custom of giving dowry among states, the trend in average dowry has been flat at the national level.
Dowry is an illegal practice under the Prohibition of Dowry Act, 1961. It is a significant burden on brides' families, and the study states that dowry is usually worth several years' worth of the bride's family's income.
The authors of the paper relied on 2006 Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS) data, which they describe as the most recent source of dowry data in India.
Overall, average net dowry has been steady before 1975 and after 2000 with some inflation. The authors define net dowry as the difference between the value of the gifts given by the bride's family to the groom's family and the value of the gifts given by the groom's family to the bride's family.
The study shows that while the groom's family spends on an average of ₹5,000 on gifts to the bride's family, the reverse is much higher. The bride's family spends an average of nearly ₹32,000 on gifts to the groom's family. These figures are in "real" terms, or adjusted for inflation.
Dowry associated with class
Dowry trends across caste lines show upper caste marriages having higher rates of dowry than those lower in the caste hierarchy.
"Dowry is positively correlated with higher caste status and the caste hierarchy of dowry payments has not changed over time. Upper caste marriages have the highest dowries, followed by Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs), and Scheduled Tribes (STs)", says the blog.
The study states that caste categorisation done below cuts across all religions.
The trend shown below show the five-year moving unweighted averages of net dowry paid by the bride. Again, these figures are in real terms.
Higher average net dowries among Sikhs, Christians
Dowry is prevalent across religion lines, with the study showing net dowry trends across Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, dispelling any notion that dowry is simply a Hindu phenomenon.
The study shows that Sikhs and Christians have higher five-year real average net dowry averages than Muslims or Hindus.
"Average net dowry in Muslim marriages is only slightly lower than among Hindus and has remained stable through the study period. In contrast, Christians and Sikhs exhibit a striking increase in dowry over the same period, leading to higher average dowries than Hindus and Muslims", says the study.
Further, in a state like Kerala where dowry inflation is on the rise; the trend in the rise in the dowry mimics the rise in dowry broken down by the religious composition of the state.
"Given Kerala's religious composition—26% Muslims, 18% Christians, and 55% Hindus—this trend [rise in dowry] is compatible with the differential trends by religion described earlier", says the study.
Punjab is another state that has seen dowry inflation.
"The inflationary trend in Punjab—a majority Sikh state—is also consistent with the rise in Sikh dowries", it says on dowry inflation in Punjab.
Find the World Bank blog outlining the study here.
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