news Monday, January 05, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | September 9, 2014 | 11.20 am IST Making personal decisions to not take or give dowry is one thing. But how does one ensure that the whole community makes a commitment to shun the practice? Ask the townspeople of Nilambur, Kerala. The people of this town in Mallapuram district proudly tell anyone who asks, that no case of dowry has been reported in their town for several years. Led by the president of the municipality, the town initiated a sustained campaign against dowry in 2009, linking it with education, skill development and employment for young people. It paid off, says the municipality president Aryadan Shoukath. In 2009, he says the people of the town got together on various platforms to ensure that no one gave or demanded dowry. They conducted awareness campaigns, seminars to tell people that it was wrong to give or take dowry. But he says that they did not limit their approach to just awareness. Explaining that the district had a large number of Muslims, Shoukath said that child marriage was rampant. “There is a fear that no one will marry a girl after she is 18 years. if they study, no proposal will come. We made sure that all the girls studied until Class 12,” Shoukath said. The municipality also started a counter at the office where people could come and register for a dowry-free marriage. Shoukath says that since 2009, the municipality has conducted 29 such marriages where the local body looked after the basics: wedding clothes, expenses, fees for higher education of girls, visa expenses for boys if they had jobs in West Asian countries, meher. Focusing on youth was another way they ensured that people did not marry their daughters off early. In collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Open University, the municipality started a community college to improve education.  What spurred the community into taking action? Shoukath says that in 2009, Nilambur was a gram panchayat and it was given town municipality status only in 2010. In 2008, when he was president of the gram panchayat, he noticed that there were a rather large number of applications for allotment of government housing. When an NGO conducted a survey, it was found that there were a large number of people living in rented houses or with relatives because they had incurred debts to give dowries to their daughters.  “Many families had sold their houses and were living in rented houses or had lost their homes after pledging it with a bank,” Shoukath said. Although no dowry cases have been reported, it doesn’t mean that the demand has gone away. There is one thing that the town’s sustained efforts have achieved: social disapproval for dowry. “Now, everybody is frightened to ask for dowry (when a match is made),” Shoukath says, adding that whenever volunteers get news of a demand for dowry, they intervene.

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