And then life is happy ever after. Sometimes it does and sometimes dreams do not come true. One year ago Natak Vihar, a community theater produced by the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health, written by 20 volunteers of South Asian communities was performed by the same volunteer actors in front of the same community audience. We held 3 performances across Melbourne. The stories all related to families and women in distress whose dreams did not come true. Migration to Australia after an arranged marriage for one woman was followed by emotional abuse and physical violence. The unique thing about this drama was that it is called “Community Participatory Theater. Here the audience becomes a part of the stage and theater dialogue by commenting on the play and giving us insights into why and how things can go so wrong. Through a Moderator who facilitated the discussion the audiences told us that humiliation of new daughters-in-law is a real problem in Melbourne and domestic violence is a problem everyone is worried about and fighting against it. Natakvihar raised awareness in the community and started a dialogue. The victims who feel helpless and powerless start to recognize they can speak and help will come forward. In fact the SBS Punjabi program states that the Indian women are making good use of the help. The biggest number of women of any migrant group calling 1800Respect Line for help are those from the Indian Subcontinent. This is good news because women are reaching out for help and not suffering in silence.
According to Indian National Crimes Bureau 2014-2015 there were about 8500 dowry related murders and research on Domestic violence and dowry related abuse shows criticism of amount of dowry offered by husband and his family is associated with high rates of depression and suicidal behavior in India. In Melbourne we have had one suicide in 2016 and 2 murders due to dowry in Melbourne in 2013-14.
The recent Indian figures show an increase in Dowry deaths compared to last 3 years despite dowry being illegal. This problem becomes more acute when young Indian women marry Indian men living abroad such as Australia. Non Resident Indians or NRIs as they are called command a premium dowry sum as they offer the bride a chance at better life in Australia.
For the young women the departure from India takes away their legal protection afforded by Indian laws that criminalize dowry and make it mandatory for husband and his family to return the dowry after separation for up to seven years after the new marriage under Section 498A of Indian law.
Australia is a multicultural country and celebrates the glory of its diversity. There is a dynamic interaction between cultural diversity and Australian milieu. This interaction on occasions can throw up cultural issues that cause problems for residents. One such example is the issue of dowry demands, expectations of substantial cash, or other gifts which are multiple times the annual income of the bride or the groom’s family leading to domestic violence, suicide and depressive illness affects young Australian Indian women who are newlyweds.
It has also come to ACHRH ‘s attention that dowry demands are also being made among other ethnic communities, for example Eastern and South Eastern Asia, some Middle Eastern , and African cultures. In some cultures the groom pays the bride’s father and mother, they receive money as dowry gifts. Either way dowry enforces patriarchy or power imbalance and inequality between the two genders. Whether they receive or give dowry women face domestic violence because either ‘not enough was paid by her’ or ‘too much was paid by him and he owns her’.
Absence of specific laws in Australia that can protect immigrant new spouses from dowry demands during marriage and confiscation of dowry by in-laws following separation are leaving a group of women vulnerable to verbal threats, humiliations ,social isolation from their families leading to adverse mental health effects such as depression and suicidal thinking . There is clinical evidence of physical violence and even death in at least 2 women of Victoria .This loop hole should be closed to minimize harm , prevent dowry related domestic violence and potential deaths .