In 2015, I lived in Visakhapatnam, India for five months while conducting my own in-depth field ethnography on marriage and dowry practices.
The best type of research is first hand. I hit a wall in my academic research and chose to move to India in order to fully understand the motivators and thought processes of Indian youth. As I lived with local youth I was able to internalize social norms and experience how tradition influences opinions about marriage and dowry. To gain better perspective I lived like a local, learning to read and speak the language. During the ethnography, I kept extensive field notes, journals, and impression charts to track my progression of understanding. In addition, I conducted 60+ in-depth interviews using translators, created ethnographic profiles, transcribed interviews, analyzed data, and compiled findings into a comprehensive analysis.
(of which I personally experienced)
Honor and Dowry Killings
Police Corruption and Brutality
Religious Violence (Hindu, Christian, Muslim)
INSIGHTS FROM AN ANTHROPOLOGIST
Overall: Human insights are universal. Despite fundamental differences in thought processes, India youth are not that different from western youth. They fall in love, want to have their parents approval, and are driven by the same desires. Overall, I realized that even though someone's life seems drastically different from my own it isn’t.
Indians believe that love is what leads to high divorce rates in the West, regardless they do fall in love but refer to it as “understanding."
The most effective way to make a long-lasting societal change is to empower women to raise their children differently.
Superstition is an extension of religion and it has a tangible effect on daily life.
Lower castes believe they can elevate their position in society by emulating the traditions of higher castes.
The fear of disownment from breaking family and social norms is powerful enough to stop youth from expressing individuality.
WHEN LOVE KILLS: AN ANALYSIS OF DOWRY PRACTICES
Dowry is a traditional practice that is ingrained in Indian culture. It was historically practiced by members of higher castes as a symbol of wealth. Dowry is paid in cash, property, and gold from the bride to the groom. The practice has produced dowry killings, a type of homicide where the bride is killed by the in-laws via kerosene, leaving the groom free to remarry for another dowry. It was outlawed in 1961 because of the direct correlation with high female infanticide rates and government corruption.
Lower caste members are rapidly starting to exchange dowries making it more prevalent than ever despite the illegality. The tradition of dowry has directly aided in the suppression of women across the country. India's female infanticide rate has surpassed China's due to the financial burden of marriage for females. Traditional values, including marriage and dowry, are changing due to mass integrated higher education, and exposure to non-traditional gender roles.
Indian youth align with western views of gender and marriage equality, and value tradition less than their elders.
I found that women value tradition and acceptance from their family above all else, but are beginning to re-evaluate their duty of having arranged dowry weddings. The majority of woman I interviewed mentioned that they wanted what they were calling a “love-arranged” marriage. This type of marriage allows them to choose their spouse and have their elders arrange the marriage after a short dating period. Women still uphold tradition in this process by choosing a spouse from an acceptable caste of which is approved by each member of the family. This change is recent, within the past few years, because men and women are interacting more casually and developing romantic feelings.
Women know how detrimental the dowry system is but respect tradition and religion above all else. Dowry is an important tradition to them and the key sign of a proper marriage. At this point in time women would choose to have a dowry within their own marriage.