Dahej – a dowry system

Dowry is called “Dahej” in India (“Jahez” in Pakistan) and “is the payment in cash or/and kind by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’ s family along with the giving away of the bride ( called Kanyadaan) in Indian marriage . Kanyadanam is an important part of Hindu marital rites. Kanya means daughter, and dana means gift. Dowry originated in upper caste families as the wedding gift to the bride from her family. The dowry was later given to help with marriage expenses and became a form of insurance in the case that her in-laws mistreated her. Although the dowry was legally prohibited in 1961, it continues to be highly institutionalized. The groom often demands a dowry consisting of a large sum of money, farm animals, furniture, and electronics. The practice of dowry abuse is rising in India. The most severe in “bride burning”, the burning of women whose dowries were not considered sufficient by their husband or in-laws. Most of these incidents are reported as accidental burns in the kitchen or are disguised as suicide… According to Government figures there were a total of 5,377 dowry deaths in 1993, an increase of 12% from 1992.” (Source)

Dahej is a Hindu tradition and is very different from the Islamic concept of dowry in which the bridegroom gives a kind of dowry to the bride which is known as mahr. “Mahr is a tradition in Islamic marriage. It is a mandatory gift given by the groom to the bride. Unlike a bride price, however, it is given directly to the bride and not to her father. Although the gift is often money, it can be anything agreed upon by bride and groom such as a house or viable business that is put in her name and can be run and owned entirely by her if she chooses” (Source). For an interesting discussion on mahr, read Sumera’s post.

Dahej is openly condemned by many families, yet it has successfully become part of the marriage system in Muslim countries in South Asia like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Rich Pakistani families give anything from large electronic appliances to property and imported cars to their daughters in dahej. Usually the dahej is displayed publicly for everyone to admire. The practice of dahej is definitely against the teachings of Islam but it is still practiced by many Muslim families.

How many of you believe that dahej should be a necessary part of South Asian Muslim marriages? What about mahr – is handsome mahr important? How can we end the practice of dahej?


Bride burning by Aisha

Marriage Contract by Sumera


8 thoughts on “Dahej – a dowry system

  1. Sumera says:

    Personally I feel jahez is evil – its often used to attach value to the girl who is being wed, the more jahez she brings, the more worthy she is to the groom and his family. The mahr belongs to the girl only, with jahez the whole family of the groom gets something out of it.

    The practice of jahez will only end when people refuse to abide by it and not give jahez full stop. Those who complain about not getting anything…well one should consider themselves lucky they aren’t wedding their daughter into a family of greedy good for nothing scroungers.

    • Metis says:

      Excellent point that it attaches value to the girl. I think it also creates a class system – wealtheir girls become more in demand.

      “The mahr belongs to the girl only, with jahez the whole family of the groom gets something out of it.”

      Theoretically yes, but that has been perverted too like in some Arab communities Mahr goes to the girl’s family as a compensation for the money the family spent on raising the bride.

  2. Lat says:

    Yes dowry is very much alive in India and in Indian Muslim families.If the bridegroom is educated and in a high paying job,he or his family gets to demand for higher dowries.It puts a lot of strain on brides’ families to come up with the exorbitant rates esp if they are poor.The constant attittude that girls are a burden to families comes from the dowry system.It’s very deeply entrenched in today’s Indian culture although awareness from abuses of dowry has taken root there and in other countries.

    Forbidding dowry is of no use if the government personnel themselves practice it.So people get the idea that it’s just lip service and therefore continue to do so as before.Dowry is like bribery too and that is why it leads to a lot of corruption.Yes dowry is also like a sale,but a sale of the bride,as in one view of Mahr.Eventhough the bride gives the dowry,she is still subordinated to the bridegroom’s family most of the time unless she comes from a wealthy/influential family.

    There has been plenty of Tamil movies/songs,decrying dowry and proposing that since women pay dowry then they should have the right to tie the marriage necklace/ Thali on the men’s neck instead,to show as a sign of purchase and subordination! Indian Muslims are no better esp in India.But in a certain group,the bridegroom is expected to give the bride at least 20 pounds of gold as Mahr and such act is not prevalent in other groups where the bride provides everthing!

    It can only be ended when people say no to the practice and likewise for the Mahr.Maybe if it is reduced to an insignificant amount or just as a symbolic sign of marriage,attitudes could change from eyeing marriage gifts to the person they are marrying. For my wedding a standard amount of $101 is offered as a symbolic sign of Mahr.For the Malays I believe it ranges somewhere between $5,ooo or $7,ooo,depending on the market rate!

    As I’ve said before in your Mahr post,the understanding of it here is just a gift and it is for the wedding couple to use as they like.So far i’ve not read anything disastrous concerning Mahr or even dowry here.Perhaps education is the best policy to undertake and then maybe adopt some measures for those who insist on being greedy,regardless of men or women.

    • Metis says:

      “Yes dowry is also like a sale …”

      Lat, can you explain this more please? I don’t know if I understand it correctly.

      I really liked your idea that maybe a first step could be to reduce the amount to something very small. That is a great idea, actually!

      • Lat says:

        “Yes dowry is also like a sale,but a sale of the bride..” Sorry it should read *bridegroom* A few grooms have demanded to not being set up for sale as a commodity.In this way they hope to eradicate the dowry system.I know of an Indian Muslim family tradition which among gifts to the bridegroom must also provide a house! So ridiculous! Then why marry her to a man for,I don’t know!

  3. susanne430 says:

    “The practice of dahej is definitely against the teachings of Islam but it is still practiced by many Muslim families.”

    Well there are a number of things against Islamic teachings – but are cultural – that Muslims (and Christians and Hindus??) do such as the awful female circumcision.It seems as we’ve discussed before, Muslims incorporated a number of cultural practices and continue practicing them today.

    I remember earlier this year I read a book on some area of Africa around the early 1900s and the young men there had to pay for their brides yet it wasn’t a set amount and could be strung out for years. The bride’s family often had the men make payments and if the payments stopped, they’d come take their sisters/daughters home until the next payment was made!

    Even the concept of mahr, if I’ve understood you correctly in the past, is not all that wonderful. Basically a woman is being given a gift so her man will be the only one given access to her bedroom abilities. Maybe if she gave him a gift, he’d pledge the same.

    All of it reeks to me. But I’m one of those weirdos who thinks you can actually marry for love and that no money is necessary to keep love. Commitment, respect, kindness…so much more important than money paid to *anyone*.

    • Metis says:

      Susie, you are right; a lot has entered into Islam from other cultures which is not original. In fact dahej is not even in Hinduism. I Manusmitri it is the groom who must provide dowry just like the Islamic Mahr.

      I’m also one such weirdo! Too much Western influence 😛

  4. sabia says:

    Its really disgusting about dahej and Alhamdulilah Allah Tal’la has made the Mahr simple for muslim bride and groom. Its such a shame that dahej is carried in indian culture. Girls are very precious they are like a diamond should be treated how boys are treated. I am trying to say they should be treated equal no matter it’s a female or male! I think in india the way films and tv serial encourage it they somehow act it right! As indian tv serial and films should present it in the sensible way to get the audience a message that they should not ask dowry from the girls side and neither men side. Both side should be happy of the marriage of bride and groom and new relation have been formed

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