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With this dowry I own your son: Indian brides turn tables

New Delhi: India's efforts to stop baby girls being aborted are seeing the circulation of some surprisingly hard-hitting videos that are turning the tables on men, using the issue of dowry to turn them into pathetic "objects".

Having to give a dowry to daughters is the single most powerful reason that Indian parents prefer boys. The dowry – cash, fridges, jewellery, TVs, scooters, furniture, sewing machines, cooking utensils – can bankrupt families but without it, no daughter will ever find a husband.

"Ask nicely, and I might let you use my things," says this bride in a video made for the government campaign Beti Bachao ...
"Ask nicely, and I might let you use my things," says this bride in a video made for the government campaign Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter) in India. Photo: Supplied

In one video, made for the government campaign Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter), a young bride is shown about to go for a ride on a scooter with her husband. The woman's father-in-law tells her contemptuously that she had better think again because he needs the scooter to do his chores.

The bride retorts: "I'm the one who paid the quoted price. I gave you the scooter as part of the dowry I brought so I own the scooter and your son. Ask nicely, and I might let you use my things."

"Monthly instalments are only for objects," says this bride to her mother-in-law in response to suggestions how dowry ...
"Monthly instalments are only for objects," says this bride to her mother-in-law in response to suggestions how dowry payments should continue, in a videos for Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter campaign. Photo: Supplied

The second video, too, alters the usual image of a new bride in her in-laws' home, namely, tense, eager to please, everyone's doormat. It shows her in the kitchen with her mother-in-law who is goading her into asking her parents for a new fridge.

The bride says her parents only recently gave a sewing machine. "What is this? Do I have to give monthly instalments or what?" asks the young woman. The mother-in-law's reply is why not?

The wife answers: "Well, monthly instalments are only for objects, so if you expect monthly instalments from me, that means your son is an object I can use as I wish".

The videos were funded by business consultant Sunil Alagh in Mumbai.  He says he wanted to contribute to the government's campaign to empower women but not with a preachy sermon on the evils of dowry that everyone has heard before.

"I was at a friend's house where the servant told me that a girl in his village had told her prospective father-in-law that if he wanted a dowry from her, he had better accept that he was selling his son to her. It was brilliant, I knew I had to use that line," said Mr Alagh.

The two videos, produced by Red Carpet Entertainment, have attracted two million views on Facebook, more than 225,000 hits on YouTube and are being shown at all INOX cinemas in India. They have also generated intense debate because Indians are accustomed to homily-laden education campaigns, not videos which savage traditions in this fashion.

Reactions have ranged from praise to criticism that the videos implicitly accept the practice of dowry instead of questioning it. "All the ad is doing is discouraging audiences from finding an educated bride for their family ... because education, apparently, transforms a woman into the quip-hurling bitch who's out to isolate her husband from his parents, according to this advertisement," wrote Rohan Venkataramakrishnan on the current affairs website Scroll.

For New Delhi economist Anuradha Bhasin, such criticism is absurd. "They are clever and funny. While the setting is traditional [mother-in-law hectoring the daughter-in-law], the daughter-in-law is educated and knows her rights. And equating a dowry with the buying of a son is fantastic," she said.

The practice of dowry has etched the preference for boys deep in the psyche. Last month, some doctors practising the traditional Indian system of medicine known as ayurveda were arrested in Bhopal during a herbal fair for selling herbs that ensured women would conceive baby boys.

Last February, India's most famous yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, came under attack for selling an ayurvedic potion to infertile couples that "guarantees" a male child.

With female foeticide still rampant, the sex ratio has fallen from 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 to 918 girls for every 1000 boys in 2011.

In launching the Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter campaign in January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited members of the public to devise their own ways of promoting women's empowerment.

Mr Alagh is one of many Indians who have tried to do something innovative to change attitudes. Another was Sunil Jaglan, a father in Haryana who organised a "Selfie with Daughter" campaign on social media, which Mr Modi promptly helped promote on his own Twitter account.

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