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Old 05-16-2003, 08:52 AM   #1
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Indian Bride Says "I Don't" to Dowry Demand

This was great until the end, when she says she'll do whatever her father and uncles want anyway!

Indian bride says `I don't' to dowry demand
Hailed as heroine for rare stand

`Should also be a lesson for all men'


NOIDA, India—Music played, drinks were served and the priest got ready as 2,000 wedding guests waited on the sprawling lawn for the beautiful young bride to walk in for the ceremony.

At that moment, Nisha Sharma, dressed in the shimmering red dress of a Hindu bride, was on the phone asking police to arrest her husband-to-be for mistreating her father while demanding an illegal dowry.

In calling off her marriage Sunday night, 21-year-old Sharma defied centuries-old tradition and made headlines across a country of more than one billion people where women have made great strides, yet many parents still prefer sons.

"With my voice, I hope many girls will stand with me," Sharma said Wednesday, still wearing intricate henna designs on her hands and feet, the mark of a Hindu bride. "I am proud of myself because I have done something really great for others."

So rare was her stand that the software engineering student became an overnight celebrity. Her face has been splashed across newspapers and she has been flooded with proposals from men who say they would be honoured to marry her without a dowry.

Several political parties are vying to woo her into their ranks.

"This young girl has brought about a revolution; she is a heroine," said Vandana Sharma of the Women's Empowerment Committee, a volunteer group.

Over the last few decades, Indian women have ended the male monopoly in politics, run some of the country's top corporations and have gained top ranks in the Indian military.

But in an overwhelming number of homes, girls are encouraged to cook rather than study and made to eat after the men. India is one of the few countries where a woman's life expectancy is lower than a man's, and the abortion of female fetuses is so common the government now bans doctors from revealing the sex of unborn babies.

Parents favour sons because boys are seen as more productive than girls and because boys bring in dowries rather than require their payment. Even when fathers express pride for their daughters, they often say: "She is like a son to me."

But Sharma said rebellion wasn't what motivated her to call police; it was the humiliation her father suffered.

At the ceremony in Noida, just outside New Delhi, a video taken by one of the guests showed the bridegroom's family and friends pushing businessman Dev Dutt Sharma. They shook fists and called him names.

"My father was pushed and slapped and they spit in his face," said Sharma.

She had known the bridegroom for only two months. His widowed mother responded to a matrimonial ad Sharma's parents ran in the Times of India, one of the modern means of finding a spouse for the age-old tradition of arranged marriages.

Minutes before the ceremony, the groom's family allegedly asked Sharma's father for about $34,000 in cash. He pleaded with the family to be content with all the expensive gifts he bought for them: a new car and an array of electronic goods including two refrigerators, two television sets and two stoves.

"They had asked for everything in two sets — one for the groom, one for the brother," Sharma said at her family's modest, middle-class home, where boxes of appliances were stacked. "My father somehow did it. But when he said he could not give cash, they started humiliating him."

Early Monday, the groom, Munish Dalal, a 25-year-old computer teacher, was arrested on charges of violating a law — passed more than four decades ago — forbidding payment of dowries. In the end, Dalal spent what should have been his wedding night in jail.

"He wanted material things — not me," Sharma said. "My experience should be a lesson for all women. It should also be a lesson for all men."

If she had not had her fiancé arrested, she might have met a different fate. In India, thousands of brides are killed each year — most often burned alive — when their families refuse or are late on dowry payments.

There were nearly 7,000 dowry deaths recorded in India in 2001, the most recent statistics, said Dr. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi. But for every case of dowry violence or murder registered, an estimated 100 go unreported, she added.

Even after his heartbreak, Sharma's father is experiencing a happy ending. "I am getting so many offers for my daughter's wedding now. I am trying to choose from among them."

So what does Sharma want? "Whatever my father and uncles choose for me," she said.

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Old 05-16-2003, 10:04 AM   #2
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Good for her...she probably saved herself from a pretty horrible life with her potential groom.
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