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Dowry and women’s lives in Kerala: what has changed in a decade?

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  • Health Sciences
  • Languages And Area Studies


This article presents new knowledge on the link between dowry and instances of abuse against newly married women. It draws on data collected during structured and in-depth interviews and focus groups involving 60 women in Kerala. The data argue that despite decades of campaigning by women’s groups’ dowry is still widely practised. Furthermore, the links between dowry, harassment and violence remain. The qualitative analysis of the data reveals how most people hold complex and seemingly contradictory views on dowry. Placing these views along a continuum with ‘dowry is a problem’ and ‘dowry is necessary’ at each end enables a picture to emerge of why dowry remains hard to eradicate. Most informants were clear that dowry represents a key problem for women; they also said they would continue to give dowry because it was the only way to secure a ‘good’ marriage. The data did reveal cracks in the patriarchal system; young women were direct identifying dowry as the main problem they faced. Also, indifferent views were voiced by younger men suggesting they may not forcefully act to maintain the system. Opportunities do exist to push wider holes in the system which could in turn spark the transformation still needed.

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