shajehan

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  1. Satyarani Chhada at a demonstration protesting the dowry-murder of her daughter, Delhi, 1982.
  2. Shahjehan BegumApa’ with a photograph of her daughter, murdered for dowry, Delhi, unknown date.
  3. Mother of a dowry victim calling for police action, Delhi, unknown date.

Anti-dowry and violence against women protests in Delhi; from The History of Doing by Radha Kumar:

“The first protests against dowry in the contemporary feminist movement were made by the progressive organization of women in Hyderabad in 1975. Though some of their demonstrations numbered as many as 2000 people, the protests did not grow into a full-fledged campaign. 

After a lull of around two years a new movement against dowry started in Delhi. This time it was against violence inflicted upon women for dowries: especially against murder and abetment to suicide. Though there have since been protests against dowry harassment and murder in several parts of India (Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal), the emphasis on action has been infrequent. Only in the Delhi has there been a sustained agitation against dowry and dowry related crimes. Among the reasons for this is that Delhi seems to have the highest number of murders of women for dowry. In 1979 a Delhi based feminist group Stri Sangharsh, made the following analysis of dowry:

As Engels pointed out in his classic work, property relations within the family were mediated through the development of private property, and questions of inheritance became paramount. Engels used this to differentiate between middle-class and working-class families, saying that as working-class families did not own private property, inheritance was not important and thus the material basis for women’s oppression did not exist in working-class families. And doing this he not only wrongly identified women’s oppression by missing the sexual division of labor, the need for reproductive control, the patriarchy, and the existence of female labor power as property under capitalism, but also conflated the question of private property with that of inheritance. 

While the question of inheritance remains insight into women’s oppression, it is not the sole relationship of private property to the oppression. The example of dowry in India is a clear one of relationship with private property in which this becomes a bridegroom price and is added to the immediate, consumable family capital, used either to further business ventures, to educate younger sons, to buy a promotion, or to furnish a daughter’s dowry. In many cases it does not remain within the immediate family, but becomes someone else’s private property.

Further they suggested that in the present situation the bridegroom husband became a conduit for the transfer of liquid capital , Noting that in this case the sale of the bridegroom did not confirm right of ownership on the buyer; on the contrary, the transaction was closer to the payment of blood money. In an exhibition on dowry murder, they showed that such murders were committed by middle-class entrepreneurial families who killed so that their sons could remarry and amass more wealth. 

Though the Mahila Dakshata Samiti was the first women’s organization in Delhi’s contemporary feminist movement to take up the issue of dowry and dowry harrassment, it was Stri Sangharsh whose campaign made dowry murder a household term. The Mahila Dakshata Samiti had organized a demonstration in Delhi and also published a booklet on the issue. On June 1, 1979 Stri Sangharsh organized a demonstration against the death of Tarvinder Kaur saying that her death was murder and that she was killed because her parents could not fulfill the ever increasing demands of her in-laws.

Impetus for this demonstration came from the Indraprastha College Women’s Committee, who told Stri Sangharsh of the murder and suggested they demonstrate. The committee and the Progressive Student’s Organization all marched under the Stri Sangharsh banner, adding both numbers and militancy. The demonstration was widely reported by the national press and in the next few weeks there was a spate of demonstrations against dowry deaths, one of the biggest ones organised by the Nari Raksha Samiti on June 12, through the alleys of Old Delhi. Each one hit the headlines. Until this time women’s deaths-by-fire had been put down a suicide, and even these suicides were rarely seen as being due to dowry-harassment. No one, including the police, had ever bothered to investigate them, or even categorize them. And mostly they had been passed off as ‘private’ affairs which took place within the family and which were no concern of the state.”

***Here’s also a clip of Shajehan Apa in Unlimited Girls where she talks about her part in leading the anti-dowry movement.