In India, women’s groups are unhappy about the Union Budget 2018 as the gender budget has fallen from 0.68 percent to 0.65 percent of the GDP.
Simultaneously, women’s groups in Bengal are gravely disturbed about a specific scheme that the Trinamool Congress presented just one day before the Union Budget. This is the proposed Rupashree Prakalpa which was announced by the finance minister while presenting the State Budget 2018-19 of West Bengal on 31st January 2018.
The Rupashree Scheme proposes to extend a one-time assistance of Rs 25,000 to the family of the girl with an annual income up to Rs 1.5 lakh at the time of marriage after attaining the age of 18 years. The purpose of this scheme is stated to stand by families from lower income backgrounds and to partly relieve them of financial burdens incurred due to the marriage of a daughter.
Interestingly, this money will not be given to the young woman herself, who is an adult, when she reaches 18 yrs of age but given to her family, showing how the government led by Mamata Banerjee perceives the agency of women. How this scheme will help a young woman who wants to marry out of her own choice is not at all clear.
this money will not be given to the young woman herself, who is an adult, but given to her family.
In a country, where young adults are tortured, beaten up and even murdered by family members if they dare choose a partner outside their religion/caste/clan, one cannot neglect the fact that this emphasis on doling out money to the “girl’s family” can be counterproductive to women’s right to choice.
One should not forget that India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961. Years have passed, yet the dowry system still remains prevalent in our country. How can one ensure that this money will not be used by the family to meet the demands of the groom’s side; thereby reinforcing the dowry system?
Even if one thinks that this will be used for marriage expenses, are we accepting that there are no expenses borne by the groom’s family in a traditional marriage system? Otherwise, why specifically give money only to the bride’s family and not to the groom’s?
Incidentally, domestic violence in Bengal is rising and there are several cases of dowry-related deaths reported in recent times. Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau confirms the same. “The country has recorded 3.48 lakh cases of cruelty by husband or his relative and West Bengal tops the chart with 61,259 such cases in past three years, followed by Rajasthan (44,311) and Andhra Pradesh (34,835)” said a report in The Indian Express published on July 2015.
Unfortunately, things did not get better since 2015 and domestic violence remains a major concern in Bengal. In this scenario, incentivising the bride’s family by giving state funds is alarming, feel many activists. If this scheme rolls on, the bride’s family may get pressurized in giving the entire Rs.25,000 to the groom. If the family fails to do so, domestic violence cases may escalate.
In an open letter sent to Chief Minister of West Bengal, Maitree, a network of women’s groups write, “…when the state wants to take the burden off the bride’s family, it shows that the West Bengal Government believes that the daughter is a “burden”. A scheme named Rupashree providing financial support for marriage expenses of women also sends out the message that a woman’s worth lies solely in physical beauty and finding a husband, and not on her education, talents or abilities”. ‘Rupashree’ means beautiful woman in Bangla language.
are we accepting that there are no expenses borne by the groom’s family in a traditional marriage system?
In this letter, the Maitree network also says that “In this context, it is advisable that the state allocates more money for the empowerment of young women through Higher Education, Vocational Training and Employment. Reinforcing the dowry system and allocating a budget for marriage expenses borne by families of young women will be detrimental to the progress of women and will erode the gains of the Kanyashree scheme,” and demands that this scheme should be withdrawn.
Kanyashree is a scheme that the Mamata Banerjee lead government launched in 2013. This is an initiative to help economically backward families with cash so that families do not arrange the marriage of their girl child before eighteen years of age and let them continue with their studies. To think that the day these beneficiaries reach 18 yrs of age, there is no need to spend for their education but the state will provide money for their marriage itself is a huge contradiction itself.
If the state actually wants to bring gender parity, it is imperative that more money is allocated to make young women self-sufficient. But by introducing such gender-insensitive schemes, the Bengal Government is wooing voters by alluring them with cash incentives.
It is sad that such a regressive step is taking place when the Chief Minister herself is a woman. After the Park Street gang-rape case took place, Mamata Banerjee said that it is an “invented story”, showing her own misogyny. Now the introduction of the Rupashree Scheme makes one wonder how little change a woman lead political party can bring to a patriarchal society unless the leaders themselves are sensitive to gender issues.
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