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Villagers go online to marry without dowry


08 March 2010

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Under a joint collaborative between the panchayat and a women’s right NGO, a website has been launched in a village in south India that exclusively promotes dowry-free marriages. It also serves as a window to form interactive online communities on issues ranging from marriage customs to gender justice.

Malappuram, Kerala: Giving an online dimension to its anti-dowry campaign, the Nilambur village panchayat in Malappuram district has launched a matrimonial website for those willing to marry without taking or giving dowry.

A collaborative venture of the panchayat and women’s right NGO Mahila Samakhya Society, the website is exclusively meant to promote dowry-free marriages.

Anybody from any corner of the world can log on to www.dowryfreemarriage.com register their name and upload their profile free of cost.

Apart from helping find partners, the site also provides a platform to hold discussions on issues like dowry, marriage customs, gender justice and matrimonial property rights.

It will also serve as a window to form interactive online communities of people sharing similar views on it, said Panchayat president Aryadan Shoukath.

"It is our attempt to enlist more people to our campaign. As websites are global media capable of spreading socially relevant messages worldwide, we have opted that," Shoukat, also a film producer and scriptwriter, told PTI.

Since the project was announced, 1,635 people have already registered. Their profiles can be uploaded just after the official launch of the site this week by chief minister VS Achuthanandan, Shoukath said. Shoukath said those living in Kerala, as also those working in India or residing abroad can register details on the site and choose partners with the help of panchayat authorities.

But it's not easy to log in and access details of brides or grooms. Queries will be passed on to registered families to ascertain if they were genuine or not. "We want to make sure our site is not misused. It’s our responsibility to protect addresses and personal details of members registering in to and keep them safe and secure," he said.

Those wishing to register are given a code, based on which a password is sent to their mobile number, using which they can register. Civic authorities will verify whether the application is genuine and if found worthy, links are established, he said.

It also offers a glimpse of marriage customs in various countries and a photo gallery on events at Nilambur village.

A Muslim dominated village civic unit, Nilambur has a total population of around 50,000 of whom 20,659 are men, as per the 2001 census. Though Muslims constitute the majority community, the village has a sizeable Hindu and Christian population.

Shoukath said till a year back when the campaign was launched, Nilambur was one among hundreds of villages in the state where the practice of dowry was rampant.

Civic authorities realised how serious the situation was when they conducted a survey with the society to find out the reach of a housing scheme. They found many families, especially from the poor and lower-middle rungs, did not even have a house to stay in. Houses they had before were sold or mortgaged to meet wedding expenses of their daughters.

"There were cases of families spending huge sums...close to Rs2 crore for weddings of their daughters", Shoukat said. Another grim aspect was that when a family fell into debt by conducting marriages of daughters, the boys were made the scapegoats to bail out their parents, married off at a very young age by accepting dowry.

It was this bleak social picture that inspired the panchayat and the Society to jointly launch a campaign to make the village dowry-free, Shoukat said.

Though the panchayat's administration is in the hands of Congress, all political parties have offered support. People cutting across religion and castes have also supported it.

Awareness classes, personality management camps, self employment schemes, counselling programme and career guidance sessions have been held to make the young self-reliant.

“We have been able to achieve our goals to some extent in a short span. Not only Muslims, but Hindus and Christians are also participating actively in the initiative,” he said.

Shoukath said the panchayat plans to conduct mass dowry free marriages in May 2010. The response to the programme has been really encouraging and 807 men and 678 women have registered so far to participate in it, he said.
All 22 Muslim ‘Mahal Committees’(micro level community councils) and leaders of other communities have offered total
support to the campaign.

To consolidate support from all communities, the panchayat also plans a series of lectures by spiritual leaders, focusing on the need to free society from dowry, he said.

 
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