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Sorry Aamir Khan, kal baat nahin bani

May 21, 2012 16:01 IST

We should have seen the depths of horror that the greed for dowry can plumb to.

What we saw, and heard, on Satyamev Jayate should have been seared in our eyes, and hearts, never to be forgotten.

That didn't happen, says Savera Someshwar.

The practice of taking, and giving, dowry is not a trivial crime.

It destroys a family emotionally, financially and, many times, physically.

Dowry attempts to satiate a greed so severe that it turns human beings into soulless caricatures who will not hesitate to maim, burn, hurt, torture and even kill another human being if their demand for wealth is not satisfied.

Until this scourge can be erased from the planet, anything and everything we do to raise awareness -- and hopefully, a conscience -- can only be welcomed with open arms.

Sooner or later, Satyamev Jayate, and Aamir Khan, were bound to take up this burning issue.

They did, in the third episode aired on May 20.

And what a poorly crafted episode it turned out to be.

The horror of the dowry system needed to be brought into our living room in a manner that would have shaken us out of our apathy, led to intense discussions, a call to action and hopefully, the courage to stand up and protest, to be counted when someone we know is faced with this ugly demand.

We, in urban India -- the consumers of news and entertainment in the print, electronic and Net formats, and avid participants in social media -- have read and heard about so many cases of dowry that, unless the case is particularly horrific, it becomes a 'blind spot.'

We've heard about dowry related woes so often that a sigh of pity for the victim may escape us; we may wonder why parents of girls still give dowry and, rarely, why parents of boys demand dowry... And that's it. We flip the page or move on to the next post...

(I won't presume to talk about rural India here because I am not qualified to do so.)

And that, most probably, is what we will do to Aamir Khan's attempt to bring the sin of dowry into our living rooms.

The reason I say this is the stories he chose to highlight. I do not wish to take away from the suffering of the bride who was severely ill-treated by her spouse, the newly-wed who was abandoned by her husband and ill-treated by her in-laws, or the parents from Kerala who lost their daughter to this societal evil.

What happened to them is criminal and they deserve to see the perpetrators punished.

Unfortunately, I have seen images of tortured brides and wives that have forced me to turn away in shock.

Of burnt brides, struggling to put a claim on life again.

Of battered, tortured marital victims, wondering why they had to pay the price for something over which they had no control -- that of being born a girl.

In order to shake up a society that has become so apathetic, these were the stories that we needed to see on the show.

These were the kind of stories that Aamir picked for the first couple of shows -- from a doctor family torturing their daughter-in-law for giving birth to female twins to the dignified young lady and man who spoke quietly about how they were sexually abused as children.

Their lives are lodged in our hearts, and will not be easily forgotten.

This time, we should have seen the depths of horror that the greed for dowry can plumb to. What we saw, and heard, should have been seared in our eyes, and hearts, never to be forgotten.

That didn't happen. This episode did not possess the gravitas that underlined the earlier episodes of Satyamev Jayate.

There were highlights of course.

The young married woman who talked of her father committing suicide because he was unable to bear the burden of the loan he had taken for her wedding... Of how her eyes eloquently answered the question as to whether her marriage was a happy one.

But it also left me wondering: I hope she is okay, and not being mistreated, after the show went on air.

One can't help applaud the gutsy young lady who ran a sting operation on a dowry-infected family. And her gutsy brother, who announced that he would marry his sister on the day of her scheduled wedding, to a boy who was willing to marry her without dowry.

As a woman, however, I wonder: Why congratulate a man who respects his wife? By doing that, are we not undermining women? Should respecting a spouse not be a given? Why does it need to be highlighted or praised? Are women praised for respecting their husbands?

Maybe I am being a little prickly here -- after all, when a north-eastern man said he wouldn't really like to watch a match on a television set that came as dowry, what his wife insisted she had the right to watch her favourite serial instead because the television set was bought by her parents, I laughed.

The North-East may be a different story; I'm ashamed to admit I don't really know. But how many married women in the rest of India, or even in our own families, would actually say that to their husbands?

The problem here is the mindset.

That a male child is more valuable than a female child.

That a male child carries on the family name.

That a male child will look after you in your old age.

That a female child is a cause of financial drain.

If we want to get rid of the dowry system, it is these beliefs that need to be shattered. The resulting dust needs to be scattered into the winds, so that it can never come together as a whole again.

What we need, today, is a drastic change in the way we parent.

We need to parent boys and girls in the same way, with the same rules and the same grounding. We need to treat our male and female children equally, not coddle one at the cost of the other.

We, as parents, need to teach our children to be financially independent. We need to teach them the value of love, and the value of relationships. We need to teach them responsibility. We need to teach them that actions have consequences.

We need to stop seeing our children as commodities to be bought (giving dowry to buy a groom) or sold (selling your son for dowry).

If we succeed in doing this, and it is a daily challenge, we won't have to worry about dowry. About children abandoning their parents. Or about female foeticide.

For me, this did not come across in the third episode of Satyamev Jayate.

Sorry, Aamir, aap ka yeh episode dil pe nahin laga.

Baat nahin bani.

Previous columns on Satyamev Jayate:
Sheela Bhatt: Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate played it safe
Sukanya Verma: Don't be cynical about Aamir show, watch it!
Saisuresh Sivaswamy: Aamir Khan's concern should be ours too

Savera R Someshwar