Thiruvananthapuram- A tragic incident unfolded at a government medical college in Kerala as a young doctor, Shahana, aged 28, succumbed to suicide after her fellow doctor and intended life partner, E A Ruwise, withdrew from their marriage plans due to alleged exorbitant dowry demands. Shahana was a postgraduate student in the surgery department at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College who allegedly self-administered an anaesthesia drug on Monday night.
Ruwais who is the State President of Kerala Medical PG association has been taken into custody by the Police. He has been charged with abetment to suicide and under sections of the Dowry Prohibition Act. Police said that the decision to arrest him will soon be taken after questioning.
Ruwais’s family allegedly demanded a large dowry of gold, land, and a BMW car. Despite Shahana's family offering 50 sovereigns of gold, properties valued at Rs 50 lakhs, and a car, the escalating dowry demands from Ruwais's family shattered the young girl when he ultimately called off the marriage. Her father had passed away two years back and she had two siblings. Shahana’s family was unable to meet these requirements in the present financial condition. The male doctor, ended the relationship as a result.
Initially classified as an unnatural death, a subsequent police investigation revealed a suicide note in Shahana's room. In the note, she mentioned inability to meet dowry demands as the reason behind the drastic step. As a result, Ruwise was implicated in the case, and charges under the Dowry Prohibition Act and abetment to suicide were added. Ruwise, faced removal from his position within the association following the emergence of his involvement in the case.
The victim's family collaborated with the police, filing a complaint against Ruwise, leading to the registration of a case under dowry harassment death. The police narrative disclosed that Shahana and Ruwise, both resident trainee doctors and friends, had initially planned to marry. However, Ruwise withdrew from the commitment when Shahana's family expressed their inability to meet the substantial dowry demands.
Local media reports claim the boy's family had demanded 150 gold sovereigns, 15 acres of land and a BMW car in dowry.
The State Minority Commission, under the leadership of its chairperson AA Rasheed, has taken a proactive stance in investigating the tragic incident. Rasheed has summoned key officials, including the district collector, city police commissioner, and director of medical education, to appear before the commission on December 14. Kerala Health Minister Veena George too, has ordered a probe in the matter as the Women and Child Department Director has been asked to submit a fact finding report.
Despite Kerala's status as one of the most literate states in India and the active presence of social activists, the prevalence of dowry-related issues remains alarmingly high. Over the last five years, the state has witnessed 66 cases of dowry deaths and more than 15,000 cases of dowry harassment, as reported by the Police's Crime Records Bureau.
Shockingly, 1,04,015 cases related to marital disputes are pending in 28 family courts across Kerala. Government data further reveals that 223 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act were registered from 2011 to February 10, 2022, with an alarming conviction rate of merely four percent, despite charge sheeting in 80 percent of the cases. 34 women lost their lives to dowry-related issues, with charge sheets filed in 20 cases between 2018 and 2020.
The Kerala Women's Commission, grappling with the gravity of the situation, has handled over 1,000 cases in the last decade. A 2021 World Bank report points out that Kerala has been grappling with persistent dowry inflation since the 1970s, possessing the highest average dowry in recent years. Nationally, according to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, over 10,000 dowry-related complaints and around 7,000 dowry deaths were reported in 2020. The chronological list of dowry-related deaths in Kerala from 2016 to 2022 underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to address and curb this deeply entrenched societal issue.
As per Indian law, the giving and accepting of dowry are explicitly prohibited and considered offenses under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. Despite this legal framework, the practice persists in many marriages, often camouflaged as the exchange of 'gifts.' In the 1980s, recognizing the severity of dowry-related issues, India amended its penal code to include new sections. These amendments empower law enforcement to charge individuals, including men and their family members, in cases of dowry death, suicide linked to dowry, and harassment.
Specifically, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, enacted in 2005, offers legal protection to women facing domestic abuse, including situations involving dowry harassment. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code holds that a husband or his relatives subjecting a woman to cruelty can be punished with imprisonment for up to three years and may also be liable to pay a fine.