Civil servants in Indian state must spurn dowry in anti-graft drive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2009, 12:00am

Any man taking up a government job in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh will have to take a solemn oath to disavow the practice of dowry, under an order to stamp out corruption.

If he is already married, he has to sign an affidavit declaring that he did not demand a dowry from his wife's family at the time of getting married. If unmarried, he must pledge that he will not demand a dowry when he gets married.

Such a requirement for civil servants was introduced in 2004 - but has been observed by only about 1 per cent of the 200,000 government employees in the state.

Now Chief Minister Mayawati Kumari has dusted off the rule and ordered that it should be strictly enforced both with existing employees and in all future recruitment.

Welfare Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha said: 'We are going to look at everyone on the rolls. All those who have failed to sign this declaration will be punished. Taking or demanding dowry is a criminal offence and we can't have civil servants breaking the law.'

The practice of dowry is rampant throughout India, despite laws banning it. A villager in Uttar Pradesh last week shaved his wife's head and paraded her naked through the main street for not bringing enough dowry.

'Indians are prone to empty symbolic gestures which make no difference but if Mayawati can enforce this, at least it will show the top people in the government are setting an example,' Mohini Giri, former chairwoman of the National Commission for Women, said.

The custom of dowry is so deeply rooted that, over millennia, it has been refined into a precise calculus. There are different rates depending on the groom's job.

A few years ago, The Times of India printed a table listing the expected price on grooms from different professions. The more prestigious or lucrative the job, the bigger the dowry a man's family can demand.

A businessman with an MBA, for example, could demand 1.5 million rupees (HK$240,000) while a member of India's civil service could ask for two million rupees.

The reason for the hefty price on civil servants is not the salary they earn but the vast scope for bribe-taking that comes with a government job.