The state government had launched the Laadli Laxmi scheme to help parents meet expenses of weddings of their daughters. In a number of cases the in-laws now demand the scheme money as dowry for their son. At least two daughters-in-law have allegedly committed suicide over the issue: Chhaya Naik from Agapur, Ponda and Vanita Gaonkar from Mushcaverem, Quepem. Though circumstances and statements suggest that both the women were victims of dowry harassment the authorities failed to act speedily, giving rise to doubts that there were pressures working on the local administrators and police. There is possibility of many other such cases which may not have come on record. The scheme that was intended to be beneficial for girls and their parents, especially from the poorer sections of society, is proving to be a curse.
Chhaya was among the first recipients of the Laadli Laxmi scheme. She was disabled in her left hand. It was first made out that she had committed suicide; and there was even a “suicide note” found on her person. But her parents contested the theory of suicide on grounds of her physical disability. They also contested the contents of the “suicide note.” The police recorded her death as unnatural. It was only on the insistence of her brother that a magisterial inquiry was conducted. While evidence in Chhaya’s case comprised the claims of her family about her physical condition and false suicide note, in Vanita’s case her dying declaration that she was being harassed by her in-laws for money from the scheme should have prompted police to initiate immediate action against her in-laws. But they took almost a week to take action, that too after much public outcry. These two cases came to light because the hapless women chose to take extreme steps to end their lives, as they were unable to face alleged harassment over dowry demands from their in-laws. Opposition parties and civil society groups have pointed to many more such cases which might not have come out in the open as the victims chose not to go public to save their marriage and save their families from embarrassment. As both the deaths had taken place within seven years of marriage they ought to have been probed by magistrates as per law and not registered as unnatural deaths by the police till the magisterial probe was completed.
A rise has been noted in cases of women being harassed by in-laws for the Laadli Laxmi scheme money. A civil society group claims to be aware of around 30 cases of harassment of daughters-in-law over the sharing of money. Other groups and individuals could have information on several more cases. The two reported cases should be probed in depth and the guilty should be punished for the sake of deterrence to in-laws from harassing daughters-in-law for Laadli Laxmi money. There have been points raised that the scheme was regressive and giving rise to dowry demand. Since there are instances of in-laws demanding money from the scheme the government ought to come out with clear-cut guidelines about who should be the beneficiary of the amount: the girls, their families or husbands or in-laws. As the government’s intention was to provide help to the girls and their families in meeting the marriage expenditure the government should make it amply clear that the in-laws would not be able to seek share, as any such step would mean that the government was promoting dowry system indirectly.
Goa does not have the kind of dowry problem as some North Indian states have. If the Laadli Laxmi scheme is indirectly fostering the rise of dowry in marriage in the state, the government needs to amend the scheme to rule out possibility of its misuse. Besides, the police and other agencies should be directed to take quick action against those who harass their in-laws for dowry. A separate redressal system should be put in place in every taluka to address the issue of harassment over alleged dowry cases and ensure that the victims do not resort to the extreme step of ending their lives. As the scheme paid rich dividends to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the last Assembly elections there is possibility of the government promising a raise in the amount given in the upcoming elections, which could only provide richer feed to the greed of the in-laws. Even the BJP women’s wing has asked for revision of the scheme. The government must revise it and make it very specific that the money belongs to the girl and must be used by her for her particular need, and no one – neither her parents nor her in-laws – has the right to claim any share of it.