The Ladli Laxmi scheme was envisaged by the government to prevent female foeticide and help parents partly meet the expenses of their daughter’s marriage. Under the scheme a girl over 18 years of age gets Rs1 lakh for her marriage. The money however has become a bone of contention. There have been scores of complaints of harassment of the girls over the money and at least one death has been reported in relation to it.
There are enlightened sections of society that lament that the Rs 1 lakh given under the scheme is being viewed by the girls’ in-laws as something that must ‘legitimately’ go to them as a form of dowry. When the in-laws do not get it, the harassment of the daughter-in-law ensues. The rising number of cases of harassment has prompted the chairperson of Goa State Commission for Women and leading advocate Subhalaxmi Naik to recommend to the state government to convert the scheme into a government-sponsored community marriage scheme, in which money will be spent on each couple in order to avoid incidents of dowry harassment after marriage.
It has come to the notice of the commission that husbands and their families harass the beneficiaries of the Ladli Laxmi scheme and extract money from them. Naik feels that rather than being a boon for the girl and her family, the scheme has become a bane for them. This should be stopped forthwith. Naik feels that there was urgent need to change the purpose of the scheme before more cases of harassment are reported.
The scheme, which was rolled out in 2012, has distributed the grant to thousands of girls but it has also become an instrument for harassment. The GSWC chairperson quite reasonably feels that rather than releasing money for meeting the marriage expenses the government should release the amount for meeting the expenses for higher education or for starting a self-employment venture, which will help the girls enter gainful employment and earn money to be self-dependent. However, her view that the government should sponsor community marriages, which will curtail costs as also prevent harassment over money, might not find acceptance at the political or social level, as community marriages are usually associated with people with little means, and not all parents or girls might show interest in participating in them. However, Naik’s idea is chaste: the parents and girls must be saved from high costs of marriage and harassment for dowry.
The death of a 23-year old woman from Quepem two years ago brought to the fore the ills associated with the Ladli Laxmi scheme. Following her death demands were made by different quarters for withdrawal or recasting of the scheme. The then advocate general Saresh Lotlikar defended the government scheme with a plea that dowry harassment cases cannot be linked to the scheme as tormentors involved in such crimes commit the crime because they are blinded by greed. His argument was weak and fallacious.
Greed is not determined by the quantum of money expected or by the severity of harassment to the victim. It is true that whether there is a scheme like the Ladli Laxmi or not, husbands and their parents who see the woman’s family as traditionally obliged by the fact of being inferior to pay them a handsome dowry would subject the woman and her parents to harassment, even violence. What Lotlikar ignored was that the money granted under the Ladli Laxmi scheme was being seen by husbands and their parents as something that must come to them with the girl. The scheme was thus increasing scope for dowry harassment.
The government must give a serious thought to the recommendations of the chairperson of the Goa State Commission for Women. The scheme must be modified to remove the scope for harassment of the girl and her parents. The government must evaluate the cases dealt with by the GSCW and in the knowledge of other organizations and in addition may conduct its own survey in order to arrive at conclusions on what sort of modifications in the scheme are required. Goa is not among states where dowry-related crimes of extremely severe nature, such as murder and violence, take place.
However, we would be shutting our eyes to the reality if we deny that dowry is not an issue in marital relationships in Goa. While dowry cases with acts of criminal nature can be handled under the penal laws, the hidden cases of dowry harassment originating in the claims to ‘ownership of the Rs 1 lakh grant under the Ladli Laxmi scheme being natural with the ownership of the girl’ should be addressed by recasting the scheme.