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‘Dowry is a growing problem in Australia, it’s time we face it’

Representational image of an Indian bride having henna tatoo on her hand before the wedding. Source: Shutterstock

Anti-dowry campaigner Dr Manjula O'Connor believes dowry abuse plays a significantly adverse role in promoting domestic violence within Indian migrant families living in Australia.

At least 72 cases of dowry-related abuse in the past two and a half years have been documented in Australia's South Asian community, according to psychiatrist Manjula O'Connor.

Dr O’Connor who has been the front-runner of a global anti-dowry campaign believes this form of abuse significantly increases the prevalence of domestic violence within Indian Australian families.

She claims that out of the 179 cases of family violence that she has dealt with at her private psychiatry practice in Melbourne, at least 40 percent of women were being harassed to provide a dowry.

“These practices are happening here in Melbourne, in Sydney, in Adelaide, in Brisbane. The marriage may have happened in India but the demands are being made in Australia as part of the ongoing marital condition,” Dr O’Connor said in an interview with SBS Punjabi.

Dr Manjula O'Connor
Dr Manjula O'Connor pushes for a federal law to ban dowry abuse in Australia.
White Ribbon Australia

She also said that the problem is so palpable that many of these women have been physically and emotionally abused and even abandoned in their home countries, and at least in one instance in Victoria, a woman was driven to suicide.

“I have been in contact with these abandoned wives, many of whom are living in India now - stigmatized, divorced, their dowry money all down the drain because these men have taken the money and sent them back home, because it wasn’t sufficient for their requirement."

Shamit Agarwal, visits Goregaon police station to complain against her groom for demanding dowry of Rs five lakhs,  November 2009.
Shamit Agarwal, visits Goregaon police station to complain against her groom for demanding dowry of Rs five lakhs, November 2009.

“Definitely there are a number of suicides, but at least one woman committed suicide because of continuous dowry demands in Victoria.”

SBS Punjabi's special investigation into misuse of India's anti-dowry law

Given the scale of the sample she has managed to collect, Dr O’Connor has been relentlessly pushing the government for a federal law to ban dowry extortion, which would bring the country in line with the newly enacted anti-dowry legislation in Victoria.

“It should become national because the laws should be uniform across the country so that perpetrators cannot hide from one state to another. The second reason why we need the national law is that these perpetrators who extort and demand money from the women and their families, they are being harboured by the Australian government.”

Dr O’Connor acknowledged that she has become the target of backlash from within the Indian community, many of whom believe that advocates like her are trying to exaggerate a problem that has its roots in India.

But despite the criticism, she remains undeterred in her pursuit and believes it’s high time the community realised the gravity of the situation and stepped up to “solve it”.

“Why do we need to be like an ostrich that has its head buried in the sand? Why do we not accept that this is a problem and we need to actually face it?” questioned Dr O’Connor.

Hindu Wedding Rituals
Hindu Wedding Rituals. This particular moment is called Kanyadaan, when the parents of the bride give her hands to the groom's hand.
Moment Open

“How many brides’ families take loans to marry their daughters because the marriages between women in India and men in Australia are considered to be highly desirable?”

“This tradition is not going to stop because we people in the Indian community like our cultural continuity and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we should protect these women who are coming across because they are vulnerable,” said Dr O’Connor.

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