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Dowry: The big issue that has Indian-Australian community divided

Dr Gurdip Aurora (left), Muktesh Chibber (right) Source: SBS

At a time when Indian advocacy groups are mounting pressure on the federal government to enact laws against dowry abuse, many community leaders and professionals say that new laws are not needed.

Dr Gurdip Aurora, president of the Australia India Society of Victoria and the recipient of the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman- the highest Indian honour awarded to a non-resident for his work for the community - strongly rejects the need for a federal dowry legislation.

“Let me make it crystal clear that we don’t have a dowry problem in Australia and if there is a dowry problem this is being inherited from marriages that occur in India,” he told SBS Punjabi.

“Nobody over here is getting married and asking for dowries. People might be going back from Australia to India and there may be a dowry issue there.”

And because he claims that dowry does not exist in this part of the world, Dr Aurora believes that there is “nothing” that the Australian government can or should do.

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“There is nothing that the Australian government can do and at the same time, there is nothing that the Indian government can do because, in India, they already have very strict laws against dowry. But these laws have not worked."

People of Indian community gathered at Parramatta Park for Diwali celebration.
Is dowry practiced within the Indian community living in Australia?
SBS Gujarati

He added that he rather feels “offended that some people are targeting the Indian community” and cautioned that the Australian government must be aware that some people on temporary visas might be using dowry as a shortcut means to extend their stay in the country.

“Another thing that is concerning me is that when they bring the dowry issue in their violence cases, I think this needs further research. There may be an abuse of the system because these people are able to get an easy immigration into the country.”

Echoing these sentiments is Muktesh Chibber, an experienced family counsellor based in Melbourne, who says the existing Australian law is enough to deal with any financial abuse in a marriage.

“I don’t understand the meaning of dowry. It’s an old terminology doesn’t exist these days. Does dowry even exist nowadays?”

Ms Chibber insists that “we must respectfully uphold the integrity and intelligence of the Australian family violence act which safeguards the victims and I feel that duplicating such legislation will actually create more confusion for the issues that have already been legislated.”

She further argues that there is a need for detailed research to determine the extent of the claims made by some advocacy groups before any action is taken.

“We are intelligent enough in Australia, not to have legislation on the basis of anecdotal evidence without any research, without any sufficient research done. Since when has any country formed a legislation based on anecdotal evidence? I am not aware of it.”

Dr Madhumita Iyengar
Dr Madhumita Iyengar, Head, Initiative for Women in Need
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Resounding similar views is Dr Madhumita Iyengar, the head of Initiative for Women in Need, which is a Canberra-based organisation. Dr Iyengar has dealt with many cases of family violence in the Australian Indian community.

She suggests that rather than bringing about a separate legislation for an issue that is already covered under the family violence provision, community organisations should band together to educate the newly-arrived students and migrant families.

“My suggestion is that all the community organisations must come together and develop a network and use the government funding they get to develop a program which they can use to assist all the new migrants who are coming into this country and also who are already here.”

She also believes that the impact of the Victorian anti-dowry legislation must be measured before enacting anything similar at a federal level. 

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