India, the largest importer of gold is clearly obsessed with yellow metal. With every passing year, the hunger for gold is surging, and so is the price. But some recent studies are highlighting that with the rise in gold’s price, the chances of a girl child’s survival, fall.
This absurd co-relation between the gold price and females in the country is rising the obvious questions: What could be the real reason behind the country’s obsession with the yellow metal? How is it related to the survival of women in India? And what can be done to fix it?
India’s Obsession With Gold
India is the largest consumer of gold jewelry in the world; according to the World Gold Council, in the year 2019, the country imported 830 tonnes of gold. Demand for the yellow metal is soaring and touches new peaks, especially during the wedding season.
The love for gold is deeply rooted in the country’s culture. It is a way of celebration, gifted during important occasions; and in weddings, it is an essential part of the dowry.
Although dowry was outlawed by the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, it is still a prevalent part of marriages in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.
A study by the Center for Economic Policy Research claims that the rise in gold price is inversely proportional to the survival chances of a girl child in the first month of their life in the country.
Dowry: Not in The Rare View Mirror Yet
Dowry is believed to have originated back in 1793 when Lord Cornwallis introduced private ownership of lands. The law prohibited women from claiming ownership of any property.
Until 1793, women’s dowry was the women’s share of property inheritance; in a way, this ensured her independence in her new in-law’s home. Dowry was widely prevalent in medieval western Europe since 200 BCE, though with time it faded from there but persists in major South-Asian countries.
Edward Lorenz once proposed that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can turn into a tornado weeks later (Butterfly effect). This seems to go perfectly with the dowry system in the country; it would not be wrong to say Lord Cornwallis’s policy as the flapping of wings, now causing ravaging lives of millions of women in India.
A paper published by Sonia Bhalotra, (University of Essex), Abhishek Chakravarty (University of Manchester), and Selim Gulesci (Bocconi University); on the relation between gold price, dowry, and deaths in India; flashes light on the deep-rooted social-cultural effect of Dowry, the role of gold in dowry and how to price fluctuation of gold is associated with the death of women and sometimes families in India.
Dowry and Gold: Connected Roots
A study shows that still, between 70%-90% of the Indian households give dowry in their daughter’s marriage. Out of these 95% give away gold to their daughter and in-laws as part of the dowry.
Gold jewelry has long been a huge part of India’s aggregate gold demand. Nearly one-fifth of gold’s annual global supply is imported by India, every year
In Kerala, one of the largest gold-consuming states of India, an average middle-class family gives at least 320gm of gold to their daughter at weddings. Whereas the wealthy class usually gives more than one kilogram of gold to the brides.
Parents start saving for their daughter’s wedding (dowry) ever since the child’s birth. Knowing the trading of gold as dowry, the government tries to regulate gold price from time to time; but it still doesn’t cause any significant changes.
But instead, the hike in gold prices makes way for smugglers, to smuggle yellow metal in India from the gold-rich nation, usually from the west-Asian countries like Dubai.
In July 2020, the airport custom of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seized 30-kilograms of gold, which was being smuggled in sanitary pipes.
Moreover, strengthening the policies for the prohibition of dowry is unlikely to make any significant difference. Because of the social norms, the families have to follow and thus co-operate in the violation of the ban.
Change in The Air
It is important to understand that dowry is not the only reason behind the country’s obsession with gold; the yellow metal holds great significance in India’s culture.
Furthermore, gold is the sign of wealth therefore, it is given to the daughter not only as dowry but is also as a gesture of love and showing the importance in the family. Gold is also passed from generation to generation as the family’s traditional inheritance.
As more women are joining the country’s workforce, a change in the air can be felt. Before, the male parts of the family, namely father, and brother were the primary buyers of jewelry; but now more women consumers are independently buying it for themselves.
Equal property rights for women are believed to be one of the most significant steps towards ending the dowry system and thus the country’s obsession with the yellow metal.