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Kerala Governor observes day-long fast against dowry; BJP, Congress criticise government

Thiruvananthapuram: In the wake of a series of dowry deaths that rocked Kerala and triggered a heated debate on the issue, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan observed a fast on Wednesday to create social awareness against a social evil and to end atrocities against women.

It may be the first time in the southern state’s history that any Governor has fasted so publicly for such a social cause. Scripting a new chapter, Khan began his fast at Raj Bhavan, his official residence, at 8 am, calling on people to stop this evil tradition that dates back decades.

Later in the evening, the Governor attended a prayer meeting at Gandhi Bhavan and ended his fast by garlanding the statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr. Khan, who is also the Chancellor of Universities in Kerala, said he would write to all Vice-Chancellors and ask them to have every student sign an undertaking that accepting or giving dowry is a crime and they shall not indulge in it.

Moreover, the Governor asked all public officials when they receive invitations to attend a marriage, they should be sure that no dowry transaction or demand is being made. If they come to know that such things are happening, they should have the courage to say that they will not attend the wedding, Mr. Khan said.

The girls should also be empowered to fight against the menace of dowry, he said. ‘I think a girl should be bold enough to reject such a proposal, if she knows the boy’s side is demanding, seeking dowry, whatever the parents say,’ the Governor said.

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Mr. Khan later told reporters that dowry is a concern to all sections of society, including celebrities and politicians alike.

In response to a question on recent dowry-related crimes in the state, Khan said this was not a partisan issue. According to him, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and opposition party leaders have supported his decision to create social awareness against dowry. ‘It is certain the law alone, or the police alone, cannot combat this. Therefore, we need to take some action on the part of the people. For the people, it is important that we create public awareness. Creating public awareness will strengthen the government and police,’ said the Governor.

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The fast was observed by Mr. Khan after various Gandhian organizations urged him to spread awareness against the practice of giving and taking dowry as part of marriage. Khan made an emotional appeal to women last month to refuse dowry when it was demanded during marriages and expressed willingness to participate in any ‘organised’ voluntary movement to create awareness.

He reacted after visiting the house of Vismaya, an Ayurvedic medical student found dead under mysterious circumstances in her husband’s house after complaining about dowry harassment. He described dowry as ‘evil’ and urged the public to become aware of its unholy aspects and to engage NGOs or other volunteers in a special campaign against it.

In a video message issued Monday evening, Mr. Khan described dowry as a ‘grave injustice and ignominy to women’, whose contributions to Kerala’s development are widely acknowledged.

The BJP and Congress offered their support to the Governor for taking the ‘Gandhian path’ to raise awareness against the menace. They took the opportunity to blame the Left government over the issue, claiming that Pinarayi Vijayan’s failure to ensure safety for women had compelled the Governor to observe a fast to open the eyes of authorities.

‘Greetings to the Governor who is fasting to ensure the safety of women and girls in Kerala,’ senior BJP leader and Union Minister V Muraleedharan wrote on Facebook. The minister hailed Khan for taking up such a cause and said it may be a rare occurrence in the country’s administrative history.

According to Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President K Sudhakaran, the Governor was fasting because the state government failed to ensure safety and security for the people. In describing the Governor’s fast as ‘rare’, he said Mr Khan has raised a ‘justified issue’ and his agitation is ‘meaningful’.

‘Kerala now has a situation where even the Governor is protesting Gandhian style. The state government cannot backtrack from its responsibility,’ the Kannur MP said.

In the meantime, several Gandhians fasted from dawn to dusk at Gandhi Bhavan. Gandhian organizations said the fast is aimed at eradicating atrocities against women and making Kerala a safer place for women.

Apart from Vismaya, a number of other women have also been found dead under mysterious circumstances in recent days, and their families have blamed dowry harassment for their premature deaths.


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