Caste system root cause of honour killing: Speaker

New Delhi: Caste and dowry system are hurdles to gender equality and women empowerment and it was incumbent upon all to act as agents of change in creating a level playing field for them, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Wednesday said.

While the deep-rooted caste system was the root cause for honour killings, the dowry system has led to the girl child being considered a liability from the day she is born, she said delivering the Sunanda Bhandare memorial lecture here.

"Any marriage outside the caste is perceived by staunch proponents of this system as a rebellion which has to be quelled. This practice must be condemned. Women should be free to decide the course of their future," the speaker said.

Raising concern over the widely prevalent dowry system, she stressed the need to eradicate it on a "priority" basis.

The country's adverse sex ratio is a consequence of the widely prevalent dowry system and has led to the denial of decent existence to women, hampered opportunities and impeded them from realising their full potential, Kumar said.

"It is incumbent upon us as responsible citizens to be agents of change and play a proactive role in creating a level playing field for the women of our country," she said.

She felt that though there are several legislations to safeguard women's interest, what remains the main challenge for everyone is "legislating the mindset". It is important to change the societal outlook towards women.

Kumar expressed her bemusement over "profound discrimination" among women in well-off societies.

"The more educated, the higher dowry they demand. This is a sad reality," she lamented, calling for reforms in education system which also builds good character among all.

The Speaker felt though outwardly women's status may seem to be on a par with men, there often exists an unspoken and invisible barrier that stops them from going further ahead despite constitution having provisions for a harmonious and equitable society.

"For it is mistakenly believed that women cannot handle power. This deeply-ingrained prejudice is the biggest roadblock in the path to women's empowerment," she said.

She said the dowry system has led to the girl child being considered a liability from the day she is born. It has resulted in female foeticide, female infanticide, neglect and discrimination against the girl child.

Kumar lamented the role of the sex determination centres which have illegally flourished on the outskirts of the capital city.

She said India was committed to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goal to promote gender equality.

She also said the concept of gender budgeting has become the mainstay of government's policies and programmes.