Nisha (right) resisted demands for extra dowry money
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on
Thursday, 17 July, 2003 at 1100 BST.
India's dowry system has been illegal for more than 40 years, yet it continues to flourish, sometimes with horrifying consequences for young brides.
Dowries can now be as high as £100,000, and demands for money often continue well into the marriage. If the family does not pay, there can be a heavy price.
Cases of newly wed women burning to death in stove burst "accidents" occur daily. Some women are forced to commit suicide by their husbands; others are simply murdered.
Girls are seen as a huge financial burden because of the dowry system and many pregnancies are terminated if the foetus is found to be female, another illegal practice.
It is estimated that as a result of the selective abortion of female foetuses and the neglect of girls after they are born, some 27 million women have gone missing from India in the last 10 years alone.
But one young Indian woman, Nisha Sharma, has bucked the trend after calling off her wedding when her husband demanded an extra $25,000 in dowry payment.
She became an instant celebrity, winning awards and plaudits from Bollywood stars, politicians, and the public alike.
But can Nisha really make a difference in a country steeped in tradition?
Crossing Continents investigated.
Reporter: Lucy Ash
Producer: Giselle Portenier
Editor: Hugh Levinson