In present India, ‘dowry’ is a word that is not spoken but practised. Dowry is a belief that Indian society has long preserved, that women are a burden on families. The Dowry system reduces the woman’s value to the gold ornaments and money she brings to her husband’s house. We Indians actively follow an outdated tradition of projecting the bride groom’s family as superior to the bride family.
Dowry, also known as trousseau or tocher, is the money, gifts, and property given to women or groom or groom’s family at the time of marriage.
Dowry is a social evil present in every part of society even today and has caused unimaginable torture and crimes towards women and her family.
For a better understanding of dowry, it is necessary to understand what the dowry system is? This system has prevailed for a long time, in which the father of the bride gives land, money and any other property to the couple to help the couple to settle down easily.
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Definition of Dowry
In Indian Law, Section 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 defines what is dowry. It means any party or party’s parent of marriage gives or agree to give any property or valuable security to another, on or before marriage in connection with marriage. But such gifts do not include mahr in the case of Muslim Marriage.
Many women became the victims of this cruel custom. And to save them, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, was enacted by the Parliament of India.
Let’s get into deep and understand every detail of dowry and the laws related to dowry.
Dowry and Dowry System In India
In India, many traditions get followed for ages, some of them were initially started with a concern to make life easier, and one such system is dowry. But now, it has become a problem, a social issue that should get resolved./p>
In India, almost every family has a girl child, and her marriage is the only dream that her parents dream for her; she is not even allowed to select her husband. Here, marriage is a business that takes place between the family of the bride and the groom./p>
Dowry is an illegal practice followed in India. It involves paying and accepting money, gold ornaments, and other valuable properties between the families involved in a marriage.
According to the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, dowry means:
- any property or valuable security is given, or
- agreed to be given either directly, or
- indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
- By either party’s parent to a marriage or
- by any other person,
To either party to the marriage or any other person at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of said parties but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
History of dowry and its origin
Dowry payments are still taking place in India. According to recent studies, a bride’s family spends seven times more than the groom’s family in an average Indian traditional wedding. The history of the dowry system in India roots back to the post-Vedic period.
Post-Vedic period: According to history, there was no recognition for dowry in the Rig Vedic period.
Atharva Veda states that the dowry system started during the post-Vedic period. At that time, the bride’s father would gift his daughter with things that the groom’s family would accept gladly. It was completely different from the present dowry system.
The gift would not be pre-determined and would not get occupied by inlaws. Scriptures and writings were also not present during this time regarding dowry.
Medieval period: The Dowry system or dahej pratha began during the medieval period, but society didn’t consider it as ‘Money’ or ‘Fee’ to be paid by the bride’s parents.
The word ‘sthreedhan’ came into existence during this time. Initially, the dowry system was a symbol of the love of the bride’s family for the bride. As a part of bidding farewell to the daughter, the father would give her money and other valuable things according to his will and ability. It was a belief that the money would help them during their troublesome time.
The Rajputs of Rajasthan began to use this custom widely to show off their pride and wealth. Money became more prominent than the custom. As a result, the tradition ‘sthreedhan’ became secondary to money, and the dowry system originated.
During the British rule, the scenario changed, and they restricted women from owning any property, land or assets, due to which men took all the gifts given to the bride. They even made it mandatory to pay the dowry to get married.
This rule changed the whole scenario from a pure system to a complete mess.
The scenario got ruined utterly, and the groom’s parents started looking for a bride as a source of their income. And now, the gifts changed to demand.
Modern period: In this present time, the dowry system in India forces the bride’s family to give the boy’s family money, ornaments and other valuable things. It is considered a friendly gesture for welcoming her to their house.
In the name of olden traditions and culture, the girl’s family pays off their wealth to the groom’s family due to pressure and torture from society. Dowry is prevalent in all major religious sectors in rural and urban areas. Some people think that giving away money and properties would earn them dignity and pride in society.
Causes of Dowry System
Demand for dowry keeps on rising due to the greed of society. Groom’s family continually demands dowry shamelessly, sometimes for the groom’s education, sometimes for the facilities, and the reasons may never end. They even expect the bride’s families to meet such demands without any question.
Society’s structure considers men superior to women in every aspect. Thus, resulting in women being treated as burdens firstly on the father and then on the husband.
Such constraints are as per the suitability of men that contribute toward dowry. The religious customs are made such that the higher the education is, the higher the amount will be.
The lack of legal education among women, who are kept away from school since childhood, deprives them of social equality.
Urge to Show Off:
Nowadays, it is not just a custom, but a means to show off. The amount spent on weddings and gifts given at weddings signifies the social status of the family.
Effect of Dowry System
Dowry is an evil present in almost every country and has led the nation to lack in the social field. The effects of dowry are:
Injustice towards girls:
As the dowry is high, her family takes her as a burden and a substantial financial loss, bringing injustice to women. It, in turn, leads women to be deprived of their rights.
Violence against women:
Dowry is not just a one-time payment. It is something that can last longer, and constant demands of dowry lead to violence on women.
Dowry also leads to an imbalance in sex ratio as not even a single parent wants a daughter as a child, with the mindset that she is a financial burden on the family.
These are just some effects of the dowry system. It has led to an immense unmeasurable impact.
Myths and some common questions about Dowry
It is a common myth that the Dowry system prevails only in south Asian countries. However, the practice gets followed by North African, Jewish, east Asian and Slavic cultures. Another myth about the dowry system in India is that only the elite class participate in dowry. Dowry is very common among the poorest families also.
Who gives the Dowry?
The Dowry system varies across different religions and castes. In Hindu culture, the bride’s family gives a dowry to the groom. But in Muslim culture, the groom presents Mahr or gift to his bride.
How much is a Dowry?
It depends on different factors like religion, status, culture and income.
Why is the dowry system illegal? How does it affect society?
India is the epicentre of crimes against married women. In most parts of the country, the dowry system creates trouble in womens’ lives. It leads to women crimes like emotional abuse, physical injuries, and even deaths.
The dowry system creates gender inequalities by forcing people to treat women as property or goods to be exchanged rather than an asset to be moulded. It also casts girls to be a burden for the family.
In most cases, the disputes over dowry end in the dowry deaths of women where they are burned alive by husbands and inlaws. Women also hang themselves to escape from the physical and emotional abuses. Many young girls succumbed to death due to the heinous dowry system.
Earlier, dowry was a symbol of love, care and concern by the bride’s family, but during the British period, the situation worsened, and now it worsened more and more, so there was a need to bring a law to curb the problem. Thus, Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 got enacted. The Act made taking, giving or advertising of dowry illegal.
It was also necessary to improve the situation of a girl in society. The girl child was thought to be a burden on the father and the husband and had to face mental torture, taunting, female infanticide, and other evil.
The dowry to be made illegal was also necessary as the groom’s family used to ask for massive amounts and gifts that cost a lot for the bride’s family. The father of the bride used to be under the burden of debt to marry his daughter as the greed of the groom’s family never came to an end.
The cases of women being killed for dowry or attempting suicide due to the pressure of inlaws keeps on hiking every day.
All these problems needed attention, and it was necessary to criminalise dowry to protect women and their families.
Effect of Dowry Being Illegal
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 has criminalised dowry, but the dowry cases still keep rising day by day. But, this cannot get denied that the Act has brought some changes in society.
- Now, the groom’s family does not openly demand dowry but tries to keep their demand indirectly.
- Some families have changed their mindset and decided that they won’t take dowry.
- The act has caused fear in people’s minds that if they demand dowry, they might land up in jail, so they think twice before taking any step.
- Women aware of the laws don’t come under pressure from the groom’s family but raise their voices against such systems.
- Some aware families don’t tend to marry their daughters in families where the demand for dowry gets raised.
Important Steps to Eradicate Dowry
- Educate Daughters
- Encourage daughters to have a career
- Teach daughters to be independent and responsible.
- Treat daughters without discrimination.
- Take an oath of neither to give dowry nor to take it.
Laws Related to Dowry in India
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The parliament enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961 to protect married women of all religious sects from evil practices of the dowry system that prevailed in India.
The act got enacted with the main object to prohibit giving and taking of dowry. It not just prohibits taking and giving of dowry but also prohibits advertising it.
The act incorporates provision to punish one who demands dowry, gives the dowry, helps in giving and taking of dowry, and promotes it.
Definition of dowry
Section 2 provides the Definition of Dowry. Dowry refers to any valuable security or any property given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly
- one party to the other party to the marriage, or by the parents of either party or through any other person.
- To any party to the marriage or any other person at or before or at any time, offer the marriage in connection with the marriage of said parties.
- It does not include dowry or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim personal law (Shariat) applies.
Penalty for giving or taking dowry
Section 3(1) of the act states that “If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such dowry.”
Penalty for demanding dowry
Section 4(1) states that “if any person demands directly or indirectly, from the parents or any relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom as the case may be, any dowry, he shall get imprisonment for a not be less than six months which may go up to two years and with fine up to ten thousand rupees”:
Provided that the Court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of fewer than six months.
On advertising anything related to marriage, the person shall get punished with imprisonment of a minimum of six months, which may extend to five years, or with a fine that may extend to fifteen thousand rupees, under section 4A of the Act.
Who can get punished under Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
- Anyone who gives or takes dowry
- Anyone who helps to give or take dowry
- Anyone who demands dowry
- Anyone found advertising and offering to give money or property for marrying his son, daughter or any relative;
- Anyone who found publishing these advertisements;
- Anyone who does not hand over the dowry to the bride within the specified time
Provisions in IPC, 1860
Section 304B of IPC defines ‘dowry death’ and provides punishment for the same.
Here, it includes the vital doctrine of ‘soon before the death the wife must have been subject to cruelty.’
The case of Rajinder Singh v. State of Punjab well explains the doctrine where the court explained that delays might vary in the case at times. But dowry must be the cause of death.
And in another case, Satbir Singh & another v. State of Punjab, The SC observed that the phrase ‘soon before death’ cannot mean ‘immediately before death.’ The bench observed that it is essential that the close and live link between the husband and his relatives must exist.
It involves a minimum punishment of seven years that may extend to life imprisonment.
Under IPC, dowry death is a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.
Section 304-B. Dowry death.
- Where the death of a woman gets caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage. And it is shown that soon before her death; she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry. Such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall get deemed to have caused her death.
For this subsection, “dowry” shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).
- Whoever commits dowry death shall get punished with imprisonment for a term that shall not be less than seven years but may extend to imprisonment for life.
Section 498-A. Husband or relative of the husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.
Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall get punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
- any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
- harassment of the woman where such harassment intends to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
Procedure Prescribed for Filing of Case for Dowry
Dowry is a punishable offence under Indian Law, but it is necessary to provide information regarding such offence for punishment. For which:
- The victim has to file an FIR in the local police station.
- A comprehensive report is to get submitted to the police.
- A criminal case should get filed against the person asking for dowry or even harassment, and a divorce case can also be filed.
- Filing complaints with police or women cells is essential.
Limitation Period to File for Dowry Lawsuit
In a dowry case, it’s essential to file the lawsuit within seven years of marriage. In the case of the death of a bride within seven years of marriage, it automatically raises a question on the husband’s family regarding dowry.
Reasons of Dowry Still Being Prevalent in India
The Dowry system was legally abolished in India earlier in 1961 but is still present in the country.
- The primary reason behind this is the Patriarchy Society. Boys have their rate card and ask for dowry as per their card.
- The second reason is that this system is deeply rooted in the culture of India. Even in the 21st Century, it is difficult to understand that dowry giving and taking is a crime.
- The third reason is the dominance of the institution of marriage. Marriage is an essential part of Indian Culture. And when it comes to marriage, families feel that everything is just and fair.
Case laws related to dowry
Ramesh Vithal Patil vs the State of Karnataka (2014) 11 SCC 516
The deceased committed suicide within seven years from the date of marriage. Section 113 of the Indian Evidence Act gets engaged with the case. The presumption provision got introduced by the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983, to solve the difficulties in getting shreds of evidence in cases where women get forced to commit suicide.
Kuldip Singh And Anr. vs State Of Punjab on 5 February 2004
There was no evidence that the appellant had driven the deceased to suicide by proffering a dowry demand of the nature mentioned in Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. Harassment and cruelty indeed get inflicted, and dowry demands are made within the walls of unhappy homes. But, to make a conviction, there has to be harassment and cruelty in conjunction with a demand for dowry created soon before the death of the deceased under unnatural circumstances. This case was not a case of dowry death.
Bachni Devi v. State of Haryana
In the said case, the husband and mother-in-law went to the deceased’s house to ask for a motorcycle to start a new business. But deceased father indicated his inability to do so.
Husband and his mother started to harass the bride and ill-treated her. He brought his wife to her maternal home for Raksha Bandhan and left her there for the festival where she told everything to her father.
Later, even before the festival, he took her back home, stating his brother’s engagement, which was a false statement.
After this, within ten, the wife was found dead in unnatural circumstances.
The Supreme Court, in this case, stated that any demand of property or valuable security in any way concerning marriage amounts to dowry.
Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam
The legality of dowry demand in respect of invalid marriage was dealt with in this case. The court held that the concept of dowry gets linked with marriage and the provision of dowry death applies to married persons. When the validity of a marriage is in question, the dowry demand would be invalid and cannot be recognised legally.
Public Prosecutor v. Tota Basava Punniah
In this case, the deceased was found hanging within three years of marriage, and evidence showed that the dowry was demanded. The court held that even if the case is of suicide, it attracts Section 304 B IPC.
As the customary practice in India for ages, Dowry started as a symbol of love and became evil in society. The Dowry Prohibition Act prohibits the offering, take and advertising of dowry.
Dowry death is a social evil that is prevailing in our country still now. Women and girls of all ages must come forward to eradicate this social evil that would take the lives of many innocent girls who are considered burdens to their families. Let society come out of the darkness and realise that girls are the light of the country.
Although dowry is still part of Indian culture, it becomes the duty of every educated citizen of the country to take an oath to neither take nor give dowry or advertise it.
The Dowry Prohibition Act,1961, has somehow reduced dowry cases, but there is still more to be done. Even Indian Courts have played a significant role by now and then in explaining the law and making it suitable for society’s needs.
Which presents do not amount to dowry?
Any present given to the bride or groom without any demand did not amount to dowry.
What is a list of presents?
A list of the present is the brief description of each present given in marriage with the approximate value of the present.
What is the penalty for giving, taking or demanding dowry?
The penalty for giving or taking dowry is imprisonment of a term not less than five years with a fine that cannot be less than 15 thousand rupees.
The penalty for a person who demands dowry is imprisonment which is not less than six months, with a fine which is not less than 10 thousand rupees.
Who has the power to decide cases related to dowry?
In general, the metropolitan magistrate or the judicial magistrate of the first class has the power to decide the matters related to dowry.