THE LAW AGAINST DOWRY IN INDIA Dowry is a regressive social practise. It is prevalent across cultures in various forms. In Indian societ...
THE LAW AGAINST DOWRY IN INDIA
Dowry is a regressive social practise. It is prevalent across cultures in various forms. In Indian society, Dowry has existed for a very long time and evolved out of the practise of ‘Stree-dhan’ – money and gifts given to a bride at the time of marriage towards her future security in the matrimonial house. A more common term for Dowry is the Arabic word – ‘Dahez’. Indian house-holds are not strangers to the exploitation meted out on women and her family in name of Dowry. Dowry practise is one of the fundamental reasons behind rampant female infanticide, foeticide, low sex-ratio and girl-child illiteracy in our society. Exploitation in name of dowry has percolated to the level of family and individual mindset. Such exploitation has taken socio-cultural forms and unfortunately, even leads to dowry related deaths among married women. Cases of bride-burning and grievous injury to the new daughter-in-law are very common in our society. As a matter of fact, it has been reported that highly educated households also indulge in dowry practise and dowry related exploitation.
Seeing the rising number of cases of Dowry exploitation and deaths, the Government of India introduced the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961. However, it largely failed to achieve its objective as Dowry has become a part of marriage ceremony itself. Given this fact, the Government again introduced the Dowry the Maintenance of Lists of Presents to the Bride and the Bridegroom Rules, 1985. Further, to address the growing problem of dowry deaths in India, changes were made in the Indian Penal Code to punish offenders involved in dowry related exploitation as well as dowry death and dowry murder. In addition to this, the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 also provides for civil remedy against dowry related domestic violence.
What is Dowry?
In simple terms, dowry refers to any consideration paid towards marriage by the Bride and her family to the Groom and his family. Such consideration can take various forms as stated earlier. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, Dowry is defined as a demand for property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other party, parents of either party or any other person, at the time of marriage, before or after the marriage.
This property can be in the form of durable goods, cash, and real or movable property that the bride's family gives to the bridegroom, his parents and his relatives. It can also be electrical appliances, furniture, crockery, vehicles and household items etc. It is important to note here that ‘mahr’ and ‘dower’ are not considered dowry under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961.
However, the act distinguishes between dowry and gifts given at the time of marriage. Thus, any presents given at the time of marriage to the bride, without any demands from the Groom's side are not considered Dowry. However, if such gifts/presents are not of customary nature (For example, gold-bangles and silver jewelry is considered as customary, but this can vary from family to family based on their personal traditions) or of excessive value w.r.t the financial status of the bride's family, then such presents may be considered as Dowry.
In order to prevent misuse of this provision, the Government introduced The Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of Lists of Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules, 1985. According to this, the following rules must be adhered to by both parties at time of marriage:
(1) The list of presents which are given at the time of the marriage to the bride shall be maintained by the bride.
(2) The list of presents which are given at the time of the marriage to the bridegroom shall be maintained by the bridegroom.
(3) Every list of presents shall be prepared at the time of the marriage or as soon as possible after the marriage;
(4) Such list shall be in writing & shall contain:
(i) A brief description of each present;
(ii) The approximate value of the present;
(iii) The name of the person who has given the present; and
(iv) whether the person giving the present is related to the bride or bridegroom, a description of such a relationship;
(5) Such a list shall be signed by both the bride and the bridegroom. They may also get the list signed by any relative or any person witness to such exchange of gifts.
Is taking Dowry illegal?
The Dowry Prohibition Act has criminalized not only taking of dowry but also demanding and giving of dowry. Such demand and giving can be direct or indirect. According to the Act, if any person gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he/she shall be liable for punishment not less than five years and a fine of not less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of value of such dowry, whichever is more.
Demanding of dowry is punishable with six months or up to two years and a fine of up to ten thousand rupees. Further, advertising in any newspaper, periodical, journal, or through any other media w.r.t possible dowry or consideration for marriage is also banned by the act and made punishably. Any agreement for giving or taking of dowry is void-ab-initio.
Any person who is aggrieved by the offense or a parent or other relative of such person or any recognized welfare institution or organization can file a complaint to the police or judicial magistrate of the first class under the act.
What is the Law against Dowry related exploitation?
Dowry related cruelty and violence is very common in Indian Society. Such cruelty and violence can take the form of domestic violence, exploitation, mental harassment, and in some cases dowry death and dowry murder as well. In order to prevent such criminal activities, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides various remedies.
Where the death of a woman is 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 relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death. Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.
Whoever, being the husband or the relatives of the husband of a woman, subject a woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. This includes harassment of the woman with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security.
Section 3(b) of DV Act, 2005:
The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides a civil remedy to protect women against domestic Violence due to dowry demand. Any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security;