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Today, Indian society is surrounded with many problems such as unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, terrorism, etc. Among these problems, a problem which is deep rooted in Indian society is the problem of dowry system. It has become the every day news item, no day passes away when we don't hear news relating to dowry death or dowry harassment. The irony lies in the fact that women in India are worshipped in the form of shakti, she is burned and harassed by her in-laws every day in one part of the nation or the other. Dowry, in ordinary sense, refers to money, gifts, goods or estate that wife brings to her husband in marriage.
The dowry has a long history in Europe, South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. The system of dowry is deep rooted in the Indian society since the early days of the history. This system prevailed in ancient Indian society, in ancient period dowry was the part of the ritual of kanyadan which was very different from modern- dowry. Among the eight types of marriages recognized by smritis, it was only in the Brahma marriage that father gave away his daughter, with such gifts and presents as he could afford, to a man of superior character .In the medieval period, the dowry, which was earlier regarded as dakshina (gift offered willingly), became an evil, father in order to marry her daughter had to offer money demanded by groom's family. In medieval times, the dowry system had engulfed the society at alarming rate, though it was practiced in the aristocratic and royal families.
The extra ordinary pride which rich people took in their ancestry was mainly responsible for this development. The youth of the bluest blood were preferred as sons-in-law by a large member of peoples, as a consequence of which their value increased in the market . The evil, which targeted the aristocratic and royal families in the ancient and the medieval period, in the British and modern period it engulfed the entire society. In the present era, it is in the most disastrous form. Women are harassed, beaten and face every kind of cruelty if she is unable to fulfill the demand of dowry and the harassment goes to such an extent that they are burned to death.
The most glaring example is of a lady Pooja Chauhan, who was so harassed by her-in laws because of dowry, which compelled her to parade in semi nude condition on the road of Rajkot to seek the justice. While greed may be the apparent causes for dowry demands some more suitable and unconscious motivations could also motivates this evil system such as:
1. Aspiration to marry in the High and Rich family.
2. Pressure of the caste system.
3. Social Custom
4. Marriage system.
5. False notion of social status and
6. Vicious Circle.
Anti- Dowry Laws:The attempt to eradicate the evil system of dowry through the mechanism of the law dates as far back the Sindh Leti Deti Act of 1939. After independence of India only two states, namely, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh enacted legislation restraining the dowry system. But as the incidence of dowry ascended at high rate, need for the central legislation became essential and as a result, the first national anti-dowry legislation popularly known as the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in 1961, and this Act applies to all the communities in India. However, the Act proved quite ineffective, which demanded changes in this toothless piece of legislation. With a view to remedy the inherent weakness of the Dowry Prohibition Act, this Act was amended in the year 1984 and again in the year 1986 to make the provisions of the Act more stringent and stricter than before and also to make its implementation effective. Law Commission 91st report 1983, recommended certain several provisions in IPC, Cr. PC and Indian Evidence Act to combat this social evil.
In IPC section 498-A was added which made cruelty by the husband or his relatives punishable with imprisonment up to three years and sections 304-B was added to the IPC by Criminal Law Amendment Act, passed in 1986 which provides that where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that immediately before her death she was harassed and put to cruelty by her husband or any relative of the husband in connection with demand for dowry, such death shall be called as dowry death; and sub-section (2) provides punishment with a minimum of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life. Section 174 and 176 of CrPC, deals with the investigations and inquires into the causes of unnatural deaths, by the police and magistrate respectively.
The Amendment Act 1983 makes it mandatory for the police officer to send the body for post-mortem examination if the death of the woman occurred with in seven years of marriage as a result of suicide or under other suspicious circumstances. A new section 113-B was added in the Indian Evidence Act which deals with the burden of proof in dowry deaths according to which the Court has to presume that a dowry death was caused by the person who is shown to have subjected the woman to cruelty or harassment soon before her death.
Apart from the efforts of legislature, judiciary is also playing a important role in combating and eradicating the evil dowry system from the Indian society. In case of Kundula Bala Subrahmaniam V State of A.P. , the Supreme Court gave some indications in dealing with the case of dowry related violence.
The Apex Court observed that such cases ought to be dealt with in a more realistic manner and criminals should not be allowed to escape on account of procedural technicalities or insignificant lacunae in the evidence and the courts are expected to be sensitive in cases involving crime against women. In case of Stree Atyachar Virodhi Parishad V. Dilip Nathumal Chordia, The supreme Court observed, ' We are referring to these provisions only to emphasize that it is not enough if the legal order with the sanction above moves forward for protection of women and preservation of societal values. The criminal justice system must equally respond to the needs and notions of the society. The investigating agency must display a live concern. The Court must also display greater sensitivity to criminality and avoid on all courts 'soft justice'. In a number of decisions the Supreme Court has shown practical approach in dealing with bride burning cases, some cases are as follows: State (Delhi Admn.) V Laxman Kumar, State of Punjab V. Amarjit Singh, Subrahmanyam V. State of A.P . and Sarojini V State of M.P., which reflect this approach of the Apex Court.
Rise of Dowry Violence Despite of Lawsthe legal and judicial efforts to eradicate the evil system of dowry failed to make any remarkable break in alarming rise of this dowry system. The National Crime Records statistics show that there have been over 58,000 incidents of dowry harassment and over 6, 7000 dowry murders in the year 2005, and as per national crime Bureau, in the year 1994- there were 4,935 dowry deaths and 25,946 cases of dowry harassment, this shows that in the sort span of ten years dowry related crimes accelerated at a very high speed. It may be said that approximately 56,000 dowry deaths and more than 40,000 cases of dowry harassment takes place every where. Moreover, cases which occur in privacy of husband's house are much more and go unreported.
The evil system of dowry is still in practice and culturally approved and socially recognized. Dowry is public all condemned but privately followed in practice. The belief that the evil of dowry which is deep rooted in the Indian society can be eradicated by just making laws is no more stands true. The first Prime Minister of India, Late Pandit Nehru, who played an active role in social engineering, had said that, ' Legislation alone cannot eradicate the deep rooted social problem.
The laws enacted to eradicate the evil system of dowry from the society should be supported and backed by the public opinion. If progressive legislations lacks the support of public opinion it is no more than a waste bundle of papers and are regarded as dead law; As is case with the Indian Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, It must be asserted that a social reform should be done in consonance with social thinking, behaviour and after creation of a strong public opinion, as laws could only be effective when they are hacked by major section of the society. Moreover, law can only catalyze change in social behaviour, but the real change in society can be brought through the creation of new values and aspirations and willingness of the people to change their centuries old attitude. The massive task of social engineering cannot be achieved as long as the centuries old attitude and thinking remains deep rooted in the prevailing society. Apart, from this public awareness through education, media and through other means should be created;
political will and commitment combined with efficient administrative support are need to tackle the problem of dowry social legislations must be backed by the social awareness and must match the letter and spirit of law. As it is rightly said by Pluto,
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