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Dowry's Legacy: A Look at Contemporary Developments

Dowry Death is one of India's most heinous or horrible concerns. Dowry is an all-Indian phenomenon. Every day in India, fifteen women are murdered by their newly married husbands or relatives of the husband for failing to bring a sufficient dowry to the marriage.

Although India has many positive laws and acts that have been enacted and incorporated into the country's legal system, in addition to this campaigns and awareness programs are launched by the government and non-government organizations against dowry deaths and the dowry system in India, the incidents of dowry deaths continue to occur in increasing numbers because there are still certain unresolved concerns that prevent the country from moving forward.

There is the Dowry Prohibition Act, of 1961 which states that:
"taking dowry is itself a crime and prohibited" and along with this more stringent laws were made namely, Section 304 B (dowry death) and Section 498 A (cruelty by husband or his relatives) have been incorporated into the Indian Penal Code (I.P.C.) and section 113 B (presumption as to dowry death) has been integrated in the Indian Evidence Act (I.E.A.) in order to eradicate or at-least lower down this gruesome act of dowry system and related deaths.

Secondary research has been endured which aims to scrutinize the history and main causes of the dowry system, legal provisions adopted by the Indian Legal System to address the issue, and the contemporary developments in this field.

The Dowry System in India is connected with the establishment of marriage. Dowry is a property or other significant security that one party gives or agrees to give to another party during the marriage. In India, the party who agrees to give dowry is mainly the parents of a girl the party to whom the dowry is given is the groom's family.

Traditionally, dowry consisted of gifts, usually jewelry, given to the bride at the time of her marriage, and the dowry system actually originated to benefit the married woman. But today dowry is negotiated and refers to wealth that the bride's family needs to pay to the groom and his family and it leads to menace such as dowry death.

The hone which was once considered as an adoring motion to tie two souls and their particular families beside adore, care, and back has now ended up a ghastly, alarming, and horrendous bad dream for the total nation and is presently enrolled in one of the major and troubling savagery confronted by the ladies of the nation.

Dowry death in India refers to the death of a woman as a result of harassment or brutality by her husband or his family in connection with dowry demands. Dowry is a historic practice in which the bride's family sends gifts, products, or money to the groom and his family in exchange for the marriage.

Dowry killings occur when dowry demands are not satisfied, and the lady is subjected to different sorts of harassment, abuse, and assault, which frequently leads to her death. These fatalities can take several forms, such as suicides, murders disguised as accidents, or deaths caused by violent domestic abuse.

The research paper aims to provide a comprehensive study on dowry death which includes a definition of dowry, its history, and the origin of dowry in India. It focuses on the causes that lead to dowry death. It further illustrates the current legislation to prevent dowry death and recent legal developments in this area.

Research Methodology
This paper is of descriptive nature and the research is based on secondary sources for the comprehensive analysis of dowry death and its recent legal advancement in India. Secondary sources of information like newspaper articles, journals, and websites are used for the research.

Review Of The Literature
"Dowry deaths are more than just tragic incidents, they are evident reminders of the profound injustice, inequality, and brutality faced by women in society."

The Dowry system which emerged to serve a bona fide purpose to aid the daughter in her marital home took an ugly turn after the rise of the colonial period, the British Raj made it compulsory for the bride's family to provide the dowry to the groom's family in order to marry, this became a mandatory custom as if you are giving "a price" for the bride.

The women in the society have suffered various sorts of discrimination, ill-treatment, and violence and dowry is one such factor that gives rise to such evil. Demand for dowry creates pressure in the minds of the bride's parents which gives rise to the gruesome activity of female infanticide, in order to avoid the burden of dowry, people do not want to have a girl child in the first place. Since birth, females have been discriminated against, parents do not provide them with education and they are expected to perform all the household chores.

When the bride is unable to bring a sufficient amount of dowry to her in-law's house, she is forced to bring materialistic resources from her father's house, and in failure to fulfill the greed and lust for dowry, the bride suffers dowry harassment physically and emotionally.

There is a requirement in Indian legislation to make broader and more comprehensive laws to cover different kinds of cruelty that women face due to dowry, efforts need to be made to remove this primitive practice which serves nothing but an awful purpose.

Dowry And Dowry Death
Dowry is a practice, custom, and tradition of giving away valuables, wealth, and property to the bride on behalf of her family to her spouse and in-laws as a thought or security for a fruitful marriage hailed fundamentally from the medieval period where the bride was constrained to bring endowment at the side themselves as a compulsion and unbending presupposition. Dowry basically is nothing but a pass on of parental property, money, and valuables to the groom's family at the time of marriage which is considered as security and thought for marriage.

There are a few legally recognized definitions of dowry aiming to give the concept a clearer perspective such as:
  • [2]Webster's New Dictionary:
    The money, goods, or estate which a woman brings to her husband in marriage; a bride's portion on her marriage.
    A natural talent, gift, or endowment: as poetry was her dowry; and
    A gift of money or property by a man to or for his bride.
  • Wharton's Law Lexicon:
    Dowry or dote (dos mulieris) otherwise called maritagium or marriage goods [are] that which the wife brings to the husband in marriage. "Dowry or dote(dos mulieris) was in ancient times applied to that which the wife bring to her husband in marriage otherwise called maritagium or marriage goods, but these were termed as mere property good given marriage and marriage portion"
  • Cambridge Dictionary: Dowry is a property that a woman brings to her husband.

Origin And Growth Of Dowry
The practice of dowry contains a long history and its beginnings can be followed back to antiquated times. Whereas the precise beginnings are not clear, dowry is accepted to have risen in different social orders for distinctive reasons. Earlier, dowry was seen as a frame of financial security for ladies. It was planning to supply a woman with a share of her family's riches as she transitioned into her conjugal domestic.

In numerous social orders, women did not have free financial rights or legacy rights, and dowry was a way to ensure their monetary well-being within the occasion of widowhood, separate, or other unanticipated circumstances.

In, 1973, Lord Cornwallis empowered the privatization of land which was obscure in India. During this time British totally precluded women from owning any land or any kind of property. this was the time when parents gave money to the bride during the marriage, and that money is a thing, as England prohibited women from owning property of any kind, the money that she received from her parents was now abused by her spouse. And here the concept of dowry has been turned around and treated as the price of nuptials, meaning that at the time of marriage, the bride must bring the wealth desired by her in-laws as part of the marriage.

Various crimes such as murder, psychological abuse, and suicide were committed when the bride did not bring the desired wealth. The groom's family put pressure on the woman to covet. this led to the concept of "Dowry Death."

Section 304B of IPC defines Dowry Death as:
  1. 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 har�assment 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 be deemed to have caused her death. Explanation - For the purpose of this sub-section, "dowry" shall have the same meaning as in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).
  2. Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprison�ment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.
According to the data shared by Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra in Rajya Sabha, a total of 35,493 dowry deaths were reported in the country between 2017 and 2021. By falling flat to successfully prevent dowry deaths, India as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),' violates the "right to life" as expressed in Article 6(1) and protected by Article 2.[4]

Law And Dowry
The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, prohibits the practice of accepting and giving dowry and if found guilty shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months, or with a fine which may extend to five thousand rupees, or with both. The police have the power to arrest perforators for domestic violence under Section 498 of CrPC.

Section 304 B(2) defines the punishment for such an act according to which "whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprison�ment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life".

The entire Dowry Prohibition Act, of 1961 is prepared, equipped, and created in order to provide relief to the victims of dowry cases in the country. the whole act solely fulfills the purpose to protect women suffering from the harassment and cruelty of dowry.

It contains a total of 10 sections of which the following are the heading of each section:
Section 1 - Short title, extent, and commencement
Section 2 - Definition of "dowry"
Section 3 - Penalty for giving or taking dowry
Section 4 - Penalty for demanding dowry
Section 4A - Ban on advertisement
Section 5 - Agreement for giving or taking dowry to be void
Section 6 - Dowry to be for the benefit of the wife or her heirs
Section 7 - Cognizance of offense
Section 8 - Offences to be cognizable for certain purposes and to be non-bailable and non-compoundable
Section 8A - Burden of proof in certain cases
Section 8B - Dowry Prohibition Officers
Section 9 - Power to make rules
Section 10 - Power of State Government to make rules
It is quite evident that this Act is drafted, to protect the interest of all areas of society and law in order to protect and lift the status of dowry victims which may be leading them to death suicide, harassment, or cruelty.

Related Cases
  • Sabitri Debi and others v. Sarat Chandra Rout and others
  • Premananda Sahoo v. State of Orissa
  • Suresh Kumar Singh v. State of U.P.
  • Section 304 - B of the Indian Penal Code deals with Dowry Death:
    1. 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 har�assment 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 be deemed to have caused her death. Explanation.�For the purpose of this sub-section, "dowry" shall have the same meaning as in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).
    2. Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprison�ment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life[5]

Ingredients of Section 304B of IPC are as follows:
  • When the death of the woman is caused under abnormal and suspicious circumstances caused by burns or any other bodily injuries.
  • Within 7 years of the marriage.
  • The death is caused in relation to the demand for dowry.
  • The expression of "soon before her death".
  • It is a cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable offense.

Related Cases:
  • Satvir Singh and others v State of Punjab and another
  • Raja Lal Singh v. State of Jharkhand
  • Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab

Section 498A of The Indian Penal Code

Husband or relative of 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 be pun�ished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

For the purpose of this section, "cruelty" means:
  1. 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
  2. harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing 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.

Ingredients of Section 498A of IPC are as follows:

Conditions for Domestic Violence Offense:

  • The woman should be a married woman.
  • The married woman should be the subject of cruelty or harassment.
  • The harassment or cruelty should be done by husband or by husband's relatives.
  • There should be a Mens Rea on the part of the husband or husband's relatives.
  • It is a Cognizable, Non-bailable, Non-compoundable offense.

Related Cases:
Balwant Singh and others v. State of Himachal Pradesh
Pawan Kumar and others v. State of Haryana

Section 113 - B of the Indian Evidence Act deals with Presumption as to dowry death.�When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death. Explanation.�For the purposes of this section, "dowry death" shall have the same meaning as in section 304B, of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Related Cases:
  • Sham Lal v. State of Haryana
  • Harjit Singh v. State of Punjab
  • Kamesh Panjiyar alias Kamlesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar [6]

[7]Contemporary Developments
Recently, the Supreme Court of India noted that - "Mere death of the deceased being unnatural in the matrimonial home within seven years of marriage will not be sufficient to convict the accused under Section 304B and 498A IPC."

The cruelty or harassment towards the married woman has to be soon before the death and it should not be any event that happened in the past.

In a case dating back to 1995 - Charanjit Singh v. State of Uttarakhand, wherein the marriage was solemnized in 1993, and the deceased woman died 2 years after the marriage in 1995. During the tenure of 2 years, the deceased visited the parental home after 2 months of marriage and stated that the appellant was demanding a motorbike, however, she was sent back and from that point, she once more came and informed that apart from a motorbike, land is also demanded.

However, it can not be concluded from the statement that demand was made right before the death and the incident was quite old. He also conceded that at the time of the funeral, his mother-in-law and two brothers-in-law were present, however, they were debilitated to not file the complaint. Even other relatives who used to live close to the house of the deceased did not share any detail of cruelty or harassment.

A bench comprising Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice AS Oka set aside the conviction and sentence of the appellant u/n Sections 304B, 498A, and 201 of IPC which were imposed by the Trial Court and upheld by the Uttarakhand High Court.

The court decided that the husband's conviction for dowry death under Sections 304B and 498A of the Penal Code for harassment or cruelty to the wife should be made in connection with the husband's illegal dowry claim, and the wife's death must be reasonably related to such illegal demand of dowry and harassment of the wife. In the case mentioned above, the court considered that since there was nothing in the testimony of the witnesses that such a claim for the motorcycle or the land was presented immediately before the death, therefore conviction under Sections 304B and 498A of The Indian Penal Code relating to dowry death cannot be sustained.

Suggestions And Conclusions[8]
Demand for dowry before marriage is quite common in India. Dowry has its roots in medieval times when a gift in the form of cash or kind was given to a bride by her family to maintain her independence after marriage, earlier there were no provisions for the inheritance of property by the daughter, giving dowry was one such means to provide resources to daughters. But in the British period, it became the only legal way to get married, with the British making the practice of dowry mandatory.

Although various attempts have been made by different governmental and non-governmental organizations to curtail this, even statutory laws have been made to prevent dowry and punish the evil doer, this practice still continues to harm society. This is particularly because the current legal system has failed to reduce dowry-related violence. Therefore, authorities need to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to avert the wrongdoer and tackle social evil.

It cannot be done in a day to introduce a law and eradicate this problem, persistent and collective effort can serve the purpose. Apart from legislative measures, societal measures must be implemented to combat the menace of dowry death like educating women about their rights, providing them economic independence, and creating propaganda against dowry practice via television, magazines, newspapers, and movies must be made to create awareness about this social issue.

The existing mindsets of the Indians need to be changed to push back primitive customs such as accepting dowry. It is the youth of this country who can put forward novel ideas and stop following such regressive practices.

the recent judgment of the supreme court held that "[9]mere unnatural death of the wife within seven years of the marriage is not sufficient to convict the husband of dowry, in order to be convicted for dowry death, it must be proved that deceased was abused immediately before her death and not in the past."

Legislators must provide in the law so that it is possible to prevent the abuse of the law and also ensure the mental and physical health of the married woman.

  1. Manupatra. Manupatra, Articles. Available at: "THE-PERNICIOUS-SYSTEM-OF-DOWRY-A-SOCIAL-DISGRACE" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  2. Dowry definition & meaning (no date) Merriam-Webster. Available at: "dowry" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  3. Dowry (no date) Cambridge Dictionary. Available at: "dowry" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  4. Sahodar (2023) Dowry and its origins, Sahodar. Available at: "dowry-and-its-origins" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  5. Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code. Available at: "doc/538436" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  6. Section 304B in the Indian Penal Code. Available at: "doc/653797" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  7. Section 113B in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 - Indian kanoon. Available at: "doc/1906" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  8. Rajagopal, K. (2021a) Dowry deaths: Supreme Court widens scope of Section 304-B, The Hindu. Available at: "article34670458.ece" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  9. How to prevent dowry in India? (2015) Your Article Library. Available at: "47643" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
  10. Bhardwaj, P. et al. (2023) Woman's unnatural death in matrimonial home, within 7 years of marriage, not sufficient to convict husband/in-laws for dowry death: Supreme court, SCC Blog. Available at: "blog/post/2023/04/26/woman-unnatural-death-in-matrimonial-home-not-sufficient-to-convict-husband-in-laws-under-section-498a-ipc-dowry-death-cruetly-soon-before-death-supreme-court-uttaranchal-high-court-legal-research-new" (Accessed: 16 June 2023).
Written By: Priyanshi Jain,  Institute Of Law, Nirma University

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