The dowry system, like other societal ills such as child marriage, sati-pratha,
and the pardah system, needs to be eradicated from society. In India, women are
compelled to marry not only because they are forced, but also because their
parents are forced to pay the price and suffer all of the expenses of the
marriage. Though marriage is regarded as a sacrament in India, we can observe
that now it is treated more like a transaction.
What Is Dowry?
When a marriage takes place in Indian subcontinent, the transfer of family
property, gifts, property, or money to the groom’s family is called dowry. In
societal terms, dowry refers to all of the expensive, valuable items provided by
the bride's family to the groom's family. The dowry has rooted its origin since
ancient times. Dowry is an old custom with no records of when or where it began.
Dowry was practised in ancient Babylon, ancient Greece, the Roman era, and
practically every corner of the world throughout history. It is, however, still
widely practised throughout South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
However, the dowry customs of the past and present are vastly different.
Ill-Effects Of Dowry
The dowry was supposed to be a gift, but the tables have turned and the dowry is
now a demand and the demands for dowry are steadily increasing, making marriage
more like a business-transaction.
Dowry has resulted in an increase in harassment and murder cases; it places an
economic burden on the bride's family; it has also contributed to an increase in
child marriage, which has not yet been totally eradicated; and above all, it
diminishes the status of women in society. On a daily basis, India sees
approximately 20 dowry fatalities. Dowry deaths refer to a bride's suicide or
murder perpetrated by her husband and his family shortly after the wedding
because they were unhappy with the dowry. It usually comes after a string of
previous domestic abuse from the husband's family. The majority of dowry
fatalities occur when a young woman commits suicide because she can no longer
tolerate the harassment and torment. Inheritance of the women is socially
imparted to her as dowry in marriage leading to financial dependence on the
husband or the in-laws. This economic handicap has hindered progress towards
equality among men and women the most.
In 2019, the country reported more than 7.1 thousand cases of fatalities due
to dowry which was a gradual decrease from 2014.
In 2020, the situation appeared to improve, but only to the point of
deterioration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of cases of domestic
violence recorded was at an all-time high. Between March 25 and May 31, women
reported 1477 incidences of domestic violence against their spouses or family
members. The worst thing is that 86 percent of women do not seek help and 77
percent do not even tell anybody about the occurrence.
The Dowry Prohibition Act
, was passed in 1961 to avoid these harassments and
fatalities which made the giving and taking of dowry illegal. In 1983, two
provisions – section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and section 198A of the
Criminal Procedure Code – were added to the Indian criminal code to reinforce
the anti-dowry law and to prevent cruelty by the husband or his family towards
the wife. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005
provides an extra layer of protection against dowry harassers. But these laws
have been least effective so far to curb the dowry crimes.
The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961
The act defines dowry as any property or valuable security 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 the parents of either party to a marriage or by any
other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person; at or
before [or any time after the marriage] [in connection with the marriage of the
said parties, but does not include] dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom
the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
According to the act, 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 fine
which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value
of such dowry, whichever is more.
The Protection Of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005
Section 3  of the act defines domestic violence as any mental, physical, or
sexual abuse or any economic distress caused to her, or any threat to cause such
abuse. The act is passed primarily to protect the wife or female live-in
partners. Sisters, widows, and mothers are also covered by the law. This law
also covers harassment in the form of dowry demands. The court can also issue
protective orders, which prohibit the abuser from harassing the woman at work.
The violation of any protective order is a non-bailable offence.
Other Criminal Provisions
The Indian Penal Code, 1860, was amended to include Section 304B, which made
dowry death a specified offence punishable by a minimum term of 7 years in jail
and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Section 498A IPC was also included
specifically in 1983 to protect women from cruelty and harassment. When it is
demonstrated that the woman was subjected to cruelty because of dowry demand
before her death, section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 imposes an additional
presumption of dowry death. Many people who were not caught by the Dowry
Prohibition Act of 1961 have been convicted attributable to Section 304B IPC and
Section 113B of the Evidence Act.
Though there are several statutes and rules in place to prevent crimes against
women, the sheer existence of such tough and strict acts and laws will not be
successful unless they are implemented and enforced. Dowry is becoming more
widely accepted in society. Despite efforts to strengthen the law by
inserting/substituting certain provisions, such as the 1984 and 1986 amendments,
dowry continues to climb constantly. Despite the fact that the laws give vast
powers, neither the police nor the courts are capable of implementing them. It
can take up to ten years for a case to reach court, and even once there,
husbands and in-laws often get away with extortion or murder because the women
and their families are unable to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that they were
the victims of such crimes because there are rarely any outside witnesses.
"Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his
education and his country and dishonours womanhood" as quoted by Mahatma Gandhi.
These laws have been widely criticised, yet citizens, particularly those who
have been victims of such crimes, are unwilling to follow the rules and stand up
to the offenders. The Indian judiciary gives citizens ample power to stand up to
these crimes against women and struggle until justice is served. If every
bride's father refused to provide dowry and every groom's father refused to take
dowry, there would be no dowry violence, harassment, or deaths in the country.
- National Crime Records Bureau Reports, 2020
- The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, Bare Act
- The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, Bare Act