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Dowry Is It A Custom Or Crime?

A dowry is a payment, such as property or money, paid by the bride's family to the groom or his family at the time of marriage. Dowry contrasts with the related concepts of bride price and dower. While bride price or bride service is a payment by the groom, or his family, to the bride, or her family, dowry is the wealth transferred from the bride, or her family, to the groom, or his family.

Similarly, dower is the property settled on the bride herself, by the groom at the time of marriage, and which remains under her ownership and control. The dowry system in India refers to the durable goods, cash, and real or movable property that the bride's family gives to the groom, his parents and his relatives as a condition of the marriage.

Dowry is an ancient custom that is already mentioned in some of the earliest writings, and its existence may well predate records of it. Dowries continue to be expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal in some parts of the world, mainly in parts of Asia, Northern Africa and the Balkans.

In certain Asian countries, disputes related to dowry sometimes result in acts of violence against women, including killings and acid attacks. The custom of dowry is most common in cultures that are strongly patrilineal and that expect women to reside with or near their husband's family (patrilocality). Dowries have long histories in Europe, South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.

History Of Dowry-Dowry system started even before the British period. In those days, society does not use to consider dowry as a "Money" or "Fee" you have to pay to be bride's parents. The idea behind the dowry system was, to make sure the bride will be financially stable after getting married.

The intentions were very clear. Bride's parents used to give money, land, assets to the bride as a "Gift" to make sure their daughter will be happy and independent after marriage .But when British rule came into the picture, they restricted women to own any property. Women were not allowed to buy any property, land or assets. Hence, men started owning all the "Gifts" given to the bride by her parents.

This rule changed pure dowry system into a mess! Now parents of the bride were looking at their bride as a source of income. Parents started hating their daughters and wanted only sons. They started demanding money as a dowry. Women were suppressed since they did not have equal rights as men. And since then, groom's parents follow this rule to their advantage.

Why the Dowry System Should be Stopped?
The new dowry system is creating problems in society. Poor parents do not get any groom who will marry their daughter without taking dowry. They have to take "Marriage Loans" to get their daughter married.

Dowry is becoming a nightmare for Women. The cases of infanticide are increasing. Poor parents do not have any other option. They cannot afford to have a girl child, and hence they are intentionally killing infant girl. More than 8000 women are killed because of Dowry!

It is very clear that Dowry is creating violence. Groom's parents are misusing this pure tradition. And they are not aware that they are misusing it, because they are not educated about the traditional dowry system. Everyone is just following the new dowry system blindly.

Dowry is complete injustice with women and does not give women equal status in society. Because of dowry men will always be superior to women. This is creating a mess and negative environment in society.

Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, taking or giving dowry is a crime and illegal. If you see someone taking or giving dowry then you can lodge a complaint against them. Dowry system is good unless and until it is considered as a gift given to the bride by her parents. If the groom's parents are demanding money to get married as a "Dowry" then that is completely wrong and illegal.

Dowry Death Cases: No matter how many degrees a woman earns, her worth will always be determined by success at marriage. More often than not a woman will be weighed against tonnes of gold, cash and other material things she brings along with her in dowry. India sees over 20 dowry deaths a day. And those statistics are only for the ones that are reported. Dowry in India takes away the rights of women to live, speak up, have a home, own a life.

Here are ten times when women were let down by the society as wives, as women and as human beings because of dowry demands. Here are 20 times when women were let down by the society as wife, as women, as daughter and as human being for a Dowry demand.

Dowry Cases

  1. The Adithyan Case:
    Recently, the Kerala High Court directed well known television serial actor Jayan S, also known as Adithyan, to surrender to the police in connection with a case lodged against him for dowry harassment, criminal intimidation and uttering obscene words in a public place by his estranged wife.

    In her complaint, Devi alleged that he had misappropriated her gold ornaments of about 100 sovereigns and funds amounting to Rs. 10 lakhs in her account and, also subjected her to severe physical and mental cruelty threatening her with dire consequences. Thus, the menace of dowry is practiced so directly and discreetly in the society that it cuts across all classes and castes.
  2. Three Girls Below 25 Killed for Dowry:
    In another incident, in Kerala, the suspicious deaths of three women below the age of 25 left the nation shocked. One would wonder how so many such cases get reported in a state like Kerala that has repeatedly emphasised on the importance of investing in public education and set the paradigm for progressive gender-reform movements since so many years. But unfortunately, this is also a state obsessed with extravagant weddings and vulgar show off of gold.
  3. Ayesha Banu Case:
    In February 2021, Ayesha Banu, a 24-year-old woman from Ahmedabad, recorded a video of herself speaking about the harassment she was facing for dowry from her husband before she jumped into the Sabarmati river and committed suicide.
  4. Kanchan Devi Case:
    In 2020 again, Patna Police arrested three persons, including two women, for allegedly abusing a woman for dowry, which forced her to die by suicide. Kanchan Devi hanged herself from the ceiling fan with her scarf inside her rented accommodation where she used to stay with her in-laws.

    Kanchan's father Dinanath Singh lodged an FIR against her husband Sanjeev and 15 other family members, including his parents, alleging that they used to torture her for dowry. Though he did not mention any amount but accused Kanchan's husband and in-laws of torturing her for a car as dowry. So, a car mattered more than a woman's life. Wow, this is the shameless society we live in.
  5. Girl starved to Death:
    In 2019, a 27-year-old woman from Kerala was reportedly starved to death by her in-laws who admitted to having fed her only rice and sugar soaked in water. The girl's family alleged that this was because their dowry demand of 2 lakh rupees was not met by them. Therefore, despite bearing two children her agony continued unabated. She was confined in the house which had tin barriers all around to prevent the neighbours from getting wind of what was happening inside.

    According to the police, the woman was denied food for three weeks straight. The post mortem report revealed that, the woman was reduced to a bag of bones and weighed a mere 20 kgs at the time of her death. How low can we stoop as a society? What a sheer disgrace!
  6. Manjula Devak IIT Case:
    In 2017, a 27-year-old, PhD scholar, reportedly committed suicide in her hostel room in IIT Delhi. Her parents accused her in-laws of harassing their daughter, Manjula Devak, for pursuing her studies. According to victim's father, Manoj Kumar Devak, her husband demanded 20-25 lakhs dowry.

    He told Hindustan Times:
    "It was a mistake to educate my daughter and send her to IIT. I should have saved all the money for her dowry".

    In another statement to The Hindu, Mr. Devak said that his daughter had tried to end her life in 2015 also by slitting her wrists but she didn't succumb to death back then and the matter was not escalated. So, most people "let" their daughter study but the ultimate aim is always, just getting her married (and then getting her murdered for money).

A casual search on the internet will show such countless horrifying cases. Though dowry was made illegal decades ago, the crime is still rarely reported even today. In fact, it's not a crime, it's a custom according to our very own society. Dowry deaths constituted 40-50 percent homicides in the country for almost a decade from 1999 to 2018. In 2019 alone, 7115 dowry death cases were registered under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.

Dowry Prohibition Act- Indian law, enacted on May 1, 1961, intended to prevent the giving or receiving of a dowry. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry includes property, goods, or money given by either party to the marriage, by the parents of either party, or by anyone else in connection with the marriage.

The Dowry Prohibition Act applies to persons of all religions in India. The original text of the Dowry Prohibition Act was widely judged to be ineffective in curbing the practice of dowry. Moreover, specific forms of violence against women continued to be linked to a failure to meet dowry demands. As a result, the legislation underwent subsequent amendment. In 1984, for example, it was changed to specify that presents given to a bride or a groom at the time of a wedding are allowed.

The law required, however, that a list be maintained describing each gift, its value, the identity of the person giving it, and the person's relation to either party to the marriage. The act and relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code were further amended to protect female victims of dowry-related violence. Another layer of legal protection was provided in 2005 under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

India [1961]
Amendments to the original Dowry Prohibition Act also established minimum and maximum punishments for giving and receiving dowry and created a penalty for demanding dowry or advertising offers of money or property in connection with a marriage. The Indian Penal Code was also modified in 1983 to establish specific crimes of dowry-related cruelty, dowry death, and abetment of suicide.

These enactments punished violence against women by their husbands or their relatives when proof of dowry demands or dowry harassment could be shown.

Despite the revisions, however, the practice of dowry and dowry-related violence still occurs in varying degrees within several communities and socioeconomic groups of India. Perpetrators of domestic violence come from all socioeconomic, cultural, and educational backgrounds. The stresses of poverty and the abuse of such substances as alcohol and drugs contribute to the problem.

Frequently there is no workable solution for female victims of domestic violence. For some victims the unrelenting cycle of violence produces diminished self-esteem helplessness, depression, and exaggerated feelings of imprisonment, even the belief that they deserve abuse. More material obstacles stand in the way of most victims.

Many are financially dependent on their abusers, and, since many abuse victims are mothers, they particularly fear being unable to support their children if they leave a violent partner. Many fears reporting the crime because the police can offer no reliable protection against retaliation. One of the worst problems is that typical abusers often become most violent and vengeful precisely when women try to leave; numbers of women have been murdered by male partners when they tried to press charges or win orders of protection.

However, the Supreme Court in a recent judgment indicated that a restrained and literal interpretation of this penal provision on dowry death may have blunted the battle against this "long-standing social evil".

The judgment declared by a three-judge Bench led by CJI N.V. Ramana proclaimed dowry harassment a "pestiferous" crime in which women are subjected to severe cruelty by "covetous" husbands and in-laws. But the language used in Section 304-B has always perplexed courts. Courts have often opted for a strict and narrow interpretation of the provision, which was one of the many legal initiatives introduced against dowry in India. And this needs to change now.

Solution For Dowry System

  1. Social Awareness:

    Creating a widespread awareness against the evils of the dowry system is key first step towards eradicating the practice. Campaigns should be designed to reach the deepest strata of the society and aim to spread knowledge about the legal provisions against dowry.
  2. Law:

    Several laws have been enacted to prohibit the practice of dowry and the injustice against women stemming from it. The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed on 20th May, 1961 with an aim to eradicate the evil practice from the society. The act declares not only the practice of accepting dowry unlawful, but also penalizes giving of the same. It includes property, valuable security like cash and jewellery exchanging hand during the marriage.

    Making demands of dowry is punishable by a minimum imprisonment of 5 years and a minimum fine of 15,000 rupees. Incidences of cruelty by the husband or his family against the wife have been addressed in the Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 198A in the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 113A added in the Indian Evidence Act further provides the family of the bride to charge the husband's family of abetting suicide of their daughter within 7 years from the date of marriage.
  3. Enforcement:

    It is never enough to just introduce acts and amend sections to fight against a social evil. This requires strict and ruthless enforcement of such laws. That aspect still leaves a lot to be desired. Although such allegations are taken very seriously by the authorities, lack of proper investigative procedures often leads to the accused going free. The government needs to ensure a zero-tolerance policy for such offenders and ensure enforcement of the law through systemic changes.
  4. Education and self-dependence of women:

    Education is not just required to find your vocation in life, it is essential to gain eyes and ears to a world beyond the one you can immediately see. It is important or all of us to emphasize on educating the girls in order to fight widespread social evils like dowry. Knowledge of their rights will enable them to speak up against practice of dowry and ongoing marginalization. They will also be able to strive for self-dependence and not view marriage as their only salvation.
  5. Overhaul of mindsets:

    India as a country requires major overhaul of its existing mindsets in order to push back against the iniquitous custom of dowry. They need to realize the fact that in today's society women are perfectly capable of doing anything that men can. Women themselves need to come out of the belief that they are inferior to men and they need to depend on men to provide for them.

Dowry system is a good unless and until it is considered as a gift given to the bride by her parents. If the groom's parents are demanding money to get married as a "Dowry" then that is completely wrong and illegal. Moreover, dowry has been labelled and criticized as a "problem" as it served to empowered men and disempower women in relative to one another.

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Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Harshni Slathia

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