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DOWRY SYSTEM: PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

INTRODUCTION

Marriage is a sacred constituent and deep-rooted culture that exists since the inception of human life. It is accompanied by an iniquitous social custom called ‘Dowry’ that may even take the lives of the young married woman who entered their in-law’s house with buoyant assumptions. But it turns out to be a graveyard for not fulfilling the economic impulses of the bridegroom family. The intensity of the dowry death cannot be realized by the layman until he tastes the sourness of it. The term dowry, so-called ‘dahez’ can be defined in a general sense as the durable goods, cash, or the movable property given to the groom’s family by the bride’s family. Section 2[1] of  The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 (hereinafter referred to as a DPA 1961) defined Dowry as any property or the valuable security given or agreed to given implicitly or explicitly by one party or parents of that party to the other one at or before or any time of the marriage. It includes the things that have inextricable nexus with the marriage. It shouldn’t be befuddled with the customary practice of Streedhana as it was the exclusive property of women that passes from the mother to daughter, and by her in-laws given at the time of her marriage as a form of gifts, jewellery, property, and so on. Mahatma Gandhi quoted that demanding dowry implies discrediting the education he received, dishonoring his country and womanhood[2].

Some scholars thought that its origin traces to the patriarchal belief that the woman is treated as a liability and the groom has to be compensated for marrying her[3].  And Some others secured the opinion that the dowry system has its roots in the medieval period when the daughters don’t get a share in the inheritance of parental property. To secure the above same and her independence,  it was given in the form of a dowry after her marriage[4]. If we conform to the above principle of inheritance of parental property it contrasts with the present scenario as daughters can also inherit the parental property in the legal regime.  However, nothing takes a clear stance in the case of its origin. It poses a great financial burden and emotional abuse to the bride’s family as they may be impotent to meet the requisites demanded by the groom’s family as a form of dowry. Indian law has enacted some legislation to prohibit the dowry system and its related crimes.  Nonetheless, there are some nuances in the law and the intellect of the society which impede the effective mechanism of the law. Some of the legislation and its provisions can be demonstrated as follows.

DOWRY AND ITS RELATED PROVISIONS

Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 prohibits the dowry system and stipulates the punishment for giving and taking the dowry. It shall be punished with imprisonment for a term and also liable to a fine which shall not be less than 15000 rupees or as provided by the court. And demanding the dowry shall be punished with imprisonment that shall not be less than 6 months that may extend to 2 years and shall also be liable for a fine of 10000[5]. It imposes a ban on advertisements in any form which promotes the dowry system. The agreements based on this dowry system are void. The state government may appoint officers to prohibit the dowry system and may specify the jurisdiction and powers for the same. It furnishes the condition that the dowry should be in benefit of the wife and her heirs otherwise they would face the intricacies associated with the law for the same under section 406[6] of the IPC, which deals with the criminal breach of trust.

Section 304B[7] of the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter referred to as IPC) penalizes the dowry death, where the young married woman died of burns and wounds within the7 years of her marriage and her death was in connection with the demand for dowry and subjected to the cruelty by the husband or his relatives soon before her death shall be presumed as dowry death and shall be punished with the imprisonment not less than the 7 years that may be extended to the life imprisonment. The presumption of the same was given under section 113B[8] of the Evidence Act 1872. Section 498A[9] of IPC specifies that dowry harassment. This provision was grossly abused by the false lodging of cases against innocent husbands. So the supreme court mandates the magistrate’s approval to file a suit under Section 498A of the IPC[10].

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE DOWRY SYSTEM IN INDIA

Even though India has enacted anti-dowry laws they were criticized for being unproductive and for its undeterred practice of dowry. There were some Mahila organizations like ‘The Progressive Organization of Hyderabad’, ‘Stree Sangarsh’, and  ‘ Mahila Dakshita Samity’ to protest against dowry harassment, dowry deaths, cruelty by husbands, and women-related crimes[11]. Between 2017-2021, 35493 cases were reported as dowry deaths[12].  The effectiveness of combating the dowry system was impeded by the existence of nuances in the law and the disinterest among the people to detach from this customary practice. The law will be effective only if people perceive interest in the subject matter of that law otherwise it could be in vain. DPA 1961 stipulates the punishment for giving and taking the dowry on demand. It implicitly permits the dowry in the name of ‘voluntary gifts’ by the bride’s family to the groom, provided that they should make a list of the gift items for the same. Albeit, this voluntary gift should not exceed the income status of the giver.[13] As we all know only some percent of Indians reveal their income status and others were afraid to sign the list of voluntary gifts given by them, the same case falls with the groom’s side. Nevertheless, the parents of the bride themselves give the dowry in the form of the ‘gift of love’ voluntarily, but when the marriage turns into a sour pickle they invoke the provisions of anti-dowry laws and marked the groom’s family as dowry extortionists. This is a clear abuse of the dowry law. Sometimes these voluntary gifts by the bride’s family don’t satisfy the economic impulses of the groom’s family and lead to the loss of their dear daughter.

The statutes regarding these are too vague and can be said to be the simple hangover of traditional values. The offences of this dowry can be in the form of cruelty, dowry death, abetment to suicide by emotional trauma, or domestic violence. The young bride is supposed to face this type of trauma when she is having buoyant assumptions about her married life. When they grumble about their problems they were expected to be silent, compromise, or submissive. They just don’t want to get defame their family status and they just avoid the probability of divorce. The parents are sheerly ignoring the alarming signs of the emotional trauma which could lead to the dowry death. As they were many under-reported cases of dowry deaths and even so, there is no speedy disposal of cases. Sometimes it consumes time up to 10 to 12 years in want of evidence for the disposition of cases[14]. The clear stance on gender inequality in society, and some nuances in the law itself impede the law to be effective. The presence of voluntary gifts as a form of dowry and people’s disinterest in the anti-dowry laws could be the main causes for which the dowry system hasn’t been completely eradicated from India yet.  Sometimes these draconian laws get abused by the women when they don’t adjust themselves in the in-law’s house, and to extort money from their husbands by blackmailing them and when they have extramarital affairs. So a unique law is needed to harmonize all these aspects.

CONCLUSION

The dowry system is a social evil as it plagued society. The bride’s family bears the humongous cost which is unable for them to satisfy the bridegroom’s family. The seriousness of this dowry system will get to know when one of the victims of this dowry is from our blood. There should be a proper implementation of the law and it’s better to make amendments in the concerned law to improve the efficiency of the law and to detach the loopholes that exist in there. There should be resistance in the society itself for either not giving or accepting the dowry. The sons and daughters should equally get educated on the anti-dowry principles. The girl’s parents should invest the money for the education of the girl child rather than saving money for a dowry. The girl child should be educated to be confident, and independent. The parents should not ignore the red flags of harassment and demand more money. It is advised to conduct anti-dowry campaigns to aware people of the caprices of dowry.  Otherwise, all these efforts will be a fiasco.

Author(s) Name: Jagatha Sivani (Andhra University)

References:

[1] Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, s 2

[2] Surbhi Chaudhary, ‘Dowry and Dowry death’ (Times of India, 15 April 2022) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/politiclaw/dowry-and-dowry-death-42574/ >accessed 23 May 2023

[3] Swagata Sen, ‘Dowry Killing: Why Does It Happen & How Can We Prevent It?’ (Rights of Equality, 19 January 2019) <https://www.rightsofequality.com/dowry-killing-why-does-it-happen-and-how-can-we-prevent-it/ >accessed 23 May 2023

[4] Monika Soni, ‘Dowry and Dowry Death’ (Legal Service India) <https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1245-dowry-and-dowry-death.html> accessed 23 May 2023

[5] Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, s 3 & 4

[6] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 406

[7] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 304B

[8] Indian Evidence Act 1872, s 113B

[9] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 498A

[10] Dhananjay Mahapatra, ‘No Arrest made under nati-dowry law without magistrates nod: SC’ (Times of India, 03 July 2014) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/No-arrests-under-anti-dowry-law-without-magistrates-nod-SC/articleshow/37661519.cms> accessed 24 May 2023

[11] Surbhi Chaudhary (n 2)

[12] ‘35493 Dowry Deaths Reported Between 2017-21, 20 Deaths Daily: Govt Data’ (Outlook India, 23 May 2023) < https://www.outlookindia.com/national/35-493-dowry-deaths-reported-between-2017-21-20-deaths-daily-govt-data-news-245030> accessed 23 May 2023

[13] Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, s 3

[14] Kishwar, ‘India’s New Abuse Laws still Miss The Mark’ (Hinduism Today, 18 May 2015) <https://web.archive.org/web/20150518085020/http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=4095> accessed 24 May 2023