In India, the dowry system has a long history that dates back centuries. It is a traditional practice in some cultures, including India, where the bride's family provides gifts, money, or property to the groom or his family at the time of marriage. While hearing the S. Gopal Reddy vs. the State of A.P. case, Justice Dr. AS Anand held that “The curse of dowry has been raising its ugly head every now and then but the evil has been flourishing beyond imaginable proportions. It was to curb this evil, that led the Parliament to enact The Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961.” According to Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, ‘dowry’ means “any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly (a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or (b) by the parent 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.”
It is given as a form of financial support as mentioned in Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act (Dowry to be for the benefit of the wife or her heirs) but can lead to social issues, exploitation, and gender-based violence. Some of the most common dowry crimes against Indian women include cruelty, abetment to suicide, domestic violence, dowry death, female foeticide, no education for girls, and fraud. According to Statista Research report on ‘reported dowry death cases in India from 2005 to 2021’ it has been observed that 6.8 thousand cases in India were reported regarding dowry death in 2021. The anxiously increasing number of dowry death cases has awakened the need for laws to prevent and prohibit them. This article provides a brief discussion of different laws related to Dowry in India and punishment as per the law for those who accept, demand, or give dowry.
There are several laws in India that aim to prohibit and combat the dowry system, which is a social issue prevalent in some parts of the country. Here are some key legislations related to dowry:
The Act was enacted on May 20, 1961, in order to ‘prohibit the giving or taking of dowry’. It is applicable to the whole world except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This is the primary legislation that makes the giving or taking or demanding of dowry, directly or indirectly, illegal. The act also penalizes anyone who abets or aids in the giving or taking of dowry. Section 3 of the Act illustrates the penalty for giving or taking dowry, it states “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...” Not only this, any individual who demands dowry is also punishable under the provisions of this Act. According to Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, “If any person, demands, directly or indirectly, from the parents or other relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom, as the case may be, any dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees…” This means that either of the parties demanding dowry is penalized.
Along with this, Section 4A of the Act penalizes the one who offers any property or money as consideration for the marriage of his son, daughter, or any other relative via advertisements. The one who does the same is punished with imprisonment not less than six months but which may extend to five years or a fine extending to 15,000 rupees. Any agreement related to the give or take of dowry is addressed as void as per Section 5 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. In addition to this, Section 7 of the Act defines ‘Cognizance of offences’ where “no Court inferior to that of a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the first class shall try any offence under this Act.” Also, the cognizance of an offence should be taken by the Court only when the report is mentioned by the victim, the parents, or any other relative of the victim. Moreover, the punishments mentioned in Sections 3 and 4 of the Act are made hasher with Section 8 of the Dowry Prohibition Act which makes the offence cognizable and non-bailable. As per Section 8A, “Where any person is prosecuted for taking or abetting the taking of any dowry under Section 3, or the demanding of dowry under Section 4, the burden of proving that he had not committed an offence under those sections shall be on him.”
The Indian Penal Code contains provisions that criminalize specific offenses associated with the dowry system, such as dowry death and cruelty to married women. Section 304B of the IPC deals with dowry death, which is the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage where it is shown that she was subjected to cruelty or harassment due to dowry. The one who commits dowry death “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.” On the other hand, Section 498A of the IPC addresses cruelty by the husband or his relatives, which includes both physical and mental abuse related to dowry. It states that “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.” This Section also elaborates on the meaning of cruelty as any wilful conduct that causes grave injury or danger to the life or health of a woman or harasses her by demanding dowries.
Although the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, primarily addresses domestic violence, it also recognizes dowry-related harassment as a form of abuse. It provides legal protection to women who are subjected to dowry harassment and empowers them to seek various reliefs, including protection orders, residence orders, and monetary relief.
Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act illustrates a presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman and Section 113B of the Act illustrates a presumption as to dowry death. According to Section 113A, “When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.” As per Section 113B, “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 had 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.”
The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is a procedural law in India that governs the administration of criminal justice. While the CrPC does not specifically define dowry, it does provide provisions to deal with offenses related to dowry. Under the CrPC, offenses such as dowry death (Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code) and cruelty by husband or relatives (Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code) are considered cognizable offenses. This means that the police have the authority to investigate and arrest the accused without a warrant. The criminal proceedings regarding the matter related to dowry are done under Sections 174 and 176 of the CrPC.
The laws related to the Dowry system are passed to prohibit the practice of dowry and to prevent a major cause of violence against women. However, these laws are misused by women as false complaints are filed against the husband and his family resulting in their imprisonment or arrest. The misuse of dowry laws can stem from various factors. In some cases, individuals may use dowry laws as a tool for revenge or to falsely implicate their spouses or in-laws in order to settle personal disputes or gain an advantage in divorce or custody battles. Also, false dowry complaints can be filed with the intention of extorting money or property from the accused parties. Also, the lack of proper investigation and lack of evidence can lead to false accusations going unverified. This can result in innocent individuals being wrongly implicated and facing legal consequences without proper due process. Another reason for filing false complaints regarding dowry is societal pressure. In some cases, societal pressure and expectations may influence women to file false dowry complaints in order to gain sympathy or societal support. Such pressure can stem from various factors, including family disputes, marital discord, or societal norms related to dowry. While instances of misuse may occur, they should not undermine the significance of dowry-related issues and the need to address and combat the genuine instances of dowry harassment and violence against women.
Over the years, there has been a growing awareness and activism against the dowry system in India. Various organizations, campaigns, and initiatives have been instrumental in challenging social norms, promoting gender equality, and empowering women to resist and confront dowry-related issues. Despite efforts to eradicate the dowry system, it continues to persist in certain regions and communities. Deep-rooted social and cultural factors, economic disparities, and lack of enforcement of existing laws contribute to the challenges in eliminating the practice entirely. Also, there is a need to increase awareness regarding the issue and provide necessary education to girls and women. Moreover, a comprehensive approach that includes legal measures, educational initiatives, and societal changes is required to promote gender equality, empower women, and create a more inclusive and equitable society. This could be an opportunity to break the cycle of dowry-related practices and empower women to assert their rights and make informed choices.