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History of dowry

The term dowry is taken from the Latin term ‘dotare’ which means “to endow or portion out”. Initially dowry was given as a gift to the bride at the time of her marriage by her family, the dowry system is an integral part of Hindu culture but with time it passed on to other communities as well.

Dowry is derived from a Hindu wedding ritual ‘kanyadana’ where a father used to offer gifts to her daughter in the form of cash,goods, jewellery and clothes. The purpose of such custom was,as a father is giving away his daughter she may not face any discomfort in her new journey of life.

As time passed the dowry system now has taken an evil turn as a result the bride and her family suffers, dowry as a precondition of marriage is a sin as well as burden on the bride's family. This system destroyed many families and many lives. Besides the fact how dangerous it can be, it's still in practice.

Our society sees dowry as a symbol of status. People think their respect grows with increase in the amount of dowry despite the fact it is illegal in India. It’s a crime to offer or to take dowry in India still it is widely practised. The roots of dowry are deeply rooted in our society as it carries sanctimonious value with itself. The family of the bride sees dowry as their duty which they have to fulfil anyway or anyhow. It is not easy to remove a custom which has been in practice for centuries.

What is dowry in legal terms? (title,definition, and penalty)

  1. Act 28 of 1961

The bill of Dowry Prohibition was passed in the joint sittings of both the Houses Of Parliament and it became an act titled as - The Dowry Prohibition Act,1961 (28 of 1961).

The bill came into force on 1st July 1961 and it received the President’s assent on 20th may 1961.

  • this act is applicable in whole of India *( initially it wasn’t applicable in the states of Jammu and Kashmir but after the abrogation of article 370 now it is applicable in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir as well).

2. The definition of dowry under The Prohibition Act,1961 is given as-

Dowry is 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 time after the marriage of said parties but does not include dower or Mayr in the case of person to whom the Muslim personal law applies.

3. Penalty for taking dowry

1. if any person,after the commencement of this act gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than 15000 rupees or

the amount of the value of such dowry,whichever is more: Provided that court may, for adequate and special reasons to be recorded in the judgement,impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than five years.

2. Nothing in sub-section (1) shall apply to or in relation to:

Presents which are given at the time of a marriage to the bride(without any demands) provided that such presents are entered in list maintained in accordance with rule made under this Act;

Presents which are given at the time of marriage to the bridegroom(without any demand having made in that behalf):

Provided that such presents are entered in a list maintained in accordance with rules made under this Act;

Provided further that where such presents are made by or on behalf of the bride or any person related to the bride,such presents are of a customary nature and the value thereof is not excessive having regard to the financial status of the person by whom,or on whose behalf,such presents are given.

(4) Penalty for demanding dowry:

1. if any person demands directly or indirectly,from the parents or other relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom as the case maybe ,any dowry,he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees : Provided that the court may ,for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgement , impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than six months.

Note: list of Amending Acts:

  • The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment)Act,1984

  • The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment )Act,1986

Dowry death (304-b)

  • Death should be caused by burns or bodily injury or by any other circumstances .

  • Death must occur within the seven years of marriage.

  • It must be revealed that soon before her marriage she was exposed to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his family.

  • The cruelty or harassment on her should be in connection with the demand for dowry.

Punishment for dowry death

Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may be extended to imprisonment for life.

Causing death for dowry is a cognizable offence in which the police have the authority to arrest any person without any warrant and also has the authority to start an investigation with or without any permission of the magistrate by filing FIR.

Dowry death is a non-bailable and cognizable offence.

Section 306- section 306 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 describes Abetment Of Suicide- if any person commits suicide,whoever abets the commission of such suicide,shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.

Essentials of section 306 IPC

  • The abetment.

  • The intention of the accused to instigate the deceased to commit suicide.

Section 304-b talks about dowry death whereas section 306 of IPC talks about abetment of suicide. Note:(Dowry death is mentioned above)

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 her husband or such relatives of her husband had subjected her to cruelty. This will be considered a dowry death case as well.


Whoever abets the commission of such suicide,shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years,and shall liable to fine.

Section 306 is a non bailable offence.

Case law related- Pramila Patnaik And ors.vs State If Orissa,1991


Kamesh Panjiyar vs State Of Bihar,2005

Bench: Arjit Pasayat,S.H. Kapadia

Case No.: Appeal(Crl.) 205 of 2005


Kamesh Panjiyar


State Of Bihar

Facts of the case:

In this case,the deceased , Jaikali Devi and the appellant got married in 1988.

The appellant and his relatives demanded rupees 40,000 as dowry sum and the same was fulfilled by the deceased’s family. The appellant family again demanded dowry (she-Buffalo)during the second Bidai which was denied by the deceased’s family.

After this appellant and his family got furious and started Ill treatment of the deceased, about which she had complained Several times to her family.

On 28th November ,1989 her brother,Sudhir Kumar Mahto heard some rumours about the death of her sister ,Jaikali Devi to confirm the same he went to her village where he founds out that her sister is dead and her body was lying on verandah , the blood was coming out of her mouth and there were several bruises on her body and neck . It was evidently clear that she was brutally tortured .

Judgement of the case:

The session court held that it was not a case of natural death and the deceased was the victim of domestic violence and dowry death,the court ordered the conviction under section 304B of IPC and the punishment of ten years was granted to her husband.

Appeal to the High Court: the appellant made an appeal to High Court where the conviction was upheld but the duration of his sentence was reduced to 7 years.

Appeal to Supreme Court: The Supreme Court also upheld the decision of the High Court because nothing was brought by the defence on record to explain the injuries over the deceased body and hence the conviction under Section 304B was justified.

Present scenario of domestic violence and dowry death:

According to recent data collected by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), dowry related matters accounted for the lives of 19 women everyday in 2020. A total of 6,966 cases of dowry deaths,with 7,045 were reported last year in 2021.

Number of dowry deaths in 2019-7,141; 2018-7,167.

In 2020 the state of Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of dowry deaths with more than two thousand cases registered with the authorities. The country recorded nearly seven thousand cases of dowry related murder cases that year.

2020 The Pandemic Year reports from frontliners mentioned that atrocities against women and girls,particularly domestic violence was intensified.

Conclusion :

Dowry system is indeed a social evil, women are tortured and tormented in the name of societal values ,her family gets humiliated because our society has set some norms which they have to fulfill and if they fail doing the same they have to pay the price and that price is life.

In 2019 alone 7,115 cases of dowry death were registered under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, in 2020, reported dowry death cases in India amounted to nearly seven thousand. Dowry Death accounted for 40%to 50%homicides in the country for almost a decade. But every coin has two different sides , it is not the woman who suffers every time, it is found that 10% of dowry cases are false and hence the misuse of dowry law is in practice . Crime must be proved beyond reasonable doubt according to Indian Penal Code ,1860.

According to sir Benjamin Franklin “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person suffer”.

These false systems are deeply rooted in our society. It is impossible to cut it out at once but consistency against will. Our government and our Judicial System is working against these social evils and with the support of our society we will definitely win the fight.


This article is written by Vidushi Singh of Maharaja Agrasen institute of management, Indraprastha University, Delhi.

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