Social evils are issues that directly or indirectly harm society's members and are regarded a source of debate or a concern in terms of moral principles. Amongst the many that are present in the Indian society, the system of Dowry is included. While some scholars believe that dowry was employed in antiquity, others disagree. Daughters had inheritance rights, which were generally exercised at the time of their marriage, according to historical eyewitness records. Dowry was negligible in ancient India, according to historical eyewitness sources. According to historical data, bride costs, rather than dowries, were the norm around the turn of the twentieth century, resulting in many poor men being unmarried. Dowry was usually seen in history as a compensation in cases where a bride was born with a physical deformity. It is however still unclear the exact evolution of the practice of dowry in today’s society.
Dowry vs Streedhan
Often confused with the concept of Streedhan, dowry is very different. 'Streedhan' (the wife's property) refers to everything given to the bride by her parents and not to the groom. Streedhan is an ad hoc gift that includes the bride's inherited property and can be given at any time. The bride may also get monetary or in-kind presents from her husband's family. It is not the husband's or his family's property. Streedhan is treated as the bride's self-acquired property, but in the event of the bride's untimely death, it is returned to the family.
The bride's family offers the groom, his parents, and his relatives’ durable items, cash, and real or moveable property as a condition of the marriage. Dowry is simply a financial payment or a present given to the groom's family in addition to the bride, and it comprises cash, jewelry, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils, vehicles, and other household items that assist the newlyweds in setting up their home.
Anti-Dowry Laws in India
The practice of Dowry has been criminalized in India. There are a number of statues which discuss this-
1. Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The most prominent Anti-Dowry statute in India is the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
The second section of the act defines the practice of dowry. Any property or valued security provided or agreed to be given, either directly or indirectly, is referred to as "dowry." It can be done by one spouse to the other spouse in a marriage. Otherwise, it might be paid to either party to a marriage or to any other person, at or before [or any time after the marriage] [in connection with the marriage of the aforementioned parties, but does not include] dower or mahr in the case of those to whom the Muslim Personal Law applies (Shariat). In Arjun Dhondiba Kamble v. State of Maharashtrai the court held that "dowry" in the sense of the expression contemplated by the Dowry Prohibition Act is a demand for valuable security having an inextricable nexus with the marriage, i.e., it is a consideration from the bride's parents or relatives to the groom or his parents and/or guardian in exchange for the agreement to marry the bride-to-be. However, a demand for property or significant security that has no connection to the marriage payment will not be considered a dowry demand.
Taking dowry and giving dowry are both illegal under the third provision of the Act. So, just as the bridegroom's family would be liable for taking money, the bride's family would be accountable for agreeing to give dowry. The penalty would be a minimum of five years in prison and a fine of not less than fifteen thousand rupees or the value of the dowry, whichever is higher. According to the fourth section, anyone who directly or indirectly seeks dowry from the bride's parents, relatives, or guardians would be penalized with a minimum of six months in prison and a maximum of two years in prison, as well as a fine of ten thousand rupees. In Pandurang Shivram Kawathkar v. State of Maharashtraii the Supreme Court held that the mere demand of dowry before marriage is an offence.
2. Indian Penal Code, 1860
The Indian Penal code under certain provisions, criminalizes certain acts which could be related to the practice of dowry.
Section 304-B discussed dowry death. It states that if a woman dies from burns or bodily injury within seven years of her marriage and it is proven that she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called "dowry death" and such husband or relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death. Anyone who commits dowry death faces a minimum sentence of seven years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. In Vemuri Venkateshwara Rao v. State of Andhra Pradeshiii guidelines regarding this section were established. The accused is demanding dowry and harassing the deceased, the deceased has died, and the death occurred under unusual circumstances. Because there was a demand for dowry, harassment, and death within seven years of marriage, the other elements follow naturally, and the offence under section 304-B is established.
Section 498-A discusses cruelty related to dowry. It states if anyone subjects a woman to cruelty, whether he is her husband or a relative of her husband, will be punished by imprisonment for a term of up to three years, as well as a fine.
3. Indian Evidence Act, 1872
Section 113-B discusses presumption of dowry death. It states that when the question is whether a person committed dowry death of a woman and it is shown that such woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by such person shortly before her death for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the court shall presume that such person was responsible.
It is to be understood that with great powers comes great responsibilities. Thus, when anti dowry laws are prevalent, it is the duty of the people to not misuse such laws. It has become normal practice to employ anti-dowry legislation to blackmail a husband. The amount of bogus 498A cases or incidents of misapplication of anti-dowry legislation has prompted India's Supreme Court to label it "legal terrorism." Because of the law's bias, women have been able to file false cases against their husbands for a variety of reasons, including: getting out of the marriage due to her inability to adjust to the new family, blackmailing the husband to extort money, and/or falsely accusing the husband in order to rekindle with a man she was previously associated with or had an extramarital affair with.
It is evident that the practice of dowry is deep rooted in the Indian society and still practiced. A primary reason for the same is the prevailing gender inequality in the Indian society. Parents in India prefer to have a male child rather than a female child. Daughters are often considered to be a burden which results in numerous cases of female infanticide on the daily basis. People are not hesitant to provide dowry because it has established a custom, and despite numerous regulations, only a small number of violators are found guilty. This social evil can only be removed if people's mentalities change. When people realize that giving and receiving dowry is the same as selling their daughters and boys, the system's roots will begin to erode, and the practice will be completely destroyed, although that day appears to be a long way off.
i 1995 AIR HC 273
ii 2001 Cr LJ 2792 (SC)
iii 1992 Cri. LJ. 563 A.P
This article is written by Aadiya Sinha of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law.