Dowry system in India

(A) DOWRY: Dowry by Whartons law dictionary: otherwise called maritagium, or marriage goods, that which the wife brings the husband in marriage.

There is hardly any malaise predominant in the society which can be termed as a stigma on the dignity of the womanhood in India than dowry. The newly wedded girl is treated as a gold mine and failing of which leads the in-laws treat her as combustible material and resultant is the commitment of suicide by the bride.

To start with even modern, well-educated families start saving up money for their daughter's dowry as soon as she is born so what can one expect from the uneducated masses, whose only form of education is tradition? Come festivals like Diwali or Holi, and the parents of the daughter flood her in-laws with gifts. If gifts are expected - your daughter is married into the wrong family. If such giving is self-inflicted, you're making a mistake. Give a token present to your daughter. If you want to give her something more, do so, but don't feel pressured to give anything more than you receive to her in-laws.

The societal perception of the society is that women are less strong as compared to men। This manifests in what she calls "Zero-political Status", and denial of basic civil rights to them।[2] This gender inequality and discrimination are so deeply rooted that at places where wife earns also she is confronted with such evils। Hence, dowry is so strongly prevalent not because of the mismatch of the demand of the gifts and the presents received but as women lacks political status and role in their own family. It’s evident that even if demand for dowry is being satisfied the evil will not be abolished and women will continue to face exploitation because of the custom-sanctioned inferiority that robs them of the basic human rights. As she

doesn’t possess a political and significant stand in the family is left with either one of the options

1। She succumbs and procures the demanded goods from her parents after initially deflecting some of the burdening demands and by tolerating the physical brutality herself। 2। Secondly she does not comply at a great personal risk, and high emotional cost, and often sustain resistance for dowry। Dowry in the society is deep rooted due to social, economical, biological an even legal loopholes। It’s the society and its acceptance by many has created a hindrance in uprooting this social evil। Many legislations and acts were being passed by states to curb the problem but due to improper implementation and lack of effectiveness were not able to cease the problem. There are many other crimes associated with dowry i.e. dowry deaths, murders, suicide, misappropriation of property.

Moreover the mental set up of Indian women do not let them accept the failure of the marriage nor let them break the same for shame or for the dignity of her parents and end up killing themselves. This is constant erosion of basic human values, dignity, tolerance and spirit of live and let live.

(B) DEFINITIONS OF DOWRY: • According to the dowry prohibition act, 1961 the term dowry means: Any property or valuable security given or agreed to be either directly or indirectly – (a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to marriage (b) by the parents 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 connection with the marriage of the said parties, buy does not include dower or

Mahr in the case of persons to whom Muslim personal law (shariat) law applies.

In simple words it means the consideration given by the brides father to the groom for marrying her. It is symbol of social injustice and is a result of growing disparities.[3]

Origin of the Dowry System

The Vedic phase was a golden period for the women. Marriage was considered sacred and was more of a necessity than a social contract. Wife was considered as ‘ardhangini’. In Hindu customs and during vedic period the brides are given to the grooms known as ‘kanyadan’ along with some gifts. ‘Kanya’ means the gal and ‘Dana’ means the gift. According to Rig Veda it was believed that without presenting ‘Dakshina’ to the bride the custom of ‘Kanyadan’ is incomplete. Hence ‘Kanyadan’ and ‘Varadakshina’ became intimately associated. This was a voluntary tradition out of love and affection of the parents of the bride but during the course of time a coercive element has crept in. It has taken deep roots not only in the marriage but also post-marriage relationship. The decent ritual of ‘Dakshina’ to the bridegroom has assumed the nomenclature of “dowry”. The Atharva Veda refers to a royal bride bringing dowry of 100 cows. (Domestic violence act, Preeti Mishra 120) it is said that Rishi Karav gave a number of gifts to his daughter, Shakuntala when she married King Dushayant.

During the Smriti period women were exploited the most and that is why this period was termed as Dark Age for women. When British took over around the 19th century dowry had grown up to become a big evil difficult to uproot from the society.

Present aspect

Status of women in present society

Today women are the marginalised sections of the society. The increasing crime rate toward women had lead to decline in the status of women and symbolises the powerless position in the society. In the terms of the typical society it’s the marital status which provides identity to the women. Though much legislation and measures have been taken to abolish dowry prevalent in the society it’s still predominant in the society in some or the other form. Nowadays, weddings are expected to be lavish even if the bride’s parents cannot afford it. Before the marriage itself everything to be given and gifted is being decided between the parties. At times marriage depends upon the amount the bride’s parents are ready to spend on her wedding. This is exploitation of women and a form of dowry at present. The legislation passed by the govt. has many loopholes and provides with many ways and means to take dowry without even falling in the ambit of the act. Indian Parliament has criminalised domestic violence. The Parliament amended the Penal Code in 1986 to explicitly provide that dowry deaths are punishable with imprisonment between seven years and life. Moreover Code of criminal procedure also establishes need of investigating into any suspicious death or suicide of any women within a period less than 7years as of marriage. Finally, in addition to criminal laws, the Parliament amended the Indian Evidence Act, which now creates a presumption of dowry death whenever a woman is subjected to dowry-related cruelty or harassment soon before her death.


Women have been subjected to such social as well as economical deprivation that there is a lack of awareness for crimes against them. Women are reared in the environment where they slowly though positively starts feeling inferior to man. The mentality of the women changes so drastically that they don’t find anything wrong in the crimes and cruelty committed against her. The main factors are: • Lack of awareness of the seriousness of the evil and the general mentality and acceptance of women’s inferiority to men. • Denial of violence by women due to there upbringing and cultural conditions and social attitudes. • Indian society is male dominated and women are brought up to be submissive and never to oppose the authority. Religion has restricted instead of improving the status and rights of the women. The factor of egoism in men to be superior also plays a chief role in degrading status of women in the society. • Lack of education is the main cause of the depth of this social evil. Once economic independence comes in women the evil of dowry will naturally die. • Lack of proper legal system and ambiguity in the legislations is one of the causes why dowry is still prevalent so strongly in Indian society. • The modern system of dowry is a problem of conformist culture which makes its almost impossible to uproot the evil. • Parents provide with dowry with a view of helping the newly wedded in establishment of the new household.

Dowry-related legislations

Enactments related to dowry

As a woman had no right to inherit a share of the ancestral property ‘streedhan’ was seen as a way by which the family ensured that she had access to some of its wealth. The law of ‘Streedhan’ (‘Stree’ means women and ‘Dhan’ means wealth) was originally formulated for the protection of women in the society and lays down that the property given by the parents to the bride absolutely belongs to the women but as time passed this safety net eroded to become the price tag for the groom and consequently the noose for the bride. Many reformers had taken initiatives to overcome the evil of dowry. A good example of it can be “Sind Deti Leti Act , 1939” which aimed at abolition of evils related to dowry but it neither had impact nor created the desired effect. The next step was perceived in clause (1) of section 93 of Hindu Code Bill where it declared dowry shall deemed to be the property of the bride, and person who receives it should hold it in trust. Bihar and AP enacted ‘Bihar dowry restraint act’ and ‘AP dowry restraint act’ but both these enactments failed. After the enactment of the Hindu succession act 1956 the govt., felt that a separate legislation to prohibit dowry was not a matter of urgency, but due to the increase in the crime related to dowry and under both political and social obligations govt. decided to pass a legislation the dowry prohibition Act was introduced.

Dowry is the most prominent cause of domestic violence. It is being referred to as social cancer, a cruel custom and an insult to the dignity of the woman. It’s a general conception that evil of dowry is prevalent in the Hindu community but it is not true. Dowry prevails equally in almost all communities including Christians and Muslims. Muslim practice of “salami” after Nikah ceremony is the form of dowry.Most important hurdle in curbing the problem is that dowry is not being defined satisfactorily. There is fine distinction between voluntary gifts and extorted cash but if it’s demanded it takes a form of dowry. It has been crystallized in our society and despite of much legislation the no. of cases dealing with dowry is increasing day by day.

Under article sec 14 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 it is provided that the property of the female is her absolute property.[10] Hence, the fundamental of dowry as in the ancient times cannot be applied today, but there is an ever growing demand both at the time of marriage as well as after the marriage which gravely affects the status of women.

Various indirect and sophisticated methods have been used to demand dowry and to avoid application of the act. To increase its effectiveness, the government has twice amended the Act, in 1984 and 1986. The amendment done laid down the necessity and role of magistrate and the police to investigate into any unnatural death of a woman married less than 7yrs.

According to the dowry act 1961, dowry is a bailable and non-cognizable offence and ceases to be recognized if demand is are made or met one year after the marriage.[11] Most of such crimes occur within the in-laws house and with conspiracy of the family members and hence unwilling to provide with the evidences which ultimate leads to the in ability to convict for lack of proof.

Provisions related to dowry

• Dowry prohibition act, 1961: prohibits the giving and taking of dowry – the act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu or Kashmir। • Section 304-B of Indian penal code “introduced in the IPC by the dowry prohibition act, 1986: to punish dowry deaths (ESP to curb the evil of bride burning) • Section 113-B of Indian Evidence Act: Raises, in certain circumstances, a presumption of dowry death of women. • Section 498-A of IPC: punishes cruelty and harassment, by husband or his relatives, of a married woman. • Section 113-A of the Evidence Act: Raises, in certain circumstances, a presumption that the commission of suicide by a married woman has been abetted by the husband or his relatives. • Section 174(3) of CPC : the section which refers to the enquiry and report by police n case of suicide or death in abnormal circumstances which includes crimes related to women like suicide and death of women within 7yrs. • Section 176 of CPC: This section refers inquiry by a magistrate into a cause of death, compels the magistrate to hold an inquiry into the cause of death either instead of, or in addition to the investigation of the police officer, and to secure for post-mortem in all cases where a woman has, within 7 years of her marriage.

[edit] Exceptions to dowry

• The dower or Mahr given during marriage under the Shariat (Muslim Personal) Law. • Gifts that are given to the bride or the bridegroom at the time of the marriage (without any demand being made) will not amount to dowry, if such presents are entered in a list in the following manner The bride as well as the bridegroom shall maintain the list of presents along with a brief description of the presents and the presenter with their signs given to the bride and it should be in writing at the time of marriage (III) CASES: (A) CASES RELATED TO DOWRY: Dowry harassment cases have eroded the entire base of womanhood in India. Suicides and deaths are a part of tragic drama of domestic violence enacted everyday in some or the other part of the country. At the modest estimates figure of deaths in India that occur due to non payment or partial payment of dowry is unnerving.

The right to life is a fundamental right to everyone. What does this mean that the women trapped in marriages that are so demanding are sure of death and they have no right to live in the society?

One of the famous case is Sunil Bajaj v. State of M.P[12] which points out the drawback of the section 304-B in the sense of its misinterpretation of the act against the innocent person. In most of the cases the motive behind the death is not seen. The proof may have disappeared with the death of the wife. For the reasons of self-condemning proof, she may have chosen to keep it secret, where the husband or his relatives may not be in a position to lead the evidence to it.

Misuse of the legislation

The observation of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Balbir Singh v. State of Punjab[13] is very relevant regarding the misuse of the provisions. One more point to be noticed is that in many cases relating to dying declarations the victim can conspire to convict the in-laws which is misuse of the law. Sometimes when dying declarations is given is without any foul play but after she consults her parents she alleges a foul play and demands a change in her declaration.There is no provision in the existing law, which may act as a safeguard against these types of practices.

Chief reasons of ineffective implementation of legislations

Statutory language is too vague to be effectively implemented. dowry prohibition act doest not cover every aspect in which the crime can be evaded. Even if laws are made stringent it need to be taken care that enforcement is strict and consistent. Most of the domestic violence cases go unrecorded as they are termed as “kitchen accidents”. Investigations take years and hence it takes years to file a charge sheet and till then evidences available disappears. Moreover often relatives are reticent to get involved. The cultural attitude towards women in India serves as a hindrance in strict enforcement of the laws. Hindu customs and Social mores dictates that a wife should never go against the husband and broken marriage it viewed as a disgrace to her honour. As no law guarantees women equal employment opportunities it prevents women from becoming economically independent, Indian society compels them to remain in abusive relationships, even if their husbands have tried to murder them.

Measures to be taken

(1) Shifting from our ancient value based society to a society in which women were respected as equally as men and to achieve the lost dignity, women should be economically independent as in western countries (2) In any case involving dowry crime should be investigated promptly। More women police officers should be involved for proper investigation of crime against women. (3) Pendency of the cases should be disposed when it’s fresh in the minds of the public so that it can act as a deterrent for the society. An example of this can be lichhamadevi case v. state of rajastan[14] where death sentence was inflicted on the mother-in-law for burning her daughter-in-law but then it was converted to life imprisonment. Moreover, code of criminal procedure was being amended to increase in no. of judicial officers appointed in metropolitan and setting up of fast track court. Registration of marriage and the gifts presented on or after that should me made stringent. While no time limit is being prescribed to deal with the cases related to dowry both govt and judiciary should take measures towards it. (4) Dowry is a social scourge and public opinion has to be mobilized against this cancerous evils. The memorable words of Mahatma Gandhi, Acceptance of dowry is a disgrace for the young man who accepts it as well as perhaps a dishonor for the woman folk should ring in the ears of every unmarried young man or woman. (5) A legal literacy programme should also be started to make the women of the downtrodden class aware of their legal rights. In all this voluntary organizations can play an important role. There are no flashy solutions of this deep-seated social malaise. (6) Women in India are nor coparceners with men. They should be provided with a part of the property of the in-laws after the marriage so that she is given a status of son of her father-in-law. (7) Moreover many Hindu customs gives right only to sons. For e.g. light the pyre. Women should be given equal status and should be allowed to perform the rituals thereby giving women back there dignity and respect. (8) Mental set up of the parents and the girl who considers themselves inferior to them and keep silence as to the fear of loosing the groom or the offer of marriage should be changed.


Dowry leads to the decline of general status of women; female children are undesired and hence are ill treated. It also led to breakage of family and matrimonial relationship. It is to be noted that it is not totally fair to expect police, judiciary nag govt. to take steps to eradicate social problems alone. This mentality of doing nothing but expecting from the govt need to be changed as tacit problem like dowry cannot be tackled by law alone till the time it has a social sanction behind it. First of all the discriminatory practices in marriage which are product of patriarchal norms should be eliminated. It’s utter shame that a women or a girl is considered a burden and a liability in the family as well as in the society as a whole and are termed as “weaker sex”. Moreover, Smritis picturized women as inferior and subordinate to men. Moreover, most of the cases are given a shape of kitchen accidents or suicides and at times the family hesitates to any action due to fear of loss of dignity or due a dominant position of the in-laws. Hence the dowry system can be abolished when the members of the society themselves takes initiatives to change the mentality towards females rather than depending on the government to legislate. In a nutshell we[who?] need to respect human life and its dignity which is gradually being snatched coercively from the women। Customs, norms and values can not be changes in a blink of an eye but effective implementation of the legislations is the need of the hour. Providing your daughter with a solid education, and encouraging her to pursue a career of her choice is the best dowry any parent can ever give their daughter.

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