DOWRY SYSTEM IN INDIA - Ezee Notes

The dowry system can put great financial burden on the bride’s family.In some cases, the dowry system leads to crime against women, ranging from emotional abuse and injury to even deaths. The payment of dowry has long been prohibited under specific Indian laws including the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 approved by the Parliament of India and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 defines dowry: “Dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly – (a) by one party in marriage to the other party in marriage; or (b) by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person to either party to marriage or to any other persons;at or before or after the marriage as consideration for the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal law appliesThe dowry system can put great financial burden on the bride’s family. In some cases, the dowry system leads to crime against women, ranging from emotional abuse and injury to even deaths. The payment of dowry has long been prohibited under specific Indian laws including the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 approved by the Parliament of India and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 defines dowry: “Dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly – (a) by one party in marriage to the other party in marriage; or (b) by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person to either party to marriage or to any other persons;at or before or after the marriage as consideration for the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal law applies.”

Social factors

The structure and kinship of marriage in parts of India contributes to dowry. In the north, marriage usually follows a patrilocal (lives with husband’s family) system, where the bride is a non-related member of the family. This system encourages dowry perhaps due to the exclusion of the bride’s family after marriage as a form of premortem inheritance for the bride. In the south, marriage is more often conducted within the bride’s family, for example with close relatives or cross-cousins, and in a closer physical distance to her family. In addition, brides may have the ability to inheritn

 
Wedding Procession – Bride Under a Canopy with Gifts. Circa 1800.

The history of dowry in South Asia is not clear. Some scholars believe dowry was practised

Religious factors

Dowry in India is not limited to any specific religion. It is widespread among Hindus and other religions. For example, Indian Muslims call dowry as jahez, justify the practice in terms of jahez-e-fatimi. Islamists classify jahez into two categories: The first comprises some essential articles for the outfit of the bride as well as for conjugal life. The other is made up of valuable goods, clothes, jewelry, an amount of money for the groom’s family, which is settled on after bargaining. The jahez often far exceeds the cost of the baraat and marriage parties. The jahez is separate from cash payment as Mahr or dower that Sharia religious law requires.

Causes of the dowry

Various reasons have been suggested as cause of dowry practice in India. These include economic factors and social factors.

Economic factors

There are many economic factors that contribute towards the system of dowry. Some of these include inheritance systems and the bride’s economic status.

Some suggestions point to economics and weak legal institutions on inheritance place women in disadvantage, with inheritances being left only to sons. This leaves women dependent upon their husbands and in-laws, who keep the dowry when she marries. Prior to 1956, including during the British Raj, daughters had no rights of inheritance to their family’s wealth. In 1956, India gave equal legal status to daughters and sons among HinduSikh and Jain families, under the Hindu Succession Act (India grants its Muslim population the Sharia derived personal status laws). Despite the new inheritance law, dowry has continued as a process whereby parental property is distributed to a daughter at her marriage by a social process, rather than after parents death by a slow court supervised process under Hindu Succession Act (1956).

Dowry gave, at least in theory, women economic and financial security in their marriage in the form of movable goods. This helped prevent family wealth break-up and provided security to the bride at the same time.[ This system can also be used as a premortem inheritance, as once a woman is presented with movable gifts, she may be cut off from the family estate.

For many, dowry has become a greater financial burden on the family, and can leave families destitute based on the demands from the groom The demand for dowry has increased over time.

 
Wedding gifts for the son of the Imam of DelhiIndia

Dowry in the modern era 

 

Dowry had been a prevalent practice in India’s modern era and in this context, it can be in the form of a payment

Dowry had been a prevalent practice in India’s modern era and in this context, it can be in the form of a payment of cash or gifts from the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family upon marriage. There are variations on dowry prevalence based on geography and class. States in the north are more likely to participate in the dowry system among all classes, and dowry is more likely to be in the form of material and movable goods.[21] In the south, the bride price system is more prevalent, and is more often in the form of land, or other inheritance goods. This system is tied to the social structure of marriage, which keeps marriage inside or close to family relations.

Since marriages in India are a time for big celebrations in each family, they tend to be very lavish. Accordingly, Indian weddings usually involve considerable expenditure and accompanying wedding presents from relatives in both sides of the family. This is normal expenditure which is done willingly and varies from one family to another depending on the wealth, status, etc.

Many times, as part of this mutual ‘give-and-take’, an attempt is made by the groom’s family to dictate the quantum of each gift along with specific demands for dowry. In such circumstances, there is an element of exerting coercion on the bride’s family and this is what has come to be recognized as the menace of dowry in today’s times. Dowry does not refer to the voluntary presents which are made to the bride and the groom; rather it is what is extracted from the bride or her parents.

neffectiveness

Although Indian laws against dowries have been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective. Despite the Indian government’s efforts, the practice of dowry deaths and murders continues to take place unchecked in many parts of India and this has further added to the concerns of enforcement. There is criticism by women’s groups that India’s dowry harassment laws are ineffective because the statutes are too vague, the police and the courts do not enforce the laws and social mores keep women subservient and docile, giving them a subordinate status in the society. The law ignores the complexities of dowry-related violence and overlooks the element of coercion, and arbitrary compulsive demands. 

Further, many women are afraid to implicate their husbands in a dowry crime simply because the Indian society is viewed as having conditioned women to anticipate or expect abuse and in some sense eventually, endure it. While the laws give great powers, they are not effectively enforced by the police or by courts. It can take up to 10 years for a case to go to court and even once in court, husbands and in-laws end up getting away with extortion or even murder because the women and their families cannot prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt‘ that they are the victims of such crimes, as there are rarely any outside witnesses.

Types of dowry crimes

Recently married women can be a target for dowry related violence because she is tied economically and socially to her new husband. In some cases, dowry is used as a threat or hostage type situation, in order to extract more property from the bride’s family. This can be seen in new brides, who are most vulnerable in the situation.

Cruelty

Cruelty in the form of torture or harassment of a woman with the objective of forcing her to meet a demand for property or valuable security is a form of dowry crime. The cruelty could be in the form of verbal attacks or may be accompanied by beating or harassment in order to force the woman or her family to yield to dowry demands.

Domestic violence

Domestic violence includes a broad spectrum of abusive and threatening behavior which includes physical, emotional, economic and sexual violence as well as intimidation, isolation and coercion. There are laws like the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 that help to reduce domestic violence and to protect women’s right

Dowry murder

Dowry deaths and dowry murder relate to a bride’s suicide or killing committed by her husband and his family soon after the marriage because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry. It is typically the culmination of a series of prior domestic abuses by the husband’s family. Most dowry deaths occur when the young woman, unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide by hanging herself or consuming poison. Dowry deaths also include bride burning where brides are doused in kerosene and set ablaze by the husband or his family. Sometimes, due to their abetment to commit suicide, the bride may end up setting herself on fire.

Bride burnings are often disguised as accidents or suicide attempts. Bride burnings are the most common forms of dowry deaths for a wide range of reasons like kerosene being inexpensive, there being insufficient evidence after the murder and low chances of survival rate. Apart from bride burning, there are some instances of poisoningstrangulationacid attacks, etc., as a result of which brides are murdered by the groom’s family.

Laws against dowry

The first all-India legislative enactment relating to dowry to be put on the statute book was The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and this legislation came into force from 1 July 1961. It marked the beginning of a new legal framework of dowry harassment laws effectively prohibiting the demanding, giving and taking of dowry. Although providing dowry is illegal, it is still common in many parts of India for a husband to seek a dowry from the wife’s family and in some cases, this results in a form of extortion and violence against the wife.new provisions were added to the Indian criminal law – section 498A to Indian Penal Code and section 198A to the Criminal Procedure Code in 1983. In 2005, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was passed, which added an additional layer of protection from dowry harassment. Although the changes in Indian criminal law reflect a serious effort by legislators to put an end to dowry-related crimes

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 consolidated the anti-dowry laws which had been passed on certain states. This legislation provides for a penalty in section 3 if any person gives, takes or abets giving or receiving of dowry. The punishment could be imprisonment for minimum 5 years and a fine more than ₹15,000 or the value of the dowry received, whichever is higher. Dowry in the Act is defined as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given in connection with the marriage

Criminal statutes – Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act

The Indian criminal laws were comprehensively amended to include dowry as a punishable offence. Section 304B was added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”), which made dowry death a specific offence punishable with a minimum sentence of imprisonment for 7 years and a maximum imprisonment for life. It provided that if the death of a woman is caused by burns or bodily injury or occurs in suspicious circumstances within 7 years of her marriage, and there’s evidence to show that before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relative regarding the demand for dowry, then the husband or the relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (“Domestic Violence Act”) was passed in order to provide a civil law remedy for the protection of women from domestic violence in India. The Domestic Violence Act encompasses all forms of physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse and forms a subset of the anti-dowry laws to the extent it is one of the reasons for domestic violence. Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act specifically incorporates all forms of harassment, injury and harms inflicted to coerce a woman to meet an unlawful demand for dowry.Some of the common remedies under the Domestic Violence Act include:

  • protection orders – prohibiting a person from committing domestic violence;
  • residence orders – dispossessing such person from a shared household;
  • custody orders – granting custody of a child; and
  • compensation orders – directing payment of compensation.
  • Criticisms of the Dowry Laws

    Misuse

    There is growing criticism that the dowry laws are often being misused, particularly the section 498A of the Indian Penal Code which is observed by many in India as being prone to misuse because of mechanical arrests by the police. According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, in 2012, nearly 200,000 people including 47,951 women, were arrested in regard to dowry offences. However, only 15% of the accused were convicted.

    In many cases of 498a, huge amounts of dowry are claimed without any valid reasoning. A rickshaw puller’s wife can allege that she gave crores of money as dowry and since it is a cognizable case, police are bound to register the case. And in most cases, the capacity of the wife or her parents and the source of the funds are never tracked.

  • Nisha Sharma Lawsuit

    The Nisha Sharma dowry case was an anti-dowry lawsuit in India. It began in 2003 when Nisha Sharma accused her prospective groom, Munish Dalal, of demanding dowry. The case got much coverage from Indian and international media. Nisha Sharma was portrayed as a youth icon and a role model for other women. However, it was later found that the Nisha had fabricated the charges to wiggle out of the wedding, and in 2012 all accused were acquitted.

  • Ineffectiveness

    Although Indian laws against dowries have been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective. Despite the Indian government’s efforts, the practice of dowry deaths and murders continues to take place unchecked in many parts of India and this has further added to the concerns of enforcement. There is criticism by women’s groups that India’s dowry harassment laws are ineffective because the statutes are too vague, the police and the courts do not enforce the laws and social mores keep women subservient and docile, giving them a subordinate status in the society. The law ignores the complexities of dowry-related violence and overlooks the element of coercion, and arbitrary compulsive demands. 

    Further, many women are afraid to implicate their husbands in a dowry crime simply because the Indian society is viewed as having conditioned women to anticipate or expect abuse and in some sense eventually, endure it. While the laws give great powers, they are not effectively enforced by the police or by courts. It can take up to 10 years for a case to go to court and even once in court, husbands and in-laws end up getting away with extortion or even murder because the women and their families cannot prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt‘ that they are the victims of such crimes, as there are rarely any outside witnesses.

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