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Paying of dowry at the time of marriage and afterward is an age-old practice which is still being followed by the people in Indian society. Dowry in simple terminology is regarded as all the material assets given by the bride's family to the groom and his family. The term dowry is derived from a Latin word ‘dotare'meaning ‘to endow or to portion out'.It is very unfortunate that the concept of dowry is exploited to an extent whereby brides are priced according to the dowry that they can afford to pay.

Earlier the payment of dowry was voluntary and used to be given as a symbol of love but soon this practice turned into a social evil leaving the family of the young girls helpless. Today dowry is regarded to be one of the biggest social evil prevalent in the Indian society. The problem had aggravated to an extent where a bride would be burnt to death in every 12 hours for the demand of dowry.

It is highly unfortunate that the evil of dowry is prevalent in all sects of the society irrespective of religious background. Various laws have been enacted for the protection of women.

To begin with, the very first law enacted to deal with the menace of dowry was made in the year 1961. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was the first legislation to discuss the problem of dowry and provided for punishment for giving and taking of dowry. The Act prohibited the giving and taking of dowry by any of the parties to the marriage. It made a mandatory provision for giving back all the dowry to the bride if any was exchanged during the time of marriage.

The Act provided a punishment for giving and taking of dowry as an imprisonment up to 6 months, fine extending up to Rs. 15000 or the amount of dowry whichever will be higher or an imprisonment up to 5 years along with the persons who help in giving and taking of dowry or publishes advertises for marriage in response to dowry or who does not hand over dowry to the bride within the specified time.

However, the Act was not strict and stringent. It defined dowry as a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage and left gifts given without a prior condition out of the ambit of the definition of dowry and gave it a legal status. To make the Act stricter to curb the social evil of dowry amendments were made in the Act. One of such amendments was to make a list of the gifts given and received.

The various provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act after various amendments are as follows;

1. Definition;

The Act defines in clear terms what dowry is and all the things that amount to dowry the amendment of 1986 have defined the term in a more stricter way. As any valuable property or a security is given or which is agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the other party to the marriage at or before any time after marriage in connection with the marriage and the Act excludes dower (Mahr) in the parties to the marriage followMuslim Personal Law. Thus, not leaving any corner for making dowry by any means legal.

2. Punishment;

The Act provides that id any person takes or in any way abets the giving or taking of dowry shall be punishable with an imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years and fine which is not less than 15000 or the amount/ value of the dowry whichever is more. The Act, however, makes provisions whereby a Court may for punish for a term less than 5 years.

The Act provides that the presents which are given at the time of marriage to the bride or the bridegroom without any demand having been made are not to fall within the ambit of dowry provided that such presents are entered in a list maintained in accordance with the rules of the Act. Also, the Act requires that when such presents are made by or on behalf of the bride or any person related to the bride are of a customary nature and the value is not excessive having regards to the financial status of the person

The Act also makes the demand of dowry punishable and states that if any person demands whether directly or indirectly dowry in any form shall be punishable with an imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 6 months and may even extend to 2 years with a fine extending to 10000Rs/- the court is vested with the discretion to impose a punishment for a lesser time span after recording the reason for the same.

The Act also provides that if any person by any means advertises, publishes or prints any share of his property money or both as consideration for marriage of his son or daughter or any other relative shall be punishable with an imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 6 months and can extend to 5 years or with fine extending to 15000 Rs/- the court can, however, record the reasons and sentence imprisonment for less than 6 months.

3. Agreement:

The Act makes an agreement made/executed for giving and taking of dowry void.

4. Transfer of Dowry:

The Act not only prohibits and punishes the practice of giving and taking of dowry but also ensures that if any dowry is exchanged before or after the marriage the same is to be given to the bride. Where a dowry is received before the marriage then the same is to be returned to the bride within 3 months of the marriage.

When the dowry is received after the marriage then the same is to be returned within 3 months of the date of receiving the dowry. If the dowry is received when the bride was a minor the same is to be returned to her when she attains majority and the same is to be held in trust till she attains majority.

The Act provides that if a person fails to transfer the same within the time prescribed then the same shall be punished with an imprisonment of not less than 6 months which may extend to 2 years or with a fine.

Moreover, provisions relating to dowry are also available under:

  1. Indian Penal Code:
  2. Section 304B (Dowry death):

Under this section provides that were dying of a woman is caused by bodily injury or otherwise than in normal circumstances within 7 years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for or in connection with any dowry demand then such a death is called dowry death and such husband or relatives are presumed to have caused the death.

The section also provides that whoever caused dowry death shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which is not less than 7 years and may extend to an imprisonment for life

1.Section 498 A:

Under this section whoever be it husband or relatives of the husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty shall be punishable with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

2. Indian Evidence Act, 1872

3. Section 113 B (presumption as to dowry death):

Under this section, a presumption of dowry death is created when it is shown that soon before the death of the woman she was subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry then the court presumes that the person who subjected her to cruelty or harassment has caused the dowry death.

Case Laws:

1. Arjun Dhondiba Kamble Vs State of Maharashtra (1995 AIR HC 273):

In this case, the Hon'ble Court held that dowry as contemplated by the Dowry Prohibition Act is a demand of value property or security having nexus with the marriage. But when the demand for property or valuable security has no connection with the consideration for the marriage then it not considered amounting to a demand for dowry.

2. Rajeev Vs Ram Kishan Jaiswal {1994 Cri LJ NOC 255 (All)}

The Court, in this case, did not differentiate on the basis of the intention as it held that any property given by parents of the bride need not be in consideration of marriage. It can even be in connection with the marriage and would still constitute dowry.

3. Pandurang Shivram Kawathkar Vs State of Maharashtra {2001 Cr LJ 2792 (SC)}

The Hon'ble Supreme Court observed that mere demand for dowry before marriage is also an offense

Having observed the laws available for the protection of a woman against the demand of dowry it is important to understand that these laws will only bear the fruit when people realize and understand that this practice is a social evil devaluing a girl over boy and would in no way help in upliftment and development of the nation as nowadays girls and boys stand at an equal footing.

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