- Dowry refers to a payment made to the groom and his family in cash or kind during the time of marriage by the bride’s side of the family.
- In India, the system of dowry was widely prevalent till it was prohibited by the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
- The system of dowry in India has resulted in a lot of dowry deaths, domestic violence and is a major cause of divorces too.
- Recently, the Calcutta High Court gave a judgement on the Netai Ghosh V. State of West Bengal which was based on dowry deaths.
- The Judge stated that while dowry was prohibited, the giving of gifts out of love and affection to the married couple voluntarily does not amount to dowry.
- In this article, we will be understanding the definition of the term dowry and the punishments for the same under various laws and statutes.
In India, at the time of marriage durable goods, cash, kind, or property is given to the groom’s side of the family by the bride’s family. This monetary amount is called dowry. It is also called dahej. This dowry is, more often than not, a financial strain on the bride’s family. A large percentage of the crimes against married women take place due to dowry. Specific laws have been introduced in India that prohibit the practice of giving dowry. The most widely used law in this regard is the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Other provisions in Indian law include, Section 304B (which deals with Dowry Death) and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Although these laws have been in force for quite some time, the case of violence against women has not stopped and can be seen even today.
According to the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the term ‘Dowry’ refers to any valuable property given either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other which acts as the consideration for the marriage between the two parties. Dowry can be given before or after the marriage is solemnised. The term ‘Dowry’ does not include in its definition the ‘dower’ or ‘meher’ in cases of marriages which come under Muslim Personal Law. The legal definition of dowry refers to the demand for valuable property as consideration from the bride’s side of the family to the groom’s side of the family.
Article 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 states that when there has been no demand made by the groom’s family for dowry, in such a case, the act of giving gifts at the time of marriage does not attract the penalties and punishments under dowry.
To tackle the ill effects of the dowry system, the following provisions were incorporated into the statutes and legal codes.
- Section 406 of the Indian Penal Code: This section pertains to offences under criminal breach of trust, as the dowry given is primarily for the benefit of the wife and her heirs.
- Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code: This section was included in 1983 to protect women from cruelty and harassment.
- Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code: This section includes punishment for murder.
- Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code: This section deals with abetment to suicide.
- Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act: This section provides for the assumption of abetment to suicide in case there is a death of a married woman within 7 years of marriage.
- Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act: This section provides for the assumption of dowry death in case it can be proved that prior to the woman’s death, she has been subjected to cruelty due to demand for dowry.
- Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act: This section provides for cases where injury, harassment and harm are inflicted upon a woman to coerce her to agree to an unlawful demand for dowry.
- Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code: This section was added specifically to make dowry death a punishable offence. The person convicted and declared guilty under this section will be sentenced to imprisonment for up to a minimum of 7 years and a maximum imprisonment for life.
IMPORTANT LANDMARK CASES
- KAMLESH PANJIYAR V. STATE OF BIHAR [(2005) 2 SCC 388]: The Supreme Court held that it was not mandatory to provide direct evidence of causing death to the woman under Section 304B. It was enough to prove cruelty before death.
- APPASAHEB AND ANR. V. STATE OF MAHARASHTRA [(2007) 9 SCC 271]: The Supreme Court, in this case, held that under Section 304B, it was important that a demand for dowry be made. Mere asking for money could not be said to be equivalent to a demand for dowry. The order of the Bombay High Court which had upheld the order of the Session Court to sentence the Appellant to 7 years of imprisonment.
- RAJBIR @ RAJU AND ANR. V. STATE OF HARYANA [AIR 2011 SC 568]: In this case, the Supreme Court had ordered the trial court to add Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code along with Section 304B so that death sentence could be awarded in such cases where such heinous and barbaric crimes had been committed against the woman.
- KAILASH V. STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH [AIR 2007 SC 107]: The Supreme Court held that the time limit could not be defined by the term ‘soon before death’. It was essential to prove that the victim had suffered at the hands of the husband and his relatives due to a demand for dowry. Since the death was not a natural one, the case of the prosecution was proved.
- HIRALAL V. STATE OF NCT OF DELHI [2003 Cri. L. J. 3711 (SC)]: The court held that the demand for dowry had to be made soon before the death of the woman. The phrase ‘soon before death’ denoted the required amount of time required to prove that the cause of death was the cruelty subjected to her. If there was a sufficient period of time between the acts of cruelty committed to her and her death, Section 304B would not be applicable in such cases.
- K. PREMA S. RAO V. YADLA SRINIVAS RAO [Cri. L. J. 69 (SC)]: The Supreme Court held that demand for dowry was an essential under SEction 304B. Merely asking to transfer the wife’s stridhan did not make the accused liable for demand of dowry as they were not the same things.
Recently, the Calcutta High Court opined that gifts given by relatives to the bride and groom at the time of marriage voluntarily are not considered as dowry. The decision was given by Justice Bibek Chaudhuri who stated that dowry as quid pro quo for marriage was prohibited, however, gifts given out of love and affection to the married couple at the time of marriage are not considered as dowry. Hence, the accused was acquitted and charges under Section 304B were dropped.
Similar to this, there have been many cases of dowry deaths, in which the woman after marriage suffers at the hands of her husband and in-laws, due to inadequate dowry or a refusal to give dowry at the time of marriage. There are many socio-cultural and religious factors which were the reason the dowry system came to be established in India. The system, even though now abolished, holds a mirror up to the position of women of the country and reflects the socio-cultural perspectives and narratives that surround them. Many laws, sections, statutes have been introduced and implemented along with social forces which have tried to subconsciously eradicate the prevalence of dowry. Yet cases and incidents continue to occur which makes us realise the need for stronger legislations and more stringent punishments for the wrongdoers.