A Dowry (Dahej) is the transfer or a gift of parental property which is made during the lifetime of the grantor (parents) to a daughter at her marriage rather than the inheritance of the property which shall take place on the event of owner’s (parents) death. Precisely, it is a payment of cash or gifts from the bride's family to the bridegroom's family upon marriage. It may include cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils, car and other household items that help the newly-weds set up their home.
Dowry has been predominantly an ancient customin practisewhich is expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal. 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.
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.
A woman’s marriage is of the paramount importance in Indian families. If a woman’s marriage requires dowry in return of her secured married life which is a challenge in the world that is unsafe and discriminatory for women, it is never seen as a crime.Hence, it’s evident that the dowry system puts great financial strain on the bride's family. Furthermore, when the requirements of dowry are not fulfilled, it leads to the acts of violence and crime against women ranging from emotional abuse to injuries including acid attacks and deaths.
When married women are murdered or driven to suicide due to constant harassment and ceaseless torture by their husbands and in-laws over a dispute of dowry,it amounts to dowry death.The bride’s suicide or killing committed by husband and his family is because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry.The dowry death occurs when young women are unable to bear the harassment and tortureand eventually commits suicide. Most of the suicides are by hanging, poisoning or by fire. Sometimes the husband or in-laws set the woman on fire which eventually leads to her death(bride-burning). Therefore, dowry death is recognized to be one of the crimes committed against women.
In order to prohibit the repeated occurrences of this crime, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and Section 304B, Section 498A under Indian Penal Code, 1860 were introduced.Following is the synopsis of the provisions for dowry death under IPC:
SECTION 304B–DOWRY DEATH
(a) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injurywhich wouldn’t have occurred in normal circumstances but has taken place within seven years of her marriageand 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 demand for dowry, such death shall be calleddowry deathand such husband or relative shall be deemed(considered) to have caused her death.
(b) Here dowry shall have the meaning as per Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which stipulates any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:
i. by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage - (bride/bridegroom) or
ii. by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other personat or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of said parties but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies – (parents, relatives, friends, guests of bride/bridegroom)
(c) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life – (Minimum 7 years – imprisonment for life).
(d) Dowry Death is a cognizable (police arrest without warrant) and non-bailable (no right to bail to the accused unless applied to the court and grant of the same depends on court’s discretion) offence.
IMPORTANT CASE LAWS:
1. Kamesh Panjiyar v State of Bihar – (where woman was beaten to death)
• In this case, the deceased wife of the appellant paid Rs.40,000 as dowry to him at the time of marriage. The appellant further demanded a buffalo which wasn’t fulfilled by the deceased’s family, due to failure of which appellant and his family started torturing and beating the deceased.
• When the deceased’s family learnt, her brother confronted them where he was insulted. One day when brother of the deceased heard rumour of her death, he visited her place and found her dead. There were many injuries on her body to which appellant claimed rheumatic disease to be the cause of her death.
• Sessions Court found appellant guilty and punished him with the imprisonment of 10 years. On appeal preferred by appellant before High Court, it was reduced to 7 years.
• Although, SC upheld the decision of Sessions Court stating that under Section 304 of IPC (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder – any act is done with knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death) it was not necessary to give direct evidence of causing death. Cruelty before death is enough.
2. Pamiben v State of Gujarat - (where woman was burnt)
• In this case when deceased was sleeping her mother-in-law poured kerosene oil on her with the intention to kill the deceased. When deceased came into her senses she started crying, asking for help where her husband and other relative came rushing and took her to a hospital for treatment. By that time, she had suffered lot of severe burn injuries and eventually died.
• SC convicted her mother-in-law under Section 304B of IPC by relying on the dying declaration of the deceased in which she said that her mother-in-law put her on fire. Court held that there was no ground to believe that she had committed suicide. Court considered it as a most heinous (wrongful act) and barbaric(brutal) crime.
3. Appasaheb and Anr. v State of Maharashtra – (where woman committed suicide but dowry death wasn’t proved)
• The deceased was married to appellant where Rs.20,000 was given in marriage as dowry.
• After six months of marriage, appellant and his family demanded her to bring money from parents to meet her expenses and for that they used to harass her physically and mentally.
• She used to inform her parents regarding everything and one day they learned that the deceased consumed poison and ended her life.
• Sessions Court convicted all the accused persons with 7 years rigorous imprisonment under Section 304B and 34 of IPC (When a criminal act is done by several persons having common intention, each of such persons are liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone)
• Later appeal was filed by the appellant in High Court which was decide against the appellant.
• SC held that for Section 304B IPC, it was important that there should have been the demand of money as dowry. The urgent need of money for something could not be considered as the demand of dowry. Prosecution could not prove the case in court hence court ordered in favour of the appellant.
This following section was inserted in order to safeguard women from cruelty by husband and his relatives in marital life. In our society marriage has a great significance. According to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marriage means men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.
They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In marital life many women are facing cruelty by husbands and their relatives. To safeguard women from cruelty, section 498A of Indian penal code, was inserted by the Criminal Law (second amendment) Act, 1983.
SECTION 498A – DOWRY DEATH
(a) Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty - whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
(b) cruelty means-
i. Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
ii. Harassment of the women where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
IMPORTANT CASE LAWS:
Following are the case laws where Section 498A of IPC was misused:
1. Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar – (genuineness of allegation challenged)
• The wife alleged that dowry was demanded from her and that she was driven out of the matrimonial home on non-fulfilment of such demands. The husband applied for anticipatory bail which failed. Therefore, by special leave petition, the husband approached the Supreme Court.
• In this case, the Court observed that the fact that Section 498A, IPC is a cognizable and non-bailable offence, it is more often than not is used as a weapon rather than shield by resentful wives.
• It results in harassing the husband and his relatives by getting them arrested under this section and it is more disturbing to see bedridden grandfathers and grandmothers being arrested without a prima facie case.
• Thus, the Court laid down certain guidelines which the police officer must follow while arresting under Section 498A, IPC or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and that such arrest must be based on a reasonable satisfaction with respect to genuineness of the allegation. Moreover, even the Magistrates must be careful enough not to authorise detention casually and mechanically.
2. Manju Ram Kalita v State of Assam – (petty quarrels do not amount to cruelty)
• The wife alleged physical and mental cruelty at the hands of the husband and accused him under Section 498A, IPC. The husband, however, denied all the charges.
• The Court held that “Cruelty” for the purpose of Section 498-A IPC is to be established in the context of Section 498-A IPC as it may be different from other statutory provisions.
• It should be determined by considering the conduct of the man, weighing the gravity or seriousness of his acts and to find out as to whether it is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide, etc.
• It is to be established that the woman has been subjected to cruelty continuously or at least in close proximity of time of lodging the complaint. The Court further held that petty quarrels cannot be termed as “cruelty” to attract the provisions of Section 498-A IPC.
3. Bibi Parwana Khatoon v State of Bihar – (false implication to prove woman’s death)
• The facts of this case are that the wife was killed by setting her up on fire by her husband and her relatives. The sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the deceased wife challenged the conviction in the Supreme Court.
• The Court brought under notice the facts that the appellants in the case did not even reside at the place of mishap. There was no evidence to prove their charge beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the Court acquitted them and held that the Court must guard against false implication of the relatives.