Dowry: A pervasive tale of depravity


The relic of a historical tradition no longer pertinent, the institution of dowry indelibly fashions the prevalence of gender inequality pervasivewithin the Indian society, where the women have been devalued as mere objects and property to be monetarily valued. Such a commoditization of women is one of the main causes of violence against them and has caused scores of men to treat women as objects that can be owned and disposed of, rather than human beings, who must be respected.

While dowry was initially considered as a way to assist the newly-married couple in setting up their homes, the same has now transmuted the pious institution of marriage as a mere business arrangement maneuvered by the family of the groom to deracinate the bride’s family of all their fortune. Furthermore, this obnoxious practice is not constricted to the demands made solely on the occasion of marriage as there have been several reported instances of torturing of the bride and ‘bride burning’ even long after the sacrament had been solemnized and the couple had cohabited together under the institution of marriage for several years.

This greed has led to the horrific and painful death of thousands of women all over India, who have not been able to meet their husband’s family’s ever-increasing demands for dowry. The same is discernible from the NCRB data according to which, India reported a whopping 7166 dowry deaths in the year 2018, with Uttar Pradesh topping the tally amongst the list of states. The same accounts for almost 21 lives lost to dowry everyday across the country.

Definition of “Dowry” under the Indian Law:

Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, introduced the following definition of dowry:

‘Dowry’ means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly-

(a) By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or

(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 or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of said parties.

The Hon’ble Supreme, in several judgments pronounced by it, has time and again clarified and reiterated what in fact constitutes a demand for ‘dowry’, because of the potentially extensive application of this definition. Additionally, certain judgments of the Court have even enunciated the time within which a demand for gifts, property, money, etc. shall constitute a demand for ‘dowry’.

In the case of S. Gopal Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1996), the Hon’ble Supreme Court had opined that the phrase demand for ‘dowry’ must be flexibly explicated and interpreted. “Any demand for money, property or valuable security made from the bride or her parents or other relatives by the bridegroom or his parents or other relatives or vice-versa shall fall within the ambit of dowry.” It has further been elucidated that marriage in this context shall also include a proposed marriage and, more particularly, where the non-fulfillment of the demand of dowry leads to the marriage not taking place at all.

Legislations enacted in India to curb the menace:

  • Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961: In order to eradicate this social evil from the Indian society, the Indian Parliament introduced a legislation in the year 1961, enacting the Dowry Prohibition Act which was the first-ever law that criminalized the offences of giving, taking and the demanding of dowry within the Indian parlance. Section 4 of the Act aims at discouraging the very “demand” of “dowry” and even an instance where the demand for dowry is not properly referable to any legally recognised claim but is in consideration of marriage shall also constitute the offence. If any person either directly or indirectly “demands”from the parents or guardians of a ‘bride’ or ‘bridegroom’, the person shall be liable for punishment with imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs.5,000/- or with both.
  • Section 304B(2) of IPC:This section of the Indian Penal Code provides that, “Whoever commits dowry death shall be liable for a punishment with a minimum sentence of imprisonment for seven years and a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.”
  • Section 498A of the IPC: This section of the Indian Penal Code provides that if the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman subjects such woman to cruelty, he/ she shall be liable for a punishment with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. For the purpose of this section, the term cruelty has been divulged as under:
  • Any willful 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.
  • Harassment of the woman 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.
  • Section 113B of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872: This section provides that when the question is whether a particular person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, it shall be presumed by the Court that such person had caused the dowry death.

Significant Judicial Pronouncements:

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the expression ‘dowry’ contained in Section 2 of the Dowry Act cannot be confined merely to be ‘demand’ of money, property or valuable security’ made at or after the performance of marriage. It was further opined that the legislature has in its wisdom while providing for the definition of ‘dowry’ emphasized that any money, property or valuable security given, as a consideration for marriage, ‘before, at or after’ the marriage would be covered by the expression ‘dowry’ and this definition as contained in Section 2 has to be read wherever the expression ‘dowry’ occurs in the Act.

In the instant case, black stained rough skin was foundon both sides of neck of the deceased Jaikali Devi, who was married to the appellant in 1988. A sum of Rs. 40,000 was demanded in dowry at the time of marriage and the same was paid. Subsequently, demand for a she-buffalo was also made by the appellant but the same could not be fulfilled. The deceased also complained of ill-treatment and torture at the hands of the appellant and other members of his family.

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that there was no evidence that the death was due to normal reasons and various evidences amply establish the demand of dowry and ill treatment of the deceased shortly before the date of occurrence. The appeal was outrightly dismissed and the accused was held guilty.

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the appellants’ demand for a motorcycle for use for the second appellant’s business was a demand for dowry. It was particularly important to the Court in deciding this case that the victim, who died by committing suicide, had been harassed and ill-treated once the demand for the motorcycle was not met.

Edited by Pragash Boopal

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Mallika Kapoor
Hi everyone! This is Mallika Kapoor, a law student currently enrolled in my second year at the Aligarh Muslim University. Debating and travelling are my better halves but studying law gives me the satisfaction of something I was always meant to do. I love exploring places and their people and cuisines. I hate settling for terminal accomplishments with this persistent desire to delve into the plethora of infinite possibilities. Mythology fascinates me like no other!