What is dowry and why it is so difficult to remove it?


The reminiscences of the ages have although paved way to the brilliancy of our ideological progress, yet a degenerated working upon, in many aspects, have created many problems to our social and individual institutions contributing in major proportions against our social and national solidarity. Many problems and evil shave grown up by turning wrong from the right course, wresting the true meaning of the causes leading to the emergence of many customs which are striking corrupting blows against our social and religious ideals. They are even, in spite of the existence of a strong legal system, causing a starting hardship as well as eclipsing a large part of our society. Although some of the dirty evils have been unloosened by legislative solutions and spread of scientific education, yet many of them are still very effectively poisoning our society.[1]

What is dowry?

The position of Indian women is pitiable in India, they are forced not only to enter into matrimony but also the parents of the girls have to pay the price and bear all the expenses of the marriage. This evil still continues to prevail and they are able to dodge the provisions of law. Though marriage in India is considered as a sacrament, we can see the marriage goes like a contract.  Dowry is defined in Section II of the Dowry Prohibition Act as:

S.2  Definition of “dowry”.—In this Act, “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 the said parties, but does not include] dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

Explanation II.—The expression “valuable security” has the same meaning as in section 30 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860). [2]

The court in Bachni Devi & Anr vs State Of Haryana The Secy. Home Dept. [3]gave more better description about the nature of dowry and the court stated Property or valuable security so as to constitute ‘dowry’ within the meaning of the Act must therefore be given or demanded “as consideration for the marriage”

11. The definition of the expression `dowry’ contained in Section 2 of the Act cannot be confined merely to the ‘demand’ of money, property or valuable security “made at or after the performance of marriage” as is urged by Mr Rao. The legislature has in its wisdom while providing for the definition of `dowry’ emphasised 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. Meaning of the expression `dowry’ as commonly used and understood is different than the peculiar definition thereof under the Act. Under Section 4 of the Act, mere demand of `dowry’ is sufficient to bring home the offence to an accused. Thus, any `demand’ of 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 would fall within the mischief of `dowry’ under the Act where such demand is not properly referable to any legally recognised claim and is relatable only to the consideration of marriage. Marriage in this context would include a proposed marriage also more particularly where the non- fulfillment of the “demand of dowry” leads to the ugly consequence of the marriage not taking place at all. The expression `dowry’ under the Act must be interpreted in the sense which the statute wishes to attribute to it……………The definition given in the statute is the determinative factor. The Act is a piece of social legislation which aims to check the growing menace of the social evil of dowry and it makes punishable not only the actual receiving of dowry but also the very demand of dowry made before or at the time or after the marriage where such demand is preferable to the consideration of marriage. Dowry as a quid pro quo for marriage is prohibited ………. .”.[4]

History of dowry in India

Dowry (dahej) is one of the most ancient practices of India. The Vedas prescribe that a dowry be given by the bride’s family to the groom. The Rig Veda states that cows and gifts given by the Aryan father of the bride to the daughter accompanied the bride’s procession. ‘Kakshivat’ in the Vedas says he became rich by the father-in-law giving him 10 chariots and maids and 1060 cows during the marriage ceremony. Dowry is referred to as `Streedhana’ and is an ancient practice. This custom implied that women were, in addition to being viewed as mere sex objects, severe economic liabilities for the parents. Indeed, the Brahmins raised the level of dowry to such ridiculous levels that the non-Brahmins were forced to murder their female children or face economic ruin. In this manner, the non-Brahmins exterminated their own females, perpetuating Brahmin dominance. We see this philosophy in action today. As per the book “Genocide of Women in Hinduism” authored by Sita Agarwal, over the last 65 years, more than 50 million female children have been murdered as a result of Vedic dowry and infanticide laws. In the book aforesaid the author says that the ancient Vedic custom of kanyadan, where the father presented his daughter with jewellery and clothes at the time of her marriage, and vardakshina where the father presented the groom with cash and kind are, in essence the dowry system. This curse is fully sanctioned in the Vedas. These examples show that dowry was practiced in ancient times. Thus, in order to marry Sita to `godly’ Rama, her father had to supply her with 100 crores of gold mohurs, 10000 carriages, 10 lakh horses, 60000 elephants, 100000 male slaves, 50000 female slaves, 2 crores of cows and 100000 pearls, and many other items . Thus, dowry, which is the very root of the Hindu evils of sati and bride-burning, is given `divine’ sanction by the `noble’ Hindu gods.[5]

Girls are often suggested to save some money for themselves in their childhood rather wasting them on useless things. Dowry has an important role to play in arranged marriages as the rest life of a girl depends upon the amount that is paid by a girl’s family to her in laws. Because inability to pay dowry exposes her to taunts and mental torture by her in laws and this cruelty rendered on her becomes manifold if she is unable to give birth to a boy. The amount of dowry in a community may depend upon the educational qualification or economic background or the property the family of boy holds.

Why dowry is difficult to remove?

Dowry is considered an important factor in a marriage and it is a symbol of prosperity and the security for bride in case of divorce. Though accepting and paying dowry is an offence however it still continues as the dogmatic beliefs of the society inherits a girl with a duty to pay dowry and a boy to receive the same. Millions of marriages take place every year however the cases of dowry that are reported in thousands. The numbers seem contradictory as to the patriarchy that prevails in a country like India. The cases are only reported when the ability of the girl’s family to pay the bride price has exhausted, and the same is recovered from the girl by torturing her. Moreover a study over the cases has its own story as most of the cases that are reported are in the name of domestic violence. Arranged marriage in India is also known as merger of companies where the parents find spouses for their children. However the story of every dowry starts with “no dowry “ however as the bond/ relation progresses the demands for dowry are raised and sometimes loans are even taken to pay off the dowry demands and even mortgaging the property papers. This is done to prevent the spoilage of image of the family and the girl as if the engagement is broken, then it gets difficult for a girl’s family to plan her wedding again.


Despite the stringent laws this evil continues in India and is engraved in the roots of India as there is a common acceptance of both the families to marriage. However this evil is like an unruly horse and must be controlled as it not only weakens a family financially but also leads to promotion of violence. Sometimes non-payment of dowry may lead to strife between the couple that may never end. Though laws are in existence but law is only useful when the provisions of the law are understood and its spirit is realised, after all these legislation are welfare legislations and laws are for the citizens only. It is a myth that payment of dowry leads to prosperous life for woman, but this considered as consent for further unreasonable demands that may be raised from time to time.

“The views of the authors are personal


[1] Singh, Vijay:Dowry Prohibition in India,1981 ed.p.312-16.
[2] Section 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act,1961

[3] CRIMINAL APPEAL  NO. 831 OF 2006

[4] (1996) 4 SCC 596

[5]  https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/qrius.com/dowry-india-practice-ill-practice/amp/

Harsh Gupta
I am Harsh vasu Gupta pursuing my BA.LLB from University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh. I am associated with his mooting society and Legal Aid society of his college. My areas of interest are constitution, criminal and international law. I love to write blogs and articles. My hobbies are playing cricket and listening songs.