In several societies across the world, the practice of dowry exists either in one form or another. Dowries have served as a gesture of reciprocity by the bride’s family to the groom’s family at the time of marriage in order to acknowledge any expenses that the groom’s family might incur towards the bride. These exchanges are not always monetary and sometimes denote the significance of the marriage itself and also ensures a friendly relationship between the two families.
However, this common cultural practice has now become extremely perverse in most societies and has led to cruelty and violence among families where the women have been at the receiving end of it for the longest time. It is a sexist and a decadent practice and is seen as a symbol of wealth and power in the society. It is a social vice and has been penalized by different legislations in India.
Definition of Dowry:
Under the Dowry (Prohibition) Act, 1961, `dowry’ means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:
- by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
- 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 but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
In the case of Ram Asrey vs. State of U.P.[i] the definition was discussed as follows; “Dowry” – Dos muliers Lat” otherwise called maritagium, or marriage goods, that which the wife brings to the husband in marriage. This word should not be founded with dower.[ii] In common parlance, dowry means where the husband or his relations demand valuable security from the parents and other relations of the wife after the marriage.
However, in the case of Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab[iii], the Hon’ble Supreme Court considered the definition of “dowry” as defined under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, with reference to the offence under Section 304B of the I.P.C., and held that it should be any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given in connection with the marriage, customary gift or payment in connection with birth of child or other ceremonies unrelated to the marriage ceremony, held, do not fall within the ambit of “dowry”.
Indian Legislations governing Dowry:
Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 304 B of the Code deals with ‘Dowry Death’ and it reads as follows;
- Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven 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 demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death” and such husband or relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death.
- 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.
Section 498 A of the Code talks about ‘Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty’ and reads as follows;
Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty- Whoever, being the husband or the relatives of the husband of a woman, subject 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.
And the section also defines “cruelty”.
Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Section 113 B of the Act deals with ‘presumption as to dowry death’ and reads as follows;
“When the question is whether a person has committed dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.”
Dowry (Prohibition) Act, 1961.
The Act was enacted in 1961 with the primary objective of prohibiting the giving and taking of dowry. It has been amended twice, once in 1984 and again in 1986. It is often read with the Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of Lists of Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules, 1985.
Section 3 of the Act deals with ‘Penalty for giving and taking dowry’ and according to this section, if any person after the commencement of the Act gives or takes, abets the giving or taking of dowry shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term not less than five years and with fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of dowry, whichever is more.
Section 4 of the Act talks about ‘Penalty for demanding dowry’ and according to the section, if any person directly or indirectly demands dowry from the parents, relatives or guardians of the bride or the bridegroom shall be punished with an imprisonment of not less than six months and which shall extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees.
The burden of proof in respect of above Sections 3, 4 of the Act is under Section 8-A, which reads as follows;
“Burden of proof in certain cases – Where any person is prosecuted for taking or abetting the taking of any dowry under Section 3, or the demanding of dowry under Section 4, the burden of proving that he had not committed an offence under those sections shall be on him.”
In the case of Pandurang Shivram Kawathkar vs State Of Maharashtra[iv], the Supreme Court categorically held that the offence under Section 4 of the Act is complete when demand for dowry is made and consent for meeting the demand is not necessary.The object of Section 4 is to discourage the very demand for property or valuable security as consideration for a marriage between the parties thereto. Section 4 prohibits the demand for ‘giving’ property or valuable security which demand, if satisfied, would constitute an offence under Section 3 read with Section 2 of the Act.
The dominant objective of the Dowry (Prohibition) Act is to annihilate the practice of demanding dowry in any shape or form either before or after the marriage.Therefore, it is abundantly clear that mere demanding of dowry is penalised under the Dowry (Prohibition) Act, 1961and it attracts a punishment of imprisonment of not less than 6 months-2 years and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees. If the groom or his family demands dowry either before or after marriage, they can be prosecuted under the legislation.
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i]Criminal Appeal No. - 612 of 1995
[ii]Co. Litt 31. Wharton’s Law Lexicon.
[iv]2001 CriLJ 2792