By Swastika Goel, Amity Law School, Lucknow.

The Supreme Court of India held in a recent case that a demand for dowry can be made at any time and thus will be penalised accordingly. The ruling was made in the case of State of Uttarakhand v. Bhim Singh and Anr. where the accused (Bhim Singh) and his brother were punished for the death of Bhim Singh’s wife. The death was in relation with the demand for dowry and the accused argued that the demand was made by them after the marriage. As in a few earlier cases, the SC held that it is not necessary that the demand made to the bride or her family should only be made at the time of or before the marriage. Any such demand made at any time, will be equally guilty. The excuse that the demand was made after marriage would not hold water.

What is dowry?

In a lay man’s language, Dowry or Dahej can be defined as the demand for various expensive and luxurious items or money made by the groom or his family to the bride or his family in order to solemnize the marriage. If the bride’s family fails to fulfill the demands, they are subject to humiliation and often leads to severe torture, exploitation and even killing of the bride.

Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 defines “dowry” as 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 1 [or any time after the marriage] 2 [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.

The dowry system in India had originated as a voluntary institution where the parents and other family members of the bride used to give gifts and money to the bride, groom and the groom’s family according to their capacity and wish. Later, it was considered to be a kind of insurance given to the bride by her family in case her in-laws mistreated her.  However, this slowly started turning into a social show of status and one’s wealth and gradually took the shape of a deep rooted evil in the Indian society. People started offering more and more dowry in order to get the groom to marry their daughter rather than anybody else. This also led to greed in the minds of the groom and his parents who would select the bride n the basis of the amount of dowry being offered. The groom’s family would boast about how much dowry they had received from the bride’s family.

Even today, though we consider ourselves to be a modern society, evil practices like dowry are still practiced even by the highly educated people in the name of tradition.  Demand for dowry and dowry deaths are quite common even in the present day despite the many laws created to uproot the practice.

JUDICIAL PROVISIONS:

  • The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961— prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry “as consideration for the marriage”, where “dowry” is defined as a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage.

Sec 3(2)– Gifts given without a precondition are not considered dowry, and are legal.

Sec 4– If any person demands directly or indirectly, from the parents or other relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom as the case may be, any dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees

  • The Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of lists of presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules 1985– This act lays that the bride and bridegroom should maintain lists of the presents received by them during the time of their marriage.
  • The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986— According to this act, if a woman dies within 7 years of her marriage and it is proved that she died because she was subject to cruelty by her husband or any relative of his with a connection to the demand for dowry, then such a death shall be termed as a Dowry Death and such a husband and his relatives shall be punished with imprisonment that will be of not less than 7 years and which may extend to life imprisonment.
  • Indian Penal Code—
  • Sec 304(B)– It deals with Dowry Deaths.
  • 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 relative 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.
  • Sec498 (A)– This Section of the IPC protects women from harassment from the husband or his family in cases where illegal dowry is sought.

This section reads that anyone ( the husband or the relatives of the husband of the woman ) subjects her to cruelty shall be punished under the provisions of this section with a fine and shall also be subject to imprisonment which shall extend to a period of 3 years.

Part (a) and (b) of this section define cruelty.

However, it came to notice that this provision of IPC was being highly misused and a lot of people were arrested without reason. In Preeti Gupta & Another vs State of Jharkhand & Another  the Supreme Court recommended the investigation regarding the misuse of this provision.

  • Protection Of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005– The act provides for protection of women from any sort of domestic including violence against a woman due to the demand for dowry.  It assigns the same meaning to “dowry” as laid in the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961.

CASE LAWS-

  • The most recent case which sparked off the ruling that dowry can be demanded even after marriage was State of Uttarakhand v. Bhim Singh & Anr. (2015).  The SC judge bench including Justice MY Eqbal and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose on 11 February 2015 ruled that the demand for dowry can be made at any time and not necessarily before the marriage.
  • In the case of Himachal Pradesh v. Nikku Ram & Ors.  The SC held that the demand for dowry can be made on three occasions—before marriage; at the time of marriage and after marriage.

A report suggests that a woman dies every hour in India due to the demand for dowry.  The number of dowry deaths that took place between 2007 and 2014 show that on an average, the number of deaths that have occurred, form the conclusion that every hour atleast one woman is put to death due to her inability or refusal to pay dowry.  In another recent case in Nagpur on January 30, 2015, a woman named Vanita committed suicide along with her 23 month old daughter as she was constantly harassed by her husband (Rajesh) and other relatives for dowry.

Despite the various laws made to eradicate the dowry system, the number of deaths has only been rising. This in my opinion clearly shows that the laws made are still not as strict as they should be and that there are a number of loopholes in the existing laws which are used by the perpetrators to their benefit.   The need of the hour is to educate people, especially women so that they are aware of their rights and they know where they can find help if they face any sort of torture, harassment or even bad behaviour for not paying dowry. Also, we need to ensure that the laws are strictly obeyed. For this, it is also necessary that the police takes quick action and that the people who practice dowry are severely punished.