Dowry is the transfer of parental property, gifts or money during the marriage of the daughter. In ancient times the dowry was given by the bride’s parents to the groom or his family as a share that is needed to start a new household by a newlywed couple. But the tradition that has started in the ancient times to help the daughter or the couple has now converted into a custom to abuse and oppress women, to cause physical violence on the bride, causing emotional and financial stress to the parents of the bride. In today’s modern society this evil still exists in the name of gifts even though it is a criminal offence to take dowry in India during the marriage but voluntary gifts are valid.
The history of the origin of dowry is still unclear. Some scholars believe that dowry was practised in India in antiquity but some refuse to believe that. It was believed that in ancient India dowry was insignificant because daughters had inheritance rights which they used to exercise during their marriage ceremony. There is no instance of dowry-related abuse even during the pre-colonial era of India, but the main culprit for today’s condition is the colonial era because, in colonial-era, Britishers made the practice of dowry mandatory to legally get married.
Although taking dowry is a criminal offence in India since 1961, its enforceability has been an issue ever since because only a limited amount of dowry cases gets reported and the majority of them remains unreported.
In today’s date and age where everyone is talking about equality and modernisation, dowry and dowry deaths in India is a bitter reality that still affects Indian society very much. It is very deeply rooted in the societies and marriages in Indian societies has now become a status symbol and because of that it is creating financial and mental pressure on parents of girls because they think if they don’t give enough dowry in the form of gift to their daughter no one from a good family would marry their daughter or their daughter will not get a suitable groom and because of that girl’s parents started to save or invest money for their daughter’s marriage since the day she is born. Current situation of Indian societies is that they have put a price on the Indian custom, those customs which were once for the benefit of the newly married couple have now become a nightmare for the bride and her family.
Some families are against the dowry. “Neither do they believe in accepting dowry nor in giving it but that number is very less.” If asked openly from anyone they will be against dowry but in hindsight when there is a marriage of their son or relative and they don’t get any gift they will feel bad because it is seen as a sign of respect to the individual or on the other hand, who doesn’t like extra money. It is not necessary that groom side will specifically ask for any gifts but it is a deemed situation for the bride’s parents to gift their future son in law and his family expensive gifts and property as a way of security that in future their daughter will be happy which is not always the case.
Parents have started to price their sons according to their qualification or the job that they have. This scenario is so common in India that when parents don’t gift their daughter they are ridiculed. Parents who are financially strong gift their daughter many things as per their wish but parents with the weak financial condition are also pressured to gift more even though they cannot for the sake of so-called society.
Now take a look at the statics report of the different organisation who surveyed dowry and matters related to dowry death. According to Indian Crime Record Bureau, India has by far the highest number of deaths related to dowry. According to a 2011 report of National Crime Record Bureau, 8,233 dowry death cases were reported across India. If calculated it means that every 90 minutes a bride is losing her life because of dowry demands.
In its 2015 report, it states that 7634 women died in our country due to Dowry harassment and 21 dowry deaths are reported daily across the country either they are burned alive or forced to commit suicide but what is shocking and sad at the same time is the conviction rate of the accused because only 34.7% of accused are convicted against 93.7% of those against whose police has issued charge sheet.
In 2016 these numbers went up to 1,10,378 which means that deaths because of dowry demands are increasing which is very concerning matter because these numbers are not only of the rural area but it also includes our glorified modern cities where it is considered that people are open-minded and educated. But these reports prove otherwise that dowry-related deaths are happening all over India whether it’s a big metropolitan city or small rural area.
But the accuracy of these statistics can not be guaranteed because many cases go unrecorded.
Dowry Crimes Against women in India
When grooms marry a bride only for the possession of her dowry and leave her after he has the possession, comes under the fraud. These cases are mostly filed in Punjab where groom from Canada or USA comes to India to marry and return without a bride after getting possession of her dowry.
When a woman is harassed or tortured mentally or physically to meet the demands of dowry is cruelty. This cruelty sometimes forces women to commit suicide because she can no longer bear the mental or physical pressure.
Domestic violence is a broad spectrum of cruelty where women are physically, sexually and mentally harassed some time by intimidation, isolation or by coercion.
Abetment to suicide
When mental and physical abuse is so much on the woman that she commits suicide is abetment to suicide. It includes all the act of husband or relatives that force a woman to commit suicide.
Dowry death or murder is bride killing by her husband and his family because of their dissatisfaction on dowry soon after the marriage. Dowry death also includes bride burning where the bride is set on fire by drowsing her on kerosene. It is the most common form of dowry death in India. Apart from that poisoning, strangulation, and acid attacks are also causes for the death of the bride.
Laws in India
To prevent and protect women from the social evil of dowry, the government has passed an act known as Dowry Prohibition Act 1961. Its main intention was to prevent the giving and receiving of money as Dowry. According to the act, Dowry includes property, goods or money given by either party to the marriage, by the parents of either party or by anyone else in connection with marriage. The Dowry Prohibition Act applies to all the people of the country irrespective of their religion.
According to the law, any dowry case registered under sec 498A of IPC is a non-bailable offence which means that only court or magistrate can grant the bail of the accused. If proven guilty of dowry, the punishment could be imprisonment for a minimum of five years and a fine of more than 15,000 or the value of the dowry received, whichever is higher.
In the Indian Penal Code, dowry is a punishable offence. Section 304B was added to the Indian Penal Code 1860 which made dowry death a specific offence punishable with imprisonment for a minimum of seven years or maximum for life. IPC states that if a woman dies within seven years of marriage by burns or bodily injury or in a suspicious manner with evidence that before her death she was subject to cruelty or harassment then her husband or In-laws were deemed to cause her death.
Misuse of the law
As everything in the world has its pros and cons, this act is no different, because the sole reason for the formation of this act was to protect women from the social evil of dowry but recently there are lots of case happening where women are using the law for their ulterior motives and filing false claims on husband and inlaws. In July 2014, in a case of Arnesh Kumar V. State of Bihar, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court reviewed the enforcement of section 41(1)(A) of CrPC which instructs the state of following certain procedure before the arrest and went to observe that the 498A had become a powerful weapon in the hands of disgruntled wives where innocent people were arrested without any evidence due to non-bailable and cognizable nature of law. The effect of filing false claims is directly on those women who are a victim of dowry harassment, these false claims make their grounds weak.
Although in India law has been in effect for decades against dowry largely they are ineffective because they are not effectively enforced by the police or the courts. Dowry is considered a major contributor to violence against women in India. For a case to go to court can take up to 10 years and even in the court husbands and inlaws can get away with the harassment and extortion easily because women can not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she is the victim of abuse and harassment and in case of dowry death where the woman is burned alive there is no evidence because the evidence is usually lost in flames with the victim. To stop these hideous dowry death what needed is proper implementation of law effectively and efficiently, rather than making new laws which are not implemented properly.