In India marriage is steeped in tradition and deep rooted cultural beliefs. Dowry has its roots since medieval times when a gift in cash or kind was given to a bride by her family to maintain her independence after marriage. During British period, it became the only legal way to get married and it is still emerging in india with high price booming violence against women. Dowry violence is perpetrated by the husband or the in-laws in a bid to extract a higher dowry price from the bride's family and refusal to give dowry result in violence against women. This frequently convert into physical, mental or sexual violence against the women. The violence may range from slashing genitalia or breasts with razors to burning her alive by pouring kerosene on her body and women are also driven to suicide in some cases. Section 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 defines Dowry as “any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party, or by the parents of either party to a marriage” Dowry is practised as a culture and considered as a integral part of marriage. In a report published by the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 8,618 female homicides related to dowry disputes in 2011, and 3,239 suicides by women due to dowry issues and there is a 2.7% and 4.7% increase, respectively, from the previous year. It also reported 27% increase in arrests under the Dowry Prohibition Act in 2011 from 2010 and there is an alarming 59% increase in total crimes against women in India over the period of time. Violence towards a bride perpetuated under circumstances, which results in her death is called a “dowry death”. Section 304B of Indian penal code provides provisions for dowry death where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injurily 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 harasment 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. Also section 498A of Indian penal code provides that Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects 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.
In Ancient India, Dowry was not practiced and it is also not exactly known that when
This roots concept came to India but it is known to have its roots in ancient India. Megasthenes and Arrian accorded that Indian people selected their bride not on the basis of how much dowry she will give but on the basis of her inner and outer beauty. Manu has also mentioned about dowry and brides wealth. He explained the difference between brides wealth and dowry. Dowry was associated with the brahmanic caste and it was a more of a prestigious thing whereas brides wealth was typically restricted to the lower caste only. It was mainly prevailed in the 20th century. In ancient period dowry was reffered as “yautraka”, which was a material gift and it worked as a proof that two people have joined matrimonial hand. The girl was given upon getting some price which was reffered as “sulka”. It means that parents were compensated for their loss of daughter. The system of dowry was prevalent in Indian society since vedic times where gifts given to bride were known as women’s property or stridhan. In Indian marriages kanyadana was also part of it, kanya means daughter and dana means gift, which is also known as “Hunda” means pot. This was so because in ancient period dowry was given in Hunda (pot). Dowry was given in sense that they can use for her own independent use. According to Kautilya, jewellery or other gifts constitutes property of women and she can use this property in maintaining her son, daughter or herself, if her husband is absent and left no money for her maintainence. When French came to india they praised Indian women for maintaining their own state of affairs. They had developed great fondness for Ahalya Bai who was a great administrator of the society. In 1793, when british came to settle permanently in India under Lord Cornwallis, they enabled the concept of private ownership of land. It was only britishers who has prohibited women from owing any kind of land or property. They completely prohibited women foom possessing any kind of wealth or money that she received during her marriage and that will belong to her husband. The husband can misused the wife’s wealth and this concept took a turn into dowry and now it became a consideration for marriage it means that the bride had to bring the wealth as demanded by the husband and her in laws as consideration for marriage. And if the demanded wealth is not fulfilled by the bride’s family then various types of torture and trauma inflicted upon the bride to bring such wealth and in this process there have been committed various cases of crimes like murder, bodily injuries, mental abuse, murder etc. The first glimpse of uproar and protest against dowry was held in the year 1980. The radical movement by women proved to establish that root of subordination lies in the biological relation and the laws were not adequate until the attitude of society is changed through education and active participation in politics. In Muslim laws, dowry is known as mahr is a sum of money or property which is paid to the bride during marriage. Holy Quran entitled the right of Mahr on the bride which is her own property( women shall obtain due permission from their respected guardian before their marriage to pay mahr and it is an obligation on part of their guardian to pay their bridal due.
FAILURE OF DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT
Our constitution declares that all persons are equal before law and forbids discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, sex etc. If boys and girls are equal and they possess equal rights and duties then why our custom allowed grils to gifted away in marriage. Dowry Prohibition Act, was enacted on May 1, 1961, intended to prevent the giving or receiving of a dowry in marriage. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry includes property, goods, or monetry thing given by either of the party to the marriage, by the parents of either party, or by anyone else or third party in connection with the marriage. This act is applicable to all person of all religion. This act required, that there should be a list be maintained describing each gift, its value, the identity of the person giving it, and the person’s relation to either of the party to the marriage. Despite the fact that in the last two decades the anti dowry laws have been made very stringent but it has shown a sign of its poor implementation. However, this act have so many inherent flaws that their honest implementation is well nigh impossible. In fact, this act have created so many problems than they have solved. Two amendments were enacted in the year 1984 and 1986 made giving and receiving of a dowry a cognizable offence. It means, a court can initiate proceedings upon its own knowledge or on the basis of a police report, even if the aggrieved party has lodged no such complaint. As per this act 'dowry' is forbidden but 'gifts' are allowed and there is high chances that party can take dowry in the name of gift. Violation of this act, its goals and its aims is on the rise with the woman frivolously making false allegations against their husbands with the purpose of getting rid of them or simply hurting the family and using this act for their own purpose. The court also held in the case of Savitri Devi v Ramesh Chand & Ors, that there was a misuse and exploitation of the provisions to such an extent that it was hitting at the foundation of marriage itself and proved to be not so good for health of our society at large. The court believed that authorities and lawmakers should review the situation and its legal provisions to prevent its misuse from taking place.
Looking at the present scenario, women are very well versed with their rights and duties. Legal provisions are proved to be pro-women since a very long time. The unawareness of the laws and rights had paralysed them as they were under presumption that abuse in their household is a fate and they have to suffer this fate silently. The cases registered us very low because of social stigma and lack of parents support and they were asked bride to bare all because of prestige issue. But today women are independent and well educated and not need any help to support their livelihood and there is no question of suffering and tolerating harsh behavior of husband and her in laws. Now women can easily terminate her marriage and they do not fear to approach the police to any sort of abuse they had faced. But there is also negative side of it, in this phase of women empowernment there are various section of society who have taken it in wrong way and posses vicious motive. In some of the cases women have filed dowry cases in order to fulfill their personal grudges and take revenge.
Dowry is a very ancient concept and the perception has been ever changing. The current laws has proven a huge relief at some extent to the suffering but it has also created some literate monsters who believe that these relief act as a tool of torture on their own family members. It can further argued that both the sides of use and misuse of dowry exist in our society. Despite protest conducted by women’s organization, activist, special police cells for women, media support and awareness scheme, the practice of dowry continues unabated on a massive scale. It is an accepted fact that dowry is not that easy problem to tackle with in very short period of time. However this social menace can be combated with effective strategies measures and stringent punishment to protect the bride. Despite the dowry prohibition act and Indian penal code, people of our nation have to unmute their voice and come forward to help to solve this social menace. The dowry system, which started as a noble gesture, has now been detoriated into something very reprehensible and became curse, which cannot be encouraged at the cost of our daughter’s future. The whole idea of extracting and exploiting in the name of marriage is simply disgusting and it cannot be tolerated at any cost. Despite the fact that in the last two decades the anti dowry laws have been made very stringent but it has shown a sign of its poor implementation. However, this act have so many inherent flaws that their honest implementation is well nigh impossible.
By Priya Singh, Law Student