DOWRY DEATH – Money or Life?
Once there was a time when women were regarded as divine and worshiped as the embodiment of all the virtues. Women were treated as Shakti and a source of new creations. But things started to change with the passing time. The new phase developed when the society became a male dominating. Thereafter, women were treated as weaker section, they were not allowed to get proper education, got victim of various types of violence and faced discrimination in all phases of life. Half of the India’s population belongs to women, then the question arises why such discrimination takes place? The Answer to this question is, the narrow-minded people living in the society has different view point for the women. This imbalanced inequality in the society has need to be stopped.
Marriage is regarded as the most pure relationship exists on the land, but people have also changed the meaning of marriage. For some people marriage is just a way to earn money from the bride’s family. In ancient times the meritorious act of dana, however, remained incomplete until the receiver was given dakshina. So, when the bridegroom or Vara was givin something in cash or kind, along with Kanyadaan, it was treated as Varadakshina. At the time of marriage, all the valuable ornaments, property and gifts which are given to the bride groom is known as ‘dowry’. But when bride groom’s family forces the bride to bring more amount from her paternal home, it takes the face of violence and harassment. Dowry is a social custom from time immoral and expanded all around the country.
WHAT IS DOWRY?
According to Webster’s New Dictionary ‘dowry’ means –
The money, goods or estate which a woman brings to her husband in marriage, a bride’s position on her marriage
A natural talent, gift or endowment, as poetry was her dowry
A gift of money or property by a man to or for his bride.
According to 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 the other party in the marriage,
By the patents of either party in a marriage or by other person to either party in the marriage or to any other person.
At or before 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.
In 1984, just to make the law more effective in order to control the dowry process in large scale, there was a drastic amendment in the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 vide the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1984. All the offences under this Act has now come under cognizable and police officer can arrest the accused for demanding dowry without any permission and warrant and can proceed with the proceedings against the culprit.
The continuous demand of dowry from the bride after the marriage, leads to cruelty and harassment of the in-laws toward the bride. These issues result in her death, or she commits suicide which can be termed as ‘dowry death’. There has been rise in cases of dowry death from 690 in 2018 to 777 in 2019. “Dowry Death” is a unique form of violence against the women of India. It can also be regarded as a form of murder. Dowry can be categorised into 3 stages, First, before the marriage has taken place, Second at the time of marriage, and Thirdly after the marriage which does not have an ending date.
According to section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ‘Dowry Death’ means when the woman’s death is caused due to burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances just within seven years of her marriage. Before her death she has subjected to harassment or cruelty by the husband or any relatives of the husband, or if had any connection to demand of dowry, such death will be called as ‘dowry death’.
Essentials of dowry death are:
Death of the bride should be caused due to bodily injury or burns, or otherwise that under normal circumstances.
Death must occurred within 7 years of the marriage.
The bride must have been subjected to harassment and cruelty by her husband or her in-laws.
Harassment and cruelty must have connection to the dowry demand.
Cruelty and harassment should have taken place just before her death.
DEATH DUE TO UNNATURAL CIRCUMSTANCES
The term, ‘otherwise that normal circumstances’ means not the natural death. If the death of a woman is caused under unnatural circumstances, then the husband and the in-laws of the women will be presumed to have caused a ‘dowry death’ and will be liable for the offence, unless it is proved otherwise. In Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana the apex court stated that, once the prosecution is able to establish all the essential elements of dowry death under Section 304B, the burden of proof of innocence shifts on defence. In Shanti v. State of Haryana the Supreme Court held that if any doubt arises on the actions of the husband or husband’s relatives at the time of death of the wife, then the court will presume that they have committed the offence under Section 304B.
HARASSMENT AND CRUELTY SOON BEFORE THE DEATH
Cruelty means in accordance to Section 304B is any wilful conduct which is of such a kind that is likely to drive the woman (bride) to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life. Harassment is to coerce her or any other person related to her in demand of dowry. ‘Cruelty’ includes both mental torture and physical torture. In Bansi Lal v. State of Haryana the Apex Court gave the ruling that the Court has to analyse the circumstances which lead the death of the woman, and then decide if there is any possible connection between the demand of dowry and act of harassment and cruelty before the death. In Suresh Kumar Singh v. State of U. P. the Supreme Court Held That if any dispute arise regarding the date of marriage, then burden of proof lay on the prosecution to prove the same, if the benefit of Section 113A and 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 and Section 304B and 498A of IPC is to be taken.
THE DEATH MUST HAVE OCCURRED WITHIN SEVEN YEARS OF THE MARRIAGE.
The time period of seven years is considered as cut period for the bride and bride groom because of the seven steps taken by them of the sacred nuptial fire at the time of marriage for a new life. In Iqbal Singh v, State of Punjab the Supreme Court stated that seven years is considered as the settling period of the couple in the marriage life. The reason why one of essential ingredient of dowry death is that the death must have taken place within seven years from the marriage.
As per Section 304B (2) anyone who commits dowry death is punished with punishment not less than 7 years and may extend to life imprisonment. In the developing society the punishment of dowry death needs to be changed. A punishment for murder can be extended to life imprisonment or death penalty based the facts, then why the punishment of dowry death is only up to life imprisonment? For such a heinous crime the legislation must change the punishment up to death penalty a life for a life will be the best for it. Dowry Death is a planned murder but it takes the face of suicide at the time of institution. a time comes when a woman is not able to bear the cruelty and harassment going on her due to dowry, at that particular time death looks easier than being harassed or being the victim of cruelty, which is a pure form of abetment of suicide.
In Rajbir v State of Haryana the Apex Court held on a serious note that dowry abuse resulting in rising of the dowry cases in the country, so all the High Courts and Trial Court to ordinarily add Section 302 of IPC need to be charge with Section 304B of IPC, so that death sentences could be imposed in such heinous and barbaric crimes against women. This could help in reduction of the dowry death cases in the country.
In Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab the Court held that the Section 306 of IPC, read with Section 113A of the Evidence Act, 1872 has only enabled the Court to punish a husband or the in-laws of the woman who are subjected to cruelty on her, as envisaged in Section489A. When such woman commits suicide within7 years of her marriage. It is immaterial for Section 306 IPC whether cruelty or harassment was “soon before her death” or earlier.
ANOTHER PROVISION THAT DEALS WITH DOWRY DEATH IS SECTION 113B OF THE INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT.
Presumption of Dowry Death – when the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman, and it is shown that soon before her death such women 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.
In Krishna Lal v. Union of India the court gave the judgement that, the provisions of this Section are mandatory in nature, it urges the Court to draw such presumption of dowry death on the proof of circumstances mentioned therein, which amounts to shifting the onus on the accused to show that the married woman was not treated with cruelty by her husband soon before her death.
In Bhagwati Singh v. Commissioner. Of Police the Supreme Court has pointed out that “Young women who have education, is intelligence and possess a good character do not set fire to themselves to welcome death by her won unless she is provoked and compelled to that desperate step by the intolerance of their misery.”
Both substantive law and procedural law, appears to have gone to far the limits to hold the punishment for the guilt and create a sense of fear in the minds of the people living in the society. Due to the changing mind-set of the society with time, may be the laws are not adequate but at the same time it brings a marginal impact in the society that restricts a person to commit the crime. People should be aware of the consequences of such offence so that it prevent them from doing so.
In Prem Kumar v. State of Rajasthan a combine reading of Section 304B of Indian Penal Code and Section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 put-up the fact, there must be material to show that the term “soon before the death”, the victim must be subjected to harassment or cruelty. ‘Soon before’ may vary from case to case on the facts and evidence of the case and no straitjacket formula can be laid down as to what constitute a period of ‘soon before’ the occurrence of the incident.
FACTORS LEAD TO DOWRY
Social factors play a vital role in the progress of dowry. The custom of giving gifts, property, money and valuable ornaments to the daughter at the time of marriage is for her better life after the marriage. The custom is still going on even after having law which prohibits the giving as well as taking of dowry at the time of marriage and after that also. In a general view no one witnesses the transaction of dowry, domestic violence, cruelty, harassment taking place on the woman except the family member, which becomes a point of lack of proper evidence against the husband and in-laws. Some woman just don’t raise their voice by thinking that this will come to an end one day and everything will be normal that.
The media are also responsible for reinforcing the weaker aspect of woman. The way television portraits a woman gives the society a message that woman is born bear all the cruelty and harassment. We learn from what we see, the media, television serials, cinemas has to change their prospective of making a script in which a woman is regarded as a weaker section. A girl is as important as a boy to a parent, it is important to make sure that the girl is also provided with all the opportunities and resources which are given to a boy. We have to understand that a ride is also a daughter of someone, who has the right to live with love, care and respect.
WHAT LEADS TO DOWRY SYSTEM?
A form of custom – Dowry system is process which is going on from time immemorial. People are still following this, thinking it to be a necessary part of a marriage. People think that if you have a daughter then you are bound to give dowry at the time of marriage. The tradition is still going on and increasing day by day.
Demand from the groom’s family – If the groom is having a good job, status then they are entitled to get enough money, property, and all their demands are fulfilled at the time of marriage.
Bride’s family want to give it - Every parent want their daughter to be happy after the marriage. The family thinks if they give enough money and property to the in-laws then they will keep her happy.
Illiteracy – Lack of education is also one of the reasons for the dowry system. The dowry system prevails more in rural areas where there is no proper education and people don’t know about the laws that restrict the giving and taking of dowry.
STEPS TO ERADICATE DOWRY
Education of the daughter – Every child is entitled to get proper education without any discrimination. Girls be provided with education so that they can be self-independent and not have to depend on anyone even after the marriage also. Education makes an individual stable in his life without any restriction.
Government initiative – Thought the prohibition of dowry law are there in the country, but are they enough to control the ongoing system. More effective and strict action and laws are too made by the government to eradicate such evil system down from its roots.
Groom must take the step - An educated and well establish boy must come first and say no to dowry. To make a perfect relation after the marriage equal balance is needed from both the partners, which starts from here.
Social Awareness – Awareness programmes must be taken up by the government especially in the rural areas and make the people know about the prohibition of dowry. Awareness must promote for doing a simple marriage without any taking or giving of dowry.
Do not encourage dowry practice – It’s better to say no to a greedy groom. Unless and until we stop the practice of dowry, we will not able to change the society. Be the change first.
Years after years legislative is trying to bring quality and fair treatment towards the woman without any discrimination. These legislation not only helps the victim but also helps their families to get justice. Woman are the victim of different violence that takes place inside as well as outside of the house. If a woman is educated and going outside for work then she will be raped, sexually harassed at work place and may be some day got victim of acid attack. If the women is not educated and staying with his husband them she has to suffer domestic violence, cruelty by relatives, beaten up by husband and what not. Why every time woman has to face problems? Why the society don’t accept the woman as they are? Why they are treated as a weaker section? The society is developing and changing with the time, do give chance and opportunity to the girls as equally as given to the boys.
The dowry in its present scenario is a source of joy as well curse in the society. Joy for the family of the husbands as they get money, property, gifts and more, and curse for the bride and her family because it sometimes cost the life of their daughter. Dowry system is a devil who is eating up the society day by day, and we are unaware of it. Dowry system gets an open passage in the society despite being a crime because no one dares to take legal action against the families. Why the demand of dowry leads to death of the woman it is the most heinous crime. Is dowry more important than the life of the woman? The ‘sankritization’ of groups at the ‘lower hierarchy’ of the caste system has given social legitimacy to the concept of dowry, making it almost indispensable entry intricately woman into the existing social superstructure. The legislation has made laws for the better life of the woman, but it still need more correction and implementation in that. Punishment for committing dowry death must be increased, proper legal steps to be taken by the police while investigation. The prohibition of the dowry must be followed strictly by everyone, so that no more daughter has to loss her life.
To lower down the growing number of dowry deaths, harassments or cruelty in the country, then more female police officers are need to be inducted so available in a situation relating to unnatural deaths of the women. This will help the family to speak out all the issues clearly to the police officer and the officer will also be able to understand it in a well manner. This will help in proper investigation, interrogation and achieving justice.
“Behave Manly, Depend On Your Earnings, Why Demand Dowry?”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Designation: Student of Kingston Law College (KEI), Kolkata
Ankita Nandi is a fourth year law student perusing her course of B.A.LL.B., from Kingston Law College, Kolkata. She is interested in Criminal Law, Constitutional law and Cyber Law. She is also interested in developing her research and drafting skills with gaining knowledge on contemporary socio-legal issues. She has previously interned with various online legal awareness platforms and in High Court of Calcutta. Apart from her legal life she spends her time in photography.