Marriages in India, especially in the Hindu religion, is considered to be sacramental. For as late as 1955, there were no written laws for marriage ceremonies of Hindus, and the institution worked on rituals and traditions across the entire subcontinent with variations. However, the one practice that remained surprisingly uniform through cultural variations is the dowry system, and the consequences related to it. In fact, the dowry system has made its way into other religions as well. The history of this system is quite fascinating. It is a trajectory that began with an apparently noble cause but gave way to becoming the social evil, it exists as today.
As tradition has it, dowry also does not have a definite beginning. Some say it began with Manusmriti, some trace it back to Dharmashastra; and, surprisingly, some of the studies have suggested that ‘dowry as a system did not exist until the sixteenth century and it became a binding tradition in the colonial times. It has a myriad of sources in its name but no matter which source we refer to, it is always found that its root is patriarchal. Some scholars trace its origin to the bride's father presenting her with some gifts at the time of the marriage so that she does not have any financial problem at her in-laws’ place. Also considering that the mortality rate was much higher during those times, this money also served a purpose of security. However, it is notable that the need for this security money arises out of the lack of inclusion of a woman in her parents’ (more appropriately, her father’s) money. Had the inheritance law (or custom) been inclusive of all the genders, there would not have been an issue of ‘security money’ which transformed into the demon that dowry is today.
The tradition of dowry is misogynistic through and through. At one point, dowry had become a status symbol, a price to pay in order to get your daughter married. The better the educational qualification of the bridegroom, the more would be the dowry. It also emerged to be a means of climbing the class ladder, this setup was called hypergamy. ‘Hypergamy’ as a concept means marrying into a family of a ‘superior’ caste or class. Belonging from a higher social class and caste brings acceptance to a person in the society. Therefore, marrying a woman from a lower caste per se was a deed of favour towards her and her family. Therefore, hypergamy has also exacted a lot from the bride’s family.
IMPACT OF THE DOWRY SYSTEM
There is a price for birthing a girl. The dowry system has grappled society with a strength that is impossible to break through. The compliance to it is easier than resistance. To a lot of parents who are unaware of the laws existing against dowry or who are simply not privileged enough to take an action, it seems a fair option to kill their female infant than to spend their life earning a dowry that will be hardly sufficient to marry off their daughter in a ‘prestigious’ family.
The undue pressure of saving up for ‘dowry’ leads to parents not sending their girl child to school. It suits them better to marry her off by just teaching her roles of a ‘housewife’ than ‘waste’ a handful of money on educating her, when the ultimate goal is to marry her. This furthers illiteracy. This furthers the propagation of ignorance over the matter of dowry and the laws related to it, which in turn propels or at least fails at stopping the crimes related to dowry.
The amount of dowry demanded from the groom’s side is directly proportional to the academic qualifications of the groom, his family wealth, his ‘beauty’, his caste. It is also directly proportional to how ‘dark’ is the bride, whether or not she can speak English, how educated she is. These categories vary from family to family. Some prefer uneducated brides who can do household chores, and would ‘charge more’ if the bride is educated.
Additionally, the dowry given is intricately linked with the social status of the family of the bride. First, it is believed that the amount of dowry is directly proportional with the status of the family in which the girl is being married into. Second, the non-payment of dowry might lead to the groom or his family to cancel the wedding. Thereby tarnishing the reputation of the bride’s family. Hence, in order to comply with the first and escape the second scenario, the father of the bride deems it fairer to go bankrupt than risk the marriage.
Domestic violence and dowry murder
It is very definitely a fact that the dowry system subjects women and her kins to torture. In 2019, the reported number of dowry deaths was 7.1 thousand which was a depreciation from 8.5 thousand deaths in 2014. Nevertheless, it clearly shows the rampancy and the state of affairs.
It is difficult to calculate the exact number of victims of dowry violence, because most of them meet with dowry murder at the hands of her in-laws through immolation, starvation etc. Those who escape death, have to face domestic abuse in the form of physical abuse by the husband and/or his family in addition to mental torture. The fear of retaliation by the in-laws if a victim stands up for herself is the primary cause of dowry deaths or abuse not being reported.
LAWS RELATED TO DOWRY IN INDIA
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the crime relating to dowry had significantly increased. Owing to these certain legislations were passed.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: Dowry is defined as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given – directly or indirectly – by one party to a marriage to the other, or by the parents of either party, or by any other person to either party, according to the Act. The Act aims to prohibit the giving or taking of dowry.
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: The Section deals with the violence done on women after the marriage by the in-law’s family or her parents or any relative of the husband. The section gives new definition to cruelty. Moreover, the section prescribes a punishment for 3-year and a fine.
Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: This section defines dowry death. According to section, if a woman dies within seven years of marriage by any burns or bodily injury or it was revelaed that before her marriage she was exposed to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of the husband in connection to demand dowry, wherefore the death of the woman will be considered as dowry death.
Even after implementation of numerous laws in order for prohibiting dowry and safeguarding women for over decades, the changes are limited to urban and educated people belonging from tier 1 cities. Dowry is such an integral part of our culture that it is very difficult to convince a majority of people otherwise. Dowry is celebrated as a social norm, instead of being ridiculed as a social evil. It is the need of the hour to fashion an environment that is safer for women. In the ongoing circumstances of the Covid pandemic, and in view of rising unemployment, there has been an increase in demand for dowry. In fact, in-laws seek additional dowry, even after ten years of marriage. In a pseudo-progressive society, it is crucial to recognize and acknowledge a problem and then educate women and their families of their legal rights. It is very important that the narrative about dowry is changed and popular public opinion swayed against the practice.
Dowry-Related Violence, www.stopvaw.org/dowry-related_violence.
Gujar, Bharath. “Essay On Dowry System in India - Causes, Effects & Solution.” Cultural India, 6 Dec. 2016, learn.culturalindia.net/essay-dowry-system-india-causes-effects-solution.html.
“Ministry of Women & Child Development.” Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 | Ministry of Women & Child Development, wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961.
Rao, R. Jaganmohan. “DOWRY SYSTEM IN INDIA—A SOCIO-LEGAL APPROACH TO THE PROBLEM.” Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 15, no. 4, 1973, pp. 617–625. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43950234. Accessed 8 Apr. 2021.
Name- Priyank Preeti
Name of institution- Amity Law School, Noida
Year of Study – 2nd Year