MISUSE OF DOWRY LAWS IN INDIA
Dowry means all those gifts, money, or estate that a woman brings with her to her husband’s house after their marriage has been solemnized. Not only in India the dowry system is practiced in some parts of Europe, Africa, Bangladesh, China and some other countries as well. The demand for dowry has become like a necessary consideration for marriage, from the bride’s family. This practice has, in turn, led to increasing abuse against women in the modern times.
The Parliament of India enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961 which has made the giving and taking of dowry illegal in India. It applies to all persons irrespective of their religion. Though the act has been revised many times, but still the dowry system and the violence related to it are common in Indian marriages.
The further challenge that has come up recently is the no. of false cases that are being filed by the women against their husbands and in-laws for malicious purposes. There is a dire need to completely remove this evil from our society and at the same time to ensure that no innocent is falsely imprisoned under our laws.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961[i]
It was enacted on May 1, 1961. This act has combined all the dowry forbidding laws that have been enacted in different states.
The objective of this act is to stop the practice of asking, giving and taking of dowry. Although the act prohibits the practice, but if a dowry has already been given to the bride then this act tries to ensure, that it used for the benefit of the bride.
Section 2[ii] of this act defines what constitutes dowry.
Arjun Dhondiba Kamble v. State of Maharashtra[iii]
In this case, the Bombay High Court explained the definition of dowry as provided in the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. The court explained it as a consideration from the bride’s parents to the groom or his parents for their agreement to wed the wife-to-be. The court further said that any other demand which is not related to such consideration was not to be covered under the demand for dowry.
Sankar Prasad Shaw & ors. v. The State & Anr.[iv]
In this case, there was demand for refrigerator, T.V., 174.9 grams of gold, cash of Rs. 50,000 and a gas connection by the groom’s family. But, there had not been any agreement regarding this demand between the parties at or before or after marriage and that is why the Calcutta High Court didn’t consider it as a demand for dowry rather just a demand for valuable security.
Y.K. Bansal v. Anju[v]
In this case, the husband had demanded Rs.50,000 from his father-in-law, after some days of his marriage. When his demand was not fulfilled, he tortured his wife and threatened to marry someone else.
The Allahabad High Court held that though the demand was being made after the marriage but since it was in connection with the marriage, it constituted a demand for dowry.
Section 3[vi] of the act lays down the penalty of giving or taking of dowry.
Section 4[vii] of the act lays down the penalty for making any demand for dowry whether directly or indirectly.
Bhoora Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[viii]
In this case, the deceased lady had written a letter to her father, stating that she was being threatened and tortured by her in-laws to make their dowry demands fulfilled, before she was set on fire by her in-laws.
The Allahabad High Court considered it as an offence of demanding dowry under section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 304B (1)[ix] defines ‘dowry death’ and Section 304B (2)[x] lays down the punishment for the husband or his relatives who caused such death, which can be from seven years to life imprisonment.
Vemuri Venkateshwara Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh[xi]
In this case, the Andhra High Court laid down the essentials and guidelines for constituting a case under section 304B of IPC. The following are these guidelines:
There should be a demand for dowry and harassment related to such demand from the accused husband or relative. The deceased must have died.
The death of the deceased wife should be under unnatural circumstances. The demand and harassment related to dowry and the death should be within seven years of marriage to prove the offence under section 304-B.
Section 498A[xii] lays down the punishment for any husband or husband’s relative who subjects such woman to cruelty. Cruelty means-
Any deliberate act which is possibly leading a woman to commit suicide and causes her any grave injury.
Any harassment on women, which is done to make a demand for any valuable security or property or failure of such demand.
A.K. Deviah v. State of Karnataka[xiii]
In this case, the deceased had committed suicide after eleven months of her marriage. Before her suicide, she had told her brother and sister as well his brother-in-law about the ill-treatment that was meted out to her by her husband for the demand for balance of dowry. Even some ornaments of the deceased were found at a pawnbroker’s shop.
The Karnataka High Court held the husband guilty under sections 3,4 and 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act and 304 B and 468 A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Indian Evidence Act,1872
Section 113B[xiv] of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 lays down presumption for dowry death. If the court finds that soon before the death of such a woman she was subjected to cruelty for demanding dowry by such person, the presumption of dowry death, as defined under section 304B of IPC, is justified by the court.
Shiv Ram v. State of Delhi[xv]
In this case, where the death of the woman was caused by succumbing to injuries caused by accidental burning, the court found that the prosecution evidence had lacunae to establish a proximate link to give rise to such presumption of dowry death as laid down in section 113B.
CAUSES OF MISUSE
1. Victim-biased laws
The laws that have been made for the protection of women in India are victim-biased according to many scholars. The commonly followed principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ gets reversed in the dowry-related cases, such that the principle followed in these cases is ‘guilty until proven innocent’.[xvi]
By shifting the burden of proof it becomes comparatively easy for the victim to prove that her rights were violated than for the accused to prove that he was innocent. As soon as the complaint is filed against the husband and the in-laws, they are no longer considered innocent in the eyes of law until they prove that their innocence which is again a very difficult task.
2. To gain monetary benefit
Many false complaints have been filed to pressurize the accused to give a share from their properties.[xvii] To avoid any charge, the accused tend to fulfill their demands. Even in the cases of acquittal the accused suffer a huge loss of time, loss of reputation and litigation expenses.
To make ‘out of court’ settlements, the accused agree to any demand by the complainant. This results in grave injustice as the complainants can extract hefty amounts maliciously from innocent people.
3. Strict nature of laws
The guidelines that have been laid down in ant- dowry laws are so strict that these are non-bailable and non-compoundable.[xviii] This makes it difficult for the accused husband and his family to get bail and there are no chances to come to any compromise with the complainant. Due to such nature of these laws, women have recently started misusing them on a large scale as a means to annoy and get undue influence over their partners. Whenever there is a tussle between husband and wife, the woman tries to take advantage of anti-dowry laws to trouble her husband and in-laws. The stringent nature of anti-dowry laws leaves no scope of reconciliation since the punishment in dowry cases is usually non-bailable and non-compoundable.
THE CONSEQUENT INJUSTICE
1. Police Harassment
A simple complaint by the bride, allows the police to arrest the accused without any warrant. Police treat them as criminals and inflict inhuman torture upon the accused family. The grave custodial brutality in these cases leads to immense injustice when the false charges are put on innocent people.[xix]
2. Social Stigma
Once any dowry related matter goes to the police, the society also changes its behavior towards the accused family and starts treating them as culprits. They face harassment, mental trauma and humiliation due to the resultant social stigma. They are ostracised by the society such that their survival becomes difficult. In many instances, it has been found that the in-laws committed suicide because of the humiliation and stigma they received from the society.[xx]
3. Financial loss
The resultant social stigma also leads to loss of jobs and reputation in the professional life of the accused. This badly affects their financial stability and brings a permanent stain on their career. Families are left without any support during such financial strain because even the close relatives are not willing to help them. The old aged in-laws are the worst hit due to their frail mental and physical health.
OBSERVATION BY COURTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The courts in India, have also realized that a large no. cases that allege dowry harassment are not bona fide complaints. That is why the Supreme Court has laid down some guidelines to prevent the misuse of these laws. Some of the important committees headed by distinguished Indian jurists have also laid down important recommendations to discourage frivolous complaints.
Preeti Gupta vs. State of Jharkhand[xxi]
In this case, even the Supreme Court of India observed that there needs to be a reconsideration and subsequent change in the provisions of section 498 of the IPC because there is a large no. of complaints that are being filed based on exaggerated stories about the actual incidents.
Arnesh Kumar vs. State of Bihar & Others[xxii]
Here the Supreme Court observed that the cognizable and non-bailable nature of section 498A of IPC has given it a doubtful position of pride amongst the dowry-related provisions, which are used by the dissatisfied wives as a weapon rather than a shield. These provisions offer the best ways to any wife to harass her husband and his relatives.
Subhashbhai Chandubhai Patel v. State of Gujarat[xxiii]
The accused were held liable in this case for the infliction of mental and physical cruelty and abetment of suicide of their daughter-in-law. On appealing, the Gujarat High Court set aside the judgment given by the trial court due to a lack of evidence. The complaint was filed by the complainant, who was the cousin brother of the deceased, to grab the property of the accused so that he could manage it freely once the accused was convicted.
Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P.[xxiv]
Realizing the increasing no. of false cases, related to Section 498A IPC, Supreme Court laid down some directions that were supposed to be followed in all complaints except in cases involving tangible physical injuries or death. The direction included the constitution of a family welfare committee which would check each complaint; an investigating officer with at least 4 months of training and laid down that bail cannot be denied easily even if disputed dowry items are recovered from the accused.
But the apex court had reserved this order in the following year due to a reduction in the severity of anti-dowry laws due to these guidelines.
243rd Report by Law Commission
In its 243rd report, the Law Commission laid down some important guidelines and measures for police and courts to minimize the misuse of Section 498 of IPC[xxv]-
· The power of arrest should be used very diligently. There should not be any arrest without a warrant until a reasonable satisfaction is reached regarding the genuineness and bonafides of a complaint.
· It is always not necessary to use the power of arrest, the police should first try to resolve the matter through other mechanisms like conciliation, mediation, and counseling.
· The Court should not direct the depositing of the passport as a condition for granting bail in all cases mechanically as it will cause irreversible damage to the accused because he will be exposed to the risk of losing his job and his visa being terminated.
The stringent nature of these dowry-prohibition laws has led women to take undue advantage of these laws from their husbands by blackmailing and demanding compensation from her in-laws or husband. But there has been a constant tussle between the actions that tend to make these laws less strict and between the organizations like National Commission for women and other NGOs who work for women’s rights since these organizations argue that these laws will become valueless if they are any less strict.
Therefore, both the judiciary and the legislature need to focus on those possible solutions that protect the rights of both parties. The Law Commission 243rd report provides such possible solutions. Even the police need to be more careful while taking any strict action against the accused and need to work without any prior bias against the accused.
Author’s Details Name- Sehar Rauf Course- B.A.LL.B.(Hons.)- 4th semester College- Faculty of law, Jamia Millia Islamia [i] The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, No. 28, Acts of Parliament, 1961 (India). [ii] Id. § 2. [iii] (1993) 3 Bom CR 473 (India). [iv] (1992) 1 HLR 465 (India). [v] (1989) 2 AWC 1191 (India). [vi] The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, § 3, No. 28, Acts of Parliament, 1961 (India). [vii] Id. § 4. [viii] (1992) 3 AWC 1857 (India). [ix] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 304B (1), No. 45 of 1860, India Code (1993), vol. 2, https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/4219/1/THE-INDIAN-PENAL-CODE-1860.pdf. [x] Id. § 304B (2). [xi] (1991) 2 AP LJ (SN 2) 68 (India). [xii] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 498A, No. 45 of 1860, India Code (1993), vol. 2, https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/4219/1/THE-INDIAN-PENAL-CODE-1860.pdf. [xiii] (2015) 1 SCC 752 (India). [xiv] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, § 113B, No. 1 of 1872, India Code (1993), vol. 2, https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/15351/1/iea_1872.pdf. [xv] 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13127 (India). [xvi] Juhi Gupta, Interpretation of Reverse Onus Clause, 5 NUJS L. Rev. 49, 52 (2012). [xvii] Sandip Bhowate & Shrikant Asawa, Sec 498A IPC- Will a boon turn in legal terrorism?, 9 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology 140, 52 (2015). [xviii] Soumi Chatterjee & Dr. Pankaj Dwivedi, Misuse of Anti-Dowry Laws- A Dark Side of Marriage, 6 Quest Journals Journal of Research in Business and Management 01, 3-4 (2018). [xix] Allaraham Ali, Misuse of anti-dowry laws: A dark side of marriage, 5 International Journal of Law 44, 46-47 (2019). [xx]Sneha Aggarwal, Man commits suicide, wife files dowry harassment case against him, India Today (July 09, 2020, 5:25 PM), https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/man-commits-suicide-wife-files-dowry-harassment-case-against-him-325137-2016-05-24. [xxi] (2010) 7 SCC 667 (India). [xxii] (2014) 8 SCC 469 (India). [xxiii] (2007) 3 GLH 724 (India). [xxiv] (2018) 10 SCC 472 (India). [xxv] 243rd Report on Section 498A IPC, Law Commission of India (July 12, 2020, 12:15 PM), http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report243.pdf.