There is a continued treatment of women as secondary citizens in India. They are subject to abuse, inferior treatment and live in a constant state of preparedness for the next offence that may be committed against them — even within their own homes. The call for women empowerment needs more women to be aware of their rights.
In this series on SheThePeople.TV, we look at different laws that regulate rights of women within families. This post looks at Dowry laws and dowry-related harassment in India.
Also Read: Eight Laws All Women Should Know
What is Dowry?
Dowry is essentially gifts given in cash or kind to the groom and groom’s family by the bride’s side of the family before, during or even after the marriage. Dowry has emerged as a social evil mainly due to the excessive financial pressure it places on the bride and her family and the resultant crimes against women. India has well-developed laws for preventing the continuation of the dowry system.
Dowry and the Law in India
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 criminalises the offence of giving or taking dowry, even where only an agreement to pay the dowry has been reached and dowry has actually not been given. So does this mean the giving or taking of gifts in the course of the wedding is an offence? No, if the gifts are given and received voluntarily then it is not punishable. To account for this, the gifts are to be entered into a list according to the rules provided under Rule 2 of the Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of Lists and Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules, 1985. Here the gifts given from the bride’s side should be in keeping with relevant customary practices and the financial condition of the bride and her family.
Anyone who gives or takes dowry or someone who helps give or take dowry will be subject to a minimum of 5 years of imprisonment (the term can be reduced by a Court in writing for special reasons) and fine equal to the amount of the dowry or Rs. 15,000 – whichever is higher. In case dowry has passed hands at or after a wedding anyway, the person taking it has to hand it over to the woman. Those who make demands for dowry, those who advertise for the giving or taking of dowry, those who publish these advertisements and even those who do not hand over the dowry to the bride within the specified time are subject to punishment.
Further sections under the IPC provide protection against dowry-related harassment and offences:
Section 304B creates conditions relating to ‘dowry deaths’ where the burden of proof is shifted on the accused after the prosecutor proves certain conditions, to make dowry deaths more easily justiciable. These conditions state that the victim should have been a married woman who has died within the first 7 years of her marriage and that such death was caused by burns or injuries that are out of the ordinary. Additionally, it has to proven that the victim suffered from cruelty or harassment because of dowry demands.
Section 498A has provisions relating to physical and/or mental cruelty by husband or his relatives on the wife, either for or independent of demands for dowry. In Supreme Court judgement in Arnesh Kumar vs. State of Bihar & Anr., the Supreme Court has also laid down certain guidelines for arrests under Section 498A.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 also provides for a woman to stop dowry harassment by approaching a domestic violence protection officer and its definition of Domestic Violence also encompasses harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands.
Then why is dowry still an issue despite the laws?
National Crime Reocrds Bureau reports state that 8233 dowry deaths were reported in 2012. Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi stated that between 2012-14, 25,000 women committed suicide or were killed over dowry-related issues, but experts suggest the statistics are much higher due to under-reporting of dowry cases. On the other side, in a 2010 judgement, the Supreme Court stated that the law had become a “weapon in the hands of disgruntled women”.
Minister Maneka Gandhi stated that between 2012-14, 25,000 women committed suicide or were killed over dowry-related issues, but experts suggest the statistics are much higher due to under-reporting of dowry cases.
Alarmingly people have focused more on the misuse of dowry laws than actual effects of dowry. While the misuse must most definitely be curbed and tackled, the dialogue has moved to demands for dissolution of dowry-related laws in a complete disregard for the immense number of women who are subjected to abuse because of dowry-related demands. This general mindset along with social pressures and stigma has greatly aided the prevalence of dowry despite stringent laws.
Alongside legal provisions, we need better implementation, community awareness and civic society action to be able to tackle the issue of dowry and related harassment.
It has created a system of social injustice that erodes the social fabric of our country, creating a vicious cycle which perpetuates crimes against women, preference for a male child and a general deeper setting in of patriarchal norms and systems with an undervaluing of women in our society. Alongside legal provisions, we need better implementation, community awareness and civic society action to be able to tackle the issue of dowry and related harassment.
Vandita Morarka is a law student and policy consultant. She works as Policy and Legal Officer at Red Dot Foundation’s Safecity, and tweets @vanditamorarka.