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Dowry: A Serious Concern by Sarthak Mishra; Second Year Learner at DNLU Jabalpur (MP)

RESEARCH OBJECTIVE

1)     To create awareness among our peers about the impact of dowry system in India.

2)     To understand the legal measure taken against the dowry system.

3)     To have a deeper understanding of the different arguments for and against this dowry system in India.

4)     To provide certain non-legal measures to combat social ills like the dowry system.


INTRODUCTION

The position of women in a society can greatly gauge the level of development and progress the society has achieved. A society riddled with gender-based inequalities and biased customs is bound to fall into an endless pit of abuse and further aggravated crimes with no end.

According to Section 21 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1986 of India, “dowry” can be defined as –

“…any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly (a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or (b) by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person; at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of said parties but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.”

It basically refers to the money, goods or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his family in marriage. The practice of offering/demanding dowry is not confined only to India, and is also prevalent in countries such as – the UK, Pakistan, Nepal, Kenya, Greece, Australia and Sri Lanka, amongst others. This practice thrives in strongly patrilineal and patrilocal cultures, wherein the inheritance laws and customs are more male biased.

The dowry system is not to be confused with the concept of “dower”, largely seen in the Muslim community, wherein it is the man who pays a certain amount of money, benefits and/or property to his wife who is entitled to receive this as a consideration of the marriage to be conducted.


DOWRY AS A SOCIAL EVIL

M.K. Gandhi believed that “the custom of dowry turned young girls into mere chattels to be bought and sold. He dubbed this practice harmful because it degraded women's status, damaged their sense of equality with males, and desecrated the marriage institution.8

Clearly, the evil of dowry has had a variety of effects on women's lives. Poor families desire to marry off their girls at a young age so that they are not burdened by society. The daughter won't be married if the family can't accommodate the in-laws' wishes. Women are burned, and these incidents are reported as "suicidal instances". These incidents are also known as "bride-burning" or "Dowry Death" in official terminology. According to a TOI article, there were around 8391 dowry death instances in the survey conducted in 2010 and approximately 7000 cases in 2017, although unreported cases are still missing from the files. It indicates that one dowry death occurs in our nation every hour.

Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 13,534 instances

the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, a 25% increase from the cases registered in 2020 (10,046).

A. Female Infanticide

Some people feel that giving birth to a girl comes with a heavy price. The dowry system has a powerful grip on society that is extremely hard to overcome. Resistance is harder to overcome than obedience. Many parents would rather newborn than spend their lives working for a dowry that would hardly be enough to marry off their daughter in a "prestigious" family. These parents may not be aware of the rules banning dowries or they may simply lack the privilege to take action.12

B. Hurdle for Female Education

Parents stop sending their girl kid to school as a result of the excessive pressure to save money for a "dowry." Since their ultimate goal is to marry her, it fits them better to simply teach her the duties of a "housewife" rather than "spend" some money on her education. This worsens the literacy rate. This contributes to the spread of misinformation about governing it, which in turn encourages or at the very least fails to curtail dowry-related crimes.

C. Gross Objectification of Women

The quantity of dowry required from the groom's side is directly correlated with the groom's educational background, his family's income, his "beauty," and his caste. The bride's "darkness," her ability to speak English, and her level of education are all strongly correlated with it. Different families fall into different categories. Some prefer illiterate women who are capable of taking care of home duties; some who would 'charge more' for educated wives.14

D. Domestic Violence and Dowry Death

The dowry system tortures women and their kin, and that much is undeniable. According to reports, there were 7.1 thousand dowry fatalities in 2019, down

2014. However, it amply demonstrates the rampancy and the current situation.15 The precise number of dowry violence victims is difficult to determine because the majority of them die as a result of dowry murder committed by their future in-laws through immolation, starvation, etc.

In Kamesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar16, the wife, Jaikali Devi was asked for Rs. 40,000 dowry before marriage, that she paid, and post-marriage was asked for a buffalo as dowry, which she did not/could not give. Due to this, she was subjected to harsh torture and beatings and eventually died of the same. The court found him guilty and punished him with 10 years of imprisonment.

In Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab17 within a month of the marriage, conflict started occurring between the couple, and the husband and his family started making demands for a fridge and a T.V. Unable to endure the torture, she consumed poison and ended her life. The court found the husband and his mother guilty under Section 304 of the IPC, and eventually they were punished with 7 years of imprisonment.


MEASURES TOWARDS THE ABOLITION OF DOWRY

The first concrete step towards eradication of this social evil was taken back in the pre-independence era, when the then provincial government of Sind, with the intention of effectively dealing with the bane of the dowry system, introduced the “Sind Deti Leti Act, 1939”; but the enactment did not have any fruitful impact, and could not bring about the desired result. Similarly, post-independence, the Indian states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh enacted their own state laws in attempts to fight the dowry system, they were – Bihar Dowry Restraint Act, 1950, which made or taking of dowry a punishable offence, and the Andhra Pradesh Dowry Restraint Act, 1958, which made relation to dowry void, and made giving and taking of dowry non-cognizable, bailable, and non-compoundable offence.

Eventually, (hereinafter “the Act”), was approved by the President of India on May 20, 1961, and went into effect on July 1 of that same year as a result of the unceasing efforts of Parliament. It addresses all crimes & violence caused by dowry and spans sections 1 to 10. In order to support and aid

curbing the rise in dowry-related violence, Section 498A and specified the unique offence of dowry-related death of a woman in 1986 and 1983, respectively, were also added to the Indian Penal Code.

In the case of Bachni Devi v. the State of Haryana21, the court elaborated on the purpose and rationale behind the validation of the dowry prohibition act, 1961, stating that "the object of the act was to prohibit the giving and taking of dowry and to protect married women against cruelty and violence in the matrimonial home by her husband and in-laws."

Both sections 498 A of the IPC and section 198 A of the CrPC deal with incidents of cruelty committed against his family members. According to the inclusion of Section 113A to the Indian Evidence Act, the bride's family has an extra right to assert that the husband's family encouraged their daughter to commit suicide within seven years of the wedding.


CONCLUSION

Even decades after the introduction of several laws banning dowry and protecting women, only urban, educated individuals from Tier 1 cities have noticed the changes. It is exceedingly challenging to persuade most people that dowery is not a fundamental aspect of our culture. Instead of being mocked as a social vice, dowery is praised as a societal standard. The creation of a setting that is safer for women is urgently needed. The demand for dowry has increased as a result of the ongoing Covid epidemic and the rising unemployment rate. In fact, even after ten years of marriage, in-laws still ask for more money. It is critical to acknowledge a problem in a purportedly progressive culture and to inform is critical to alter the narrative surrounding dowries and persuade public opinion against them.

The successful eradication of the dowry system would constitute a significant step toward societal change. However, it is not a simple task. Some highly educated and successful people, notably young men who have returned from abroad, are clinging to it. To address this issue, concerted efforts should be made across the nation of India. Civil marriage, the organisation of "samuhika vivah" or community weddings, the launching of youth movements against the dowry system, inter-caste marriages, effective enforcement of legislation against the dowry system, the establishment of voluntary associations to discourage dowry, and education and economic independence of women are some of the strategies used to combat this practice. The sooner it goes away, the better it shall be for India.


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