Dowry system in India is a polluted way of marriage that has affected the motive behind the marriage. It is a social evil. Dowry is basically an amount given to the bride’s in-laws in the mode of cash or other similar kinds. Government has come up with various laws and schemes that shall prevent the implications of these rituals. However, owing to the problem, legislation has somehow failed to make the difference in the society. In order to remove this ritual from the foundation of our country, providing educational improvements and job security, considering all the facts a proper law that eradicates the dowry system in India is compulsory. Due to dowry system, women are not considered as the main branch of the family owing to the education and other important amenities and are treated as a non-important member of the family who is a burden to them and about to leave the family. The background with middle or lower class sends their daughters to school but does not put emphasis on their jobs and that is the reason why women workforce is less in larger organizational area.
A news channel is constantly inflating stories to feed its viewers in the comfort of their own homes, but the irony is that the viewers appear to be disturbed. The headline on the news reads, "A woman burned by her in-laws for dowry."
It is worth mentioning, however, that the news does not appear to be extremely exciting. Weddings are considered sacred rites. It is treasured and considered a religious requirement, as it is in India. The marriage institution is not only complimentary to the family institution, but the bride-to-be has high hopes for her married life and wishes to live a happy living with her family. Unfortunately, because of the dowry practise in India, these expectations have proven to be unreasonable. Women's empowerment and equality before the law are big subjects these days, but dowry killings are also on the rise. So, how did dowry-related crimes devastate the legal framework? But, before we get to these concerns, we need to comprehend dowry and dowry death, and even before that, we need to understand dowry death.
Dowry death: an insight
Dowry is any type of present provided by the bride's family to the bridegroom's family in the form of cash or products, which could be ornaments or commodities or home things needed by the newlywed to begin their married life. Dowry, as defined in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, is "any sort of property or valued security directly or indirectly agreed to be provided by-
(i) One spouse to the other spouse in a marriage; or
(ii) By either party's parent or any other person, to either party's parent or any other person, at or before or after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties.
In Asia, the history of dowry is a little murky. Some experts claim that dowry has been practised from the dawn of humanity, while others claim that it did not exist in antiquity. According to historical eyewitness accounts, dowry was of minor importance in ancient India, yet females of the family did have inheritance rights when they had no brothers, which were customarily exercised at the time of their marriage. Further evidence reveals that there was a "bride price" system in place, in which the groom's family was required to offer presents to the bride's family before marriage, but in cases where the bride had a flaw, the family was required to bestow goods to her in-laws. However, this was not a common occurrence. It was widely accepted at the time that a female had to be both attractive and virtuous. The materialistic presents she presented to her in-laws were not a source of concern. The bride had to be lavishly decked as ceremonial presents, which eventually evolved into dowry. As of today, the groom's family has turned against the bride because of this decoration. The demand for dowry has existed for centuries. To put an end to this behaviour, society must first understand the desire for it so that it may be avoided.
Factors behind the existence of the dowry system in recent times
Backgrounds and Practices
People have a preconceived impression that the dowry system has existed for generations and is vital to be followed by the two families by giving away goods by the bride's family to the groom's family.
Dowry as a subject of standing
In the twenty-first century, this is regarded as the most credible explanation for the presence of stealth-like dowry. People believe that dowry giving or getting brings a lot of merit in reputation within the society, and that the more costly the gifts are, the more honourable it is, which is why this practise is still prevalent in our society.
It is our country's most serious problem, and it is the root of the dowry problem. It has also played an important role in disadvantaged regions, where literacy rates are low and many people are unaware of dowry laws. Although dowry is practised by literates in our culture, getting them to understand the rules is tough. Even if the rules are stringent, they will not be enforced if the general population is unaware of them. Thus, abuse for dowry demand can take the form of verbal abuse, with the most serious resulting in victim or dowry death.
A shift from Manusmriti to Groom price
There was a prevalence of wedding price ages ago, but now there is a belief that the groom's family should be paid off by gifts only for the sake of a myriad of trivial reasons such as the groom having a decent or white-collar work.
Perceiving dowry death as the law speaks
Indian Penal Code,1860
Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code deals with offences against the human body. According to Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, "if a woman dies within seven years of marriage as a result of any burns or other bodily injury, or it is revealed that before her marriage she was subjected to cruelty or harassment in connection with the demand for the dowry by her husband or any other relative of the husband, the death of the woman will be considered as a dowry death." Dowry murder carries a minimum sentence of seven years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. There is certain pre-requisite for attention of dowry death laid under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code which are as follows:
Demise should be caused either by burns or bodily hurt or by any other conditions for that matter.
Demise must occur within or before seven years of wedding.
It must also be revealed that soon after the wedding of the bride, she was uncovered to some sort of brutality or harassment by her husband or any other relative.
And finally, her brutality or harassment of her should be connected with the demand for dowry.
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
Dowry death is a non-bailable offence, which means that statements from the court are required to arrest a person and the person cannot be acquitted without a court order, and cognizable, which means that the police have the authority to arrest anyone without a warrant and the authority to conduct an investigation with or without the permission of a magistrate of a court. Section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 requires a police officer to be satisfied with the complaint registered against a person and to follow all of the procedures of Section 41 of the CrPC while arresting someone without a warrant.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was the first national legislation dealing with dowry prohibition and the extensive dowry system. The Act specifies a series of preventative and punitive actions against the current threat, but despite widespread publicity, the goals have not been realised. The failure was largely due to a lack of government enforcement rather than weaknesses in the legislation. This failure is also owing to the dowry system's deep cultural roots, as well as a lack of effective action by government authorities. Furthermore, there is a general lack of awareness among the general peopleDespite popular support (mostly among literates), the situation has not changed because certain elements of society continue to be subjugated. What good are strict rules if no one knows about them? The Dowry Prohibition Act was changed twice in 1961 to extend the definition of "dowry" and to tighten the penalties for various types of violations of the Act's provisions. "Any property or valuable security given or promised to be delivered in the future directly or indirectly in connection with marriage constitutes dowry," according to Section 2 of this Act.
The original phrasing in the Act was "as consideration for such persons' marriage," giving the term dowry a significantly limited meaning. The term "consideration" was limited to incentive or cause, payment or advantage in the case of Inder Sain v/s State of Punjab (1973). As a result, any assets or property sought or awarded after marriage were not considered a prize for marriage. To avoid a narrow interpretation of the Act, the phrase "any time after marriage" has been substituted for "after marriage." In Indian marriages, presents are confined to conventional commodities that do not put a financial hardship on a family, and a list of such gifts, along with their value and description, has to be compiled and signed by both the bride and the bridegroom. Changes to the present Act- Under Section 3 of this Act, giving or receiving dowry is punishable by a minimum of 5 years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 15,000 or the amount of the dowry, whichever is greater. It is also forbidden by Section 4 of this Act. Demanding dowry is also punishable by imprisonment for six months to five years and a fine of up to Rs 15,000. After a few amendments, the act aims to address this societal plague. Section 7 states who and what can initiate proceedings: (a) the police, (b) the offended party, (c) parents and relatives, and (d) any recognised welfare institution or organisation. Section 8 toughens it up by making some offences non-bailable and cognizable.
Section 8-A goes on to say that the onus probandi is on the person who is the offender or who contests the offence. Although it has been tough to have the entire item and regulations pertaining to dowry death correctly executed, there were several causes that provided a breakthrough in the backdrop of existing flaws. The Supreme Court ruled in Satbir Singh vs The State of Haryana (2021) that if the prosecution can demonstrate the elements of Section 304-B of the IPC, the burden of proof of innocence is entirely on the defence. Additionally, the provisions under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code are far more severe as in contrast to those in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code in the logic that felonies under it are cognizable, non-bailable and can be tried by the court of Session.
Loopholes in the existing law that causes a misconception
However, where these laws lag beyond the facts of appropriate government implementation and operation, as well as a lack of proper coordination, there is another distinct difficulty that these laws are frequently utilised incorrectly. These laws have been utilised numerous times to malign or slander someone's name. Sometimes the judiciary fails because the cause of death is not dowry but something else, as in the case of Balbir Singh v/s state of Punjab (1956), and the cause of death could be anything from mental illness to something else. So, we also need to consider upon the hindrances for the effective application of it.
Women are regarded as the backbone of society, and killing or burning them for dowry is a heinous crime in and of itself. All said and done, certain provisions and measures must be implemented by the government in order to eradicate such heinous crimes, the most prominent of which is to keep women on par with men so that they are not dependent on them, as well as to use women reservation as a source of women empowerment. Small adjustments can make a great difference, so in order to eliminate this risk, we must raise public knowledge about dowry. Isn't it ironic that in a country where marriage is revered, women are burned in the hands of their own people for the sake of a few pence? Dowry should be forbidden.
o Pratyush, S., 2019, August 16, Dowry Deaths in India: A Legal Study, https://blog.ipleaders.in/dowry-deaths-india-legal-study/
o Kundalini, K., 2020, January 21, Dowry Death under Section 304b of IPC & 113b of Evidence Act, https://blog.ipleaders.in/dowry-death/
o Prashanti, Dowry laws: Loopholes and Possibilities of misuse, http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/2034/Dowry-laws:-Loopholes-and-Possibilities-of-misuse.html
About the author Jasbir Singh, a law student from Jagran University, Bhopal-India.