This post has been written by Deyashini Mondal, a first-year student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune
Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood-Mahatma Gandhi
Dowry is an ancient evil practice prevailing in our country. Several women time and again become victims of this cruel custom. In order to stop this horrible act, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted by the Parliament of India which specifies all the provisions related to dowry – its meaning, punishment, etc.
Dowry can be defined as any property (movable or immovable), valuable assets (jewellery, cash), etc., given or agreed to be given directly or indirectly to one party to the marriage (parents, relatives, etc.) to the other party to the marriage. There must be a connection between the property or asset demanded and the marriage. The customary payments in relation to the birth of a child or any other ceremonies are not considered to be dowry.
Due to the failure to meet the dowry demands, women are subject to specific forms of violence. Various cases have come forth to public notice where brides on failure to bring the promised or expected amount of dowry have been beaten up, locked in dingy rooms, tortured physically and mentally, kept without food for days, strangulated or burnt alive and forced to even commit suicide. In order to eradicate this horrendous social evil from the Indian society, in the year 0f 1961, the Parliament passed the Dowry Prohibition Act which applies to not only Hindus but also Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews. This Act, however, had no effect and the evil practice continued to reign supreme. Several states in India amended the DPA, 1961 with a view to making it more efficient. They did not succeed in curbing, much less eradicating, the dowry menace.
It was deduced by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the dowry of 1982 that the main reasons for failure of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 are two: Firstly the definition of dowry according to Section 2 of the Act excludes all presents (whether cash or kind) from being termed as dowry unless they have been given as a consideration of marriage which is almost impossible to prove that the gifts or presents given at, after or before the marriage was given as a consideration of marriage. The undisputed reason is that no giver of dowry will ever come forward to say that he has given the gifts as a consideration of marriage, as giving dowry is as much of an offence as taking dowry.
Secondly, the Act did not have an effective enforcement instrumentality. No court can take the cognizance of a dowry offence except on complaint, made by a person within one year from the date of the commission of a dowry offence. It is unrealistic to expect the bride or bride’s parents or other relations to go to lodge a complaint. The parents are usually the victims of dowry. They are unwilling (and certainly reluctant) to come forward because of their apprehension that it may lead to the victimization of their daughter. Considering all the points the Supreme Court has observed in Vikas v State of Rajasthan that not only the effective implementation of the laws but also the society must control the receipt and payment of dowry. It is the society that has to evolve ways and means to curb this evil.
Punishment for dowry
Dowry is a punishable offence. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 there are several sections as:
- Section 3(1) of DPA “If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such dowry.”
- Section 3 does not contravene articles 14, 19, 21, and 22 of the Constitution and therefore this section is not ultra vires of the said articles. The offence is founded in the relationship of the property demanded as abettor with the nature of demand. It should not bear a mere connection with marriage. Abetment is a preparatory act and connotes active complicity on the part of the abettor at a point of time prior to the actual commission of the offence.
- According to section 4 (1) of DPA “If any person demands directly or indirectly, from the parents or other relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom as the case may be, any dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees.”
- The mere demand for dowry before marriage is considered an offence. Even before the commencement of the marriage, demanding dowry in itself is punishable and so is its continuous demand after the marriage. Creating a list of ornaments and other household articles amount to the demand of dowry and the accused will be held liable under Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The Bombay High Court in the case of Smt. Sarla Prabhakar Wagmare v. State of Maharashtra under Section 498(A), I.P.C. observed that not all harassment or every type of cruelty amounts to an offence under Section 498(A). it must be established that the harassment and beating were with a motive to force the wife to fulfill or commit illegal and unreasonable demands of the husband and in-laws. In this case, the court held that there was no proof that the wife was forced to commit suicide or to fulfill the illegal demands of the husband.
In the case of Ashok Kumar v State of Punjab, it was held by the Punjab and Haryana High Court that the husband could not ben convicted under Section 306 and acquitted him on the grounds that there was no proof of the husband was committing cruelty against his wife which removes the presumption of his abetting his wife’s suicide.
The Supreme Court in the case of State of West Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal held that the Court must be extremely careful while assessing the facts and circumstances of each case and the shreds of evidence adduced in the trial for the purpose of finding if there was cruelty committed on the victim that had in fact induced her to end her life by committing suicide
In the State (Delhi) v. Gulzari Lai, the case was on circumstantial evidence. It was held that in the case of circumstantial evidence, motive plays an important work. The accused can be convicted if the circumstances add up to indicate that the accused is not innocent and was a part of the crime. Hence, in this case, the accused was acquitted by the Court. When appealed to the Supreme Court, it was held by the Court that it would be very difficult for them to interfere with the order of acquittal passed by the High Courts.
The sole purpose of enacting the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was to stop the offering and taking of dowry. A noteworthy aspect of this problem is the word or material dowry was never the problem. Rather it was the unreasonable demands and the violence that followed which arose due to the non-fulfillment of those demands and this eventually led to the increase in the problem.
 Vikas v State of Rajasthan, (2014) 3 SCC 321
 Smt. Sarla Prabhakar Wagmare v. State of Maharashtra, 1990 CriLJ 407
 Ashok Kumar v State of Punjab, AIR 1977 SC 109
 State of West Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal, (1994) 1 SCC 73
 State (Delhi) v. Gulzari Lai, AIR 1979 SC 1382