DOWRY

Victims of 498a.

The practice of giving a "dowry" or a gift to a woman at marriage is said to have its origins in the system of "streedhan" (women's share of parental wealth given to her at the time of her marriage).

             As a woman had no right to inherit a share of the ancestral property streedhan was seen as a way by which the family ensured that she had access to some of its wealth. There is no clear proof as to when this practice was first started in India.

              What began as gifts of land to a woman as her inheritance in an essentially agricultural economy today has degenerated into gifts of gold, clothes, consumer durables and large sums of cash, which has sometimes entailed the impoverishment and heavy indebtedness of poor families. The dowry is often used by the receiving families for business purposes, family member's education, or the dowry to be given for the husband's sister. The transaction of dowry often does not end with the actual wedding ceremony as the family is expected to continue to give gifts.

              In the course of time dowry has become a widespread evil and it has now assumed menacing proportions. Surprisingly it has spread to other communities, which were traditionally non-dowry taking communities. With the increasing greed for the easy inflow of money on account of a bride the chilling stories of bride burning started coming to light.

             With a view to eradicate the rampant social evil of dowry from the Indian society, Parliament in 1961 passed the Dowry Prohibition Act which applies not merely to Hindus but all people, Muslims, Christians, Parsees and Jews. It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Definition Of Dowry :-   Dowry or Dahej  is the payment in cash or/and kind by the bride's family to the bridegroom' s family along with the giving away of the bride ( called Kanyadaan) in  Indian marriage .  Kanyadanam is an important part of  Hindu marital rites. Kanya  means daughter, and dana means gift. 

Dowry originated in upper caste families as the wedding gift to the bride from her family.  The dowry was later given to help with marriage expenses and became a form of insurance in the case that her in-laws mistreated her.  Although the dowry was legally prohibited in 1961, it continues to be highly institutionalized.  The groom often demands a dowry consisting of a large sum of money, farm animals, furniture, and electronics.

            The practice of dowry abuse is rising in India.  The most severe in "bride burning", the burning of women whose dowries were not considered sufficient by their husband or in-laws.  Most of these incidents are reported as accidental burns in the kitchen or are disguised as suicide.  It is evident that there exist deep rooted prejudices against women in India. Cultural practices such as the payment of dowry tend to subordinate women in Indian society.

Though prohibited by law in 1961, the extraction of DOWRY from the bride's family prior to marriage still occurs. When the dowry amount is not considered sufficient or is not forthcoming, the bride is often harassed, abused and made miserable. This abuse can escalate to the point where the husband or his family burn the bride, often by pouring kerosene on her and lighting it, usually killing her. The official records of these incidents are low because they are often reported as accidents or suicides by the family. In Delhi, a woman is burned to death almost every twelve hours . The number of dowry murders is increasing. In 1988, 2,209 women were killed in dowry related incidents and in 1990, 4,835 were killed . It is important to reiterate that these are official records, which are immensely under reported. The lack of official registration of this crime is apparent in Delhi, where ninety percent of cases of women burnt were recorded as accidents, five percent as suicide and only the remaining five percent were shown as murder .

According to Government figures there were a total of 5,377 dowry deaths in 1993, an increase of 12% from 1992. Despite the existence of rigorous laws to prevent dowry-deaths under a 1986 amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), convictions are rare, and judges (usually men) are often uninterested and susceptible to bribery. Recent newspaper reports have focused on the alarming rate of deaths of married women in Hamirpur, Mandi and Bilaspur districts in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
 

WHAT CONSTITUTES DOWRY?

Dowry is defined as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:

  1. By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage or ;

  2. By parents of either party to a marriage or ;

  3. By any other person to either party to the marriage.

BAN ON ADVERTISEMENT

Any advertisement in any newspaper, periodical, journal or through any other media offering dowry as consideration for marriage is punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than 6 months and it may extend upto 5 years or with fine upto RS. 15,000 (Fifteen thousand).

DOWRY AGREEMENT - NOT VALID

An agreement for giving and taking of dowry shall be void

EXCEPTIONS

  1. The dower or Mahr given during marriage under the Shariat (Muslim Personal) Law.

  2. Gifts that are given to the bride or the bridegroom at the time of the marriage (without any demand being made) will not amount to dowry, if such presents are entered in a list in the following manner :

    • The bride shall maintain the list of presents given to the bride

    • The bridegroom shall maintain the list of presents given to the bridegroom

    • The lists shall be prepared at the time of marriage and shall be in writing

    • The list shall contain a brief description of each present, approximate value, the name of the person who presented it, relationship of the presenter to the bride or the groom

    • The list shall be signed (or thumb impression) by both the bride and the groom

  3. Where dowry already given - Where any dowry is received by any person other than the woman in connection with whose marriage it is given that person shall transfer it in the name of the women

    • if it was received before marriage within three months after the date of marriage

    • if it was received at the time of marriage or after the marriage within three months after the date of it's receipt

    • if the dowry was received when the woman was a minor within 3 months after she has attained the age of 18 years.

Pending such transfer that person shall hold the dowry in trust for the benefit of the woman. In the event of death of the woman dowry shall be transferred to her children or her parents.

If any person fails to transfer any property within the time limit specified, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than 6 months, but which may extend to 2 years or with fine which shall not be less than RS. 15,000 (Fifteen thousand) or with both.

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