Law Relating To Dowry Offences

 

 

What is 'dowry'?
Dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage or by the parents of either party or by any other person to either party to the marriage. It may be given at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties. But it does not include dower or 'mahr' in case of person to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies (Section 2).

Comment
The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 1984 has amended the definition of dowry by substituting the words, "in connection with the marriage' (for the original words as 'consideration of marriage'). The effect of the amendment is now easier to prove the giving or taking of dowry so long as presents were made in connection with marriage. Another significant change which has been brought under the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 1986 in the definition of dowry is that it now includes the property given at any time after the marriage.

Whether the Dowry Prohibition Act applies to a particular community or religion? No. This Act applies to all communities irrespective of the religion. There is a misconception among some that it applies only to Hindus. But in fact it equally applies to Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Jews or to any and every person who performs his marriage in India and is found guilty by dowry offence.

Penalty for Giving or Receiving Dowry
Is giving or accepting dowry punishable?
Yes, because it is a criminal offence. The person or persons guilty of giving, taking or abetting the giving or taking of dowry may be imprisoned for a minimum of five years and fined not less than Rs. 15,000 or the amount of the value of the dowry whichever is more. For adequate and special reasons the court has the power to grant lesser punishment but the reasons must be recorded in the judgement. (Section 3)

Comment
Under the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 1984 the punishment was enhanced and a minimum and maximum punishment limits were laid down. It was increased from Six months to two years imprisonment and the fine from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 10,000. However, the Amending Act 1986 further enhanced the punishment which may extend to five years and fine which may not be less than Rs. 15,000 or the amount of the value of such dowry whichever is more.

The main loophole in the present Act is that it holds the giver as well as the acceptor of dowry equally guilty. The provision of the Act prevent the parents of the girl to come forward and make a complaint about the fact that they have been compelled to give dowry. So the giver of the dowry should he exempted from the clutches of law.

Is giving of presents to the bride or bridegroom at the time of marriage punishable? No. If the gifts are given freely and voluntarily. All the same, the presents must be listed (see below under Dowry Prohibition Rules 1985 for details of the list). Also, the giving to such presents should be a part of local custom and their value must be proportional to the financial capacity of the giver.

Comment
The amended section of the Act does not specify the value of the gifts. It only states that this value should not be "excessive" in comparison with the financial status of the giver. But such vagueness opens scope for endless disputes and litigation. It is a loophole in the Act that allows dowry by the backdoor. This loophole needs to be plugged by placing a limit on the value of the gifts.

Is demanding dowry punishable?
Yes. For demanding dowry, directly or indirectly, the punishment is imprisonment for a minimum six months or maximum two years and a fine up to Rs.10,000. If there are adequate and special reasons, which the court must record in the judgement, the period of imprisonment may be reduced to below six months.

Is an agreement or contract to give or receive dowry valid in law?
No. Such an agreement or contract is invalid and cannot be legally enforced.

Maintenance of Lists
What are the rules regarding the maintenance of the list of presents?
1. The bride must maintain the list of presents given to her at the time of marriage.
2. The bridegroom must maintain the list of presents received by him.
3. These lists must be prepared at the time of marriage or as soon as possible thereafter.
4. They must be in writing.
5. They must contain the following:
      - a brief description of each present;
      - the name of the giver;
      - its approximate value;
      - his relationship to the receiver of the gift.
      - The signatures (or thumb impression, if illiterate) of both the bride and the bridegroom.

Attesting this list by any of the relatives present at the marriage is at the option of the bridegroom.
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