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, Parsis and Jews. It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
WHAT CONSTITUTES DOWRY?
Dowry is defined as 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 parents of either party to a marriage or;
- 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 up to 5 years or with fine up to Rs.15,000 (Fifteen thousand).
DOWRY AGREEMENT – NOT VALID
An agreement for giving and taking of dowry shall be void.
- The dower or Mahr given during marriage under the Shariat (Muslim Personal) Law.
- 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
- 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.
Giving, taking and demanding dowry is a criminal offence under the Dowry Protection Act and the Indian Penal Code. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act only Metropolitan Magistrate or the Magistrate of the First class is competent to try these offences.
A Complaint may be made in the following manner:
- A complaint may be filed in the court of the Metropolitan Magistrate or the Magistrate of the First class by the following
- The person aggrieved of the offence
- A parent or
- Other relation of such person or
- By a recognised welfare institute or organisation
- A complaint may be filed by the above mentioned persons in the police station or in the crime against women Cell who then make an investigation in the matter and report the facts to court which then takes cognizance of the matter. (Cognizance means notice or knowledge upon which a judge is bound to act).
- The Metropolitan Magistrate or the Magistrate of the First class may take cognizance himself if such facts come to his own knowledge.
- A complaint may be filed under the Indian Penal Code for cruelty by husband or relatives of husband.
The Code of Criminal Procedure shall apply to offences under the Dowry Prevention Act as if they were cognizable offences (cognizable offence is one in which a police officer may arrest without warrant).
- for the purpose of investigation of such offences.
- arrest of a person without a warrant or without order of a magistrate.
Every offence under this Act is a non bailable and non compoundable offence (that which cannot be compromised or settled out of court, between the complainant and the accused, at any stage of the trial).
BURDEN OF PROOF
Where any person is prosecuted for taking or abetting the taking of any dowry or the demanding of dowry, the burden of proving that he has not committed an offence shall be on him. (One of the principles of the Indian Criminal Law is that a person is innocent until proven guilty and the onus of proving the guilt is on the complainant / prosecutor. This onus has been shifted in certain specific offences such as Dowry, Rape, etc.).
PENALTY FOR TAKING OR GIVING DOWRY
The giving, taking or even abetting to give or take dowry amounts to an offence punishable with imprisonment for not less than 5 years and with fine which shall not be less than Rs.15,000 (Fifteen thousand) or the amount of value of the dowry, which ever is more.
PENALTY FOR DEMANDING DOWRY
If any person demands directly or indirectly, from the parents or other relatives of a bride or bridegroom, as the case may be, any dowry, he shall be punishable with an 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 Rs.10,000 (Ten thousand).
There is no period of Limitation for filing a complaint under the Dowry Protection Act. For example: If a person was harassed for dowry in the year 1996 she can file a complaint in the year 2001 or even later as for prosecution under the Act bar of limitation has been removed.
DOWRY PROHIBITION OFFICERS
The Act also empowers the State Government to appoint Dowry prohibition officers and they have the following powers and functions.
- To ensure the compliance of the Act.
- To prevent the taking or demanding of dowry.
- To Collect evidence necessary for the prosecution of persons committing offence under the Act.
- To perform additional functions as may be assigned to him by the State Govt.
The Indian Penal Code provides that where any women dies an unnatural death within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that she was harassed or subjected to cruelty by her husband or his relative for dowry, such death shall be called a Dowry death. The husband or the relative shall be deemed to have caused the death of the women. The offence is punishable with imprisonment of not less than seven years (Section 304B Indian Penal Code).
CRUELTY / HARASSMENT TOWARDS WOMEN
Whoever, being a husband or relative of the husband subjects such women to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of three years.
Cruelty has been defined as:
- Any conduct which is likely to drive the women to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (Mental or physical) of the women, or
- Harassment with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any lawful demand for property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand. (Section 498A Indian Penal Code).
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