Is it Illegal to Demand Dowry in India?

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January 05, 2019

What is Dowry?

“Dowry” as defined under Section 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 means 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 the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person; at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage

Dowry as defined under the Act does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

The aforesaid definition was rendered by the Legislature in 1961, however as we all are aware the concept of “Dowry” is an age-old practice in India. It is interesting to learn that the dowry system is not limited to India only, the practice has existence also in developed economies like North America and China.

Dowry System in India

Research indicates that in the ancient times, dowry in the name of gifts were given by the Bride’s family to the Bridegroom’s family at the time of marriage out of love and affection. However, today this whole concept of giving gifts has immensely evolved and become a huge social and economic issue for bride’s family. Today, the quantum of dowry is assessed taking into numerous factors like groom’s employment and earning capacity and in some cultures hefty dowry is demanded from bride’s parents irrespective of the groom’s employment or capacity of bride’s family to fulfil the demands. This whole practice of dowry system in India became an issue of concern when numerous cases of violence and in some cases offence of murder of bride and suicide were reported.

It cannot be denied that dowry system is a huge societal impediment casting a lot of difficulties in a girl’s life. Demand of dowry is also one of the biggest reason of female feticide in India. Such parents who are incapable of fulfilling dowry demand in consider it better to kill the unborn girl. Taking into consideration such critical issues, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted by the Legislature to make the act of taking, giving or abetting the taking of dowry a punishable offence in India. Inspite of this enactment making the whole act of demanding and giving dowry an offence, the practice of dowry system is still very much prevalent in India and the most disappointing part is that bride’s family without any objections are fulfilling dowry demand with the hope that their daughter will have a peaceful stay with her in-laws.

Essential Provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act

Penalty for taking or giving dowry- As stated earlier, the Act under Section 3 makes giving or taking or abetting the giving or taking of dowry, an offence 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, whichever is more.

The Act also makes any Agreement entered into taking or giving of Dowry a Void Agreement.

When Taking or Giving Dowry is not Punishable under the Act?

The proviso to Section 3 enumerates on when the penalty clause is not applicable to dowry. According to the proviso dowry is not punishable in relation to:

  • Presents which are given at the time of a marriage to the bride and bridegroom (without any demand having been made in that behalf) and such presents shall be entered in list in the prescribed manner.
  • Presents made by or on behalf of the bride or any person related to the bride, when such presents are of a customary nature and the value thereof is not excessive having regard to the financial status of the person by whom, or on whose behalf, such presents are given.

Essentials of the List

The Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of Lists of Presents to The Bride and Bridegroom) Rules, 1985 enumerates the essential ingredients and the manner in which the list of presents to the Bride and Bridegroom is to be maintained.

The list of presents which are given at the time of the marriage to the bride shall be maintained by the bride.

The list of present which are given at the time of the marriage to the bridegroom shall be maintained by the bridegroom.

Every list of presents shall adhere to the following:

The list shall be prepared at the time of the marriage or as soon as possible after the marriage, shall be in writing and shall contain,-

  1. a brief description of each present;
  2. the approximate value of the present;
  3. the name of the person who has given the present; and
  4. where the person giving the present is related to the bride or bridegroom, a description of such relationship;

The List shall be signed by both the bride and the bridegroom.

Ban on Advertisement

The Act under Section 4A bars any person from advertising in any newspaper, periodical, journal or through medium any share in his property or of any money or both as a share in any business as consideration for the marriage of his son or daughter or any other relative. Additionally, the Act makes such advertisement a punishable offence.