Dowry

Dowry, (also known as dahej in India) is a social evil our community has endured since times immemorial. The payment of dowry was prohibited in 1961 under the Indian Civil Law and later by the enactment of sections 304 (B) AND 498 (A) OF THE Indian Penal Code, it was made easier for the wife to seek redress from potential harassment by the husband’s family. The Dowry Prohibition Act was also passed to address this social evil.

The dowry Prohibition Act has defined dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given, directly or indirectly by either party to the other or by the parents or relatives of either party to the other, at the time of marriage, before the time of marriage or at any time after the marriage, as consideration to the marriage of the said parties. Essentially, dowry is a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage.

The Dowry Prohibition Act prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry as a consideration for marriage. Gifts given without a precondition are not considered dowry and are legal as they are known to be customary.

Demanding dowry, directly or indirectly from the parents or relatives or guardian of the bride or the bridegroom (as the case may be) is punishable with a term of imprisonment not less than 6 months but which may extend to 2 years and fine up to Rs. 10,000.

Taking dowry is punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years and with fine not less than Rs. 15,000 or the amount of the dowry, whichever is more.

Stridhan is a different concept and is not the same as Dowry. Generally speaking; Stridhan is what a woman can claim as her own property within a marital household. It includes both movable and immovable property by inheritance or devise, her jewellery (gifted either by her family), gifts presented to her during the wedding or after, and the dowry articles given by her family. Gifts given by the parents of the bride are also considered "stridhan", i.e. property of the woman, traditionally representing her share of her parent's wealth.

Section 406 of the Indian Penal Code is for offences related to Criminal Breach of Trust and is usually applied in investigation of Stridhan recovery from the husband and his family.

Section 304 (B) of the Indian Penal Code embodies the law on Dowry deaths and defines a 'dowry death' as the death of a woman caused by any burns or bodily injury or which does not occur under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage. For a woman's death to be a dowry death, it must also be shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry. If this is proved, the woman's husband or relative is required to be deemed to have caused her death. Whoever commits dowry death is required to be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 7 years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

Section 498A says that when the husband or any relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such a woman to cruelty, then the punishment is imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and also fine.

In practice, cruelty is taken to include the demanding of a dowry. This section is non-bailable, non-compoundable (i.e. it cannot be privately resolved between the parties concerned) and cognizable (i.e. the police can arrest the accused without investigation or warrants) on a report from a woman or close relative. Police often file charges against the husband, his parents and other relatives (whoever being named on the complaint by the wife or her close relatives) and put them in jail. There is no penalty (even a fine) for filing a false case. Many individuals have claimed this is being abused by the wife or her close relatives.