Neerja Choudhuri, (2nd year Law Student at Army Law College, Pune)
Marriages are a part of every society. The union of two people not only signifies a new beginning but also the evolution of a society. If a marriage is an auspicious event, then why does it become an impending doom on the family of the bride? The sole answer lies in one word- Dowry. Dowry is the so called “gift” that a bride and her family gives to the family of the groom at the time of marriage. The inability of the bride and her family to fulfil the demands laid down by the family of the groom leads to the bride being subjected to emotional and physical abuse.
The practice of giving dowry can be traced back to times immemorial. For example, the city of Bombay was given as part of dowry to Charles II of England for his marriage to Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal. Similarly, the marriage treaty formed between Indian princes and princesses during the Mughal period were made with political agenda and also included giving huge amounts of dowry in the form of land, jewels, precious stones, men for the army along with cattle for the kingdom to which the princess was married off. In Babylon , a daughter was not entitled to inherit her ancestral property. Instead, they were offered lifetime security in the form of dowry.
In the present era, cases of women being ill-treated for not bringing enough dowry are still being reported from various corners of the world. What is even more appalling is the fact that even the educated families demand dowry. The problem of dowry continues to remain incessant. And while a change in mindset is required in the society, laws need to be made even more stricter than ever before.
REASONS FOR GIVING DOWRY
There were various reasons why dowry was so openly practiced in the ancient times and even today, though not very visibly, this practice is still followed by many families. The fact that our ancestors made dowry a social tradition is one of the reasons why despite having so much of advancement and education in the 21st century, the practice continues. Sometimes Dowry is also seen as a form of security given by the bride’s family to the newly weds. This reason was evident in Babylon where girls would not inherit their ancestral property. Another reason can be simply to increase the overall wealth of the family. Because of this, the groom and his family end up demanding for things which are unaffordable to the bride's clan.
Over the years there has been a steady rise in the number of cases reported by various countries across the globe. Deaths caused by dowry continue to be a matter of concern, especially in India which reports the highest number of deaths followed by Pakistan and Bangladesh.[i] As a result of increasing crimes against women due to dowry, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was passed.
DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961 of India
The Indian Penal Code prohibits the payment of dowry under the given act. It defines dowry as “any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage or by the parents of either party”. Fines and penalties have been made mandatory under this act including imprisonment for a term which is not less than 5 years. The Act further declares any agreement made for taking or giving dowry as void along with banning advertisements made through any medium promoting dowry. The state government has been empowered to appoint Dowry Prohibition officers as per the needs and requirements of the state by the Act.[ii]
Although the Act has been in effect for decades now, yet we see that dowry has not been eradicated from our society. Most of the time, cases of dowry are not reported until the bride is forced to take extreme steps. Because of the enforcement of law, dowry is often exchanged discreetly between families. The lack of witnesses is another reason why the groom and his family are able to get away with dowry.
In the past we have also seen how the misuse of the Act has taken place. In order to avoid misuse of the Act, further checks are now ensured under Section 498-A of Code of Criminal Procedure before making an arrest after the landmark judgement passed in the Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar [iii].
A bride should never be chosen based on the amount of dowry she brings with herself. Money and commodities should never dominate the union of two people. As we steadily move forward on the path of development, some questions still remain unanswered. What is the purpose of education if it cannot change one’s mindset? What is the purpose of law if it cannot eradicate crime completely? What is the purpose of marriage if it ends up becoming a business deal? Readers, I leave these questions for you to ponder upon. However, in my opinion the answer to these questions can be only found when dowry becomes a practice of the past.
[i] National Crime Records Bureau, India. 2013-01-16. Archived from the original on 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-01-02. [ii] https://wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961s [iii] Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar (2014) 8SCC 273.