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Dowry System: a social evil and cultural injustice.

By Pooja Ganesh (4th year Law student, Sastra University)


Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood. - Mahatma Gandhi

The dowry system is considered as a major contributor to the violence against women and is one of the biggest evils faced by women in society. In most of the cases, the demand for dowry leads to either bride-burning or suicide of young women. Most of the bride burning happens to newly married young women. The statistics for dowry death show that the highest number of cases occur in Uttar Pradesh. Some of the women who are unable to pay dowry face domestic violence by her husband and in-laws. They face inhumane torture because of this social evil.

It is ironic to discover that dowry came about because of “Streedhan”, which is created to safeguard the women. It is the inheritance or gifts given by her parents at the time of her marriage. The greed of the bride groom’s family eroded the originality of the dowry. The streedhan given at the time of marriage belongs to the girl only, it is not a joint property with her husband.[1] The magnitude of the problem varies from one state to another state and one caste to another caste. In India, dowry murders and suicides have become a matter of concern particularly in Delhi and other metropolitans. Reports and studies suggest that a bride is burnt to death because of dowry every twelve hours in Delhi. The Supreme Court held the meaning of dowry and applied the provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act in Reema Agarwala v. Anupam[2]. “Mohr” is excluded from the definition of dowry.[3]

The Indestructible Gender Inequality

One of the sustainable development goals is to achieve gender equality in society. Many countries give importance to education of girls and women's participation in fields of work. But the dowry system is closely related to gender discrimination. The bride is considered as a price tag in this patriarchal society. The dowry prices increase with the years of study, so the girl's family keeps girls from going to school for reducing the dowry prices. Many families think that investment in education for girls is a waste of money. The dowry system plays into the general erroneous stereotype that daughters are burdens.

Dowry is also one of the causes of female infanticide leading leads to a huge gender disparity.

Law against the dowry system

The Dowry Prohibition Act was the first legislation that was enacted against the dowry system. It prohibited demanding and giving and receiving dowry. Mere demand for money as a dowry by the husband or his family is considered as an offence.[4] The anti-dowry law punishes people with a minimum of 5 years and a fine more than Rs. 15,000 or the total value of the dowry. Agreements including dowry are considered void ab initio. The burden of proof lies on the accused in a dowry case as opposed to general criminal trials. The victim and her family do not have the burden to prove anything. If a marriage is canceled for not fulfilling the demand of dowry, then it is punishable under the Dowry Prohibition Act.[5] In the Indian Penal Code, dowry death is a punishable offence under Section 304B. It is an offence punishable for the imprisonment of a minimum of 7 years or maximum period for entire life.

Section 113B of the Evidence Act mentions the presumptions for dowry death and is amongst the most progressives provisions of law in India to combat the dowry system. It is said that if a woman has died due to the dowry death, then she would have been subject to cruelty by her husband or his family before her death. Although dowry is illegal in India, many women face violence resulting from dowry demands in their matrimonial home, sometimes even at the hands of men. To further strengthen the law to protect women the “Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005” was enacted. It is a civil remedy for women who face domestic violence in India. Cruelty faced by women because of dowry can be grounds of divorce. In short, it is a matrimonial relief for the tortured wife.[6] Due to many cruel incidents which happened to women in the society, the dowry death has been ceased to become one of the rarest of rare case.[7]


The archaic attitude towards women has to change. Right from her childhood, a woman is only thought how to adjust to the family she is married to. She is pressurized to serve her husband and his family selflessly throughout her life. Even if the bride wants to return to her own family, her parents will refuse take her in the family because of the public humiliation. Without any help, she is left at the risk of dowry death. The laws might have changed and evolved to protect the women of our country but the mindsets and patriarchal culture is far from evolved.


[1] RashmiKummar v. Mahesh Kummar Bhada, 1999 (2) R.C.R. (Crl.) 43 (SC). [2] Reema Agarwala v. Anupam, 2004 (3) S.C.C. 1999. [3] Md. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Banu Begum, A.I.R. 1985 S.C. 945. [4] Daulatman Singh v. CR Bansi, 1980 Cr. LJ 1171. [5] S. Gopal Reddy v. State of A.P, (1996) 4 S.C.C. 596. [6] Sobha Rani v. MadhukarReddi, A.I.R. 1988 S.C. 121. [7] Ravindra Trimback Chouthmal v. State of Maharashtra, (1996) 4 S.C.C. 148.

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