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Unveiling the Offences Related to Dowry

Dowry has not suddenly become viewed negatively in our society. Its roots run deep in our culture's traditions and practises. When parents used to present their daughters to the groom for marriage, they would do so by lavishly showering her with money, jewellery, and other valuables as a sign of their love and affection.

In Manu's writings, the practise of giving daughters large sums of money and other goods as marriage confirmations was first mentioned as "yautraka," which is Sanskrit for "gifting material objects. In the past, the bride, who was their daughter, was given the stridhan or kanyadhan instead of the groom.

The zamindari system developed and women were forbidden from owning any land or property in their own names after the establishment of British Rule in India. Afterwards, The groom frequently misappropriated the property that was given to him as a gift for his wife when the bride's parents wanted to offer gifts to their daughters at the time of their marriage.

The system that is now known as the "dowry" was later developed, in which the money and other valuables that were meant to be a gift for the bride are now considered a payment for the marriage. As a result, the groom and his family view this as a responsibility that the bride's parents and other relatives must fulfil simply because they have agreed to have their son wed to their daughter.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (hereafter "the Act") defines the term "dowry."

According to Section 2 of the Act, dowry is defined as any property or other valuable security that one party to a marriage, their parents, or any other person associated with them demands from the other party to the marriage, their parents, or any other person associated thereof, before, during, or after the marriage.

For the purposes of this Act, "dowry" refers to the act of donating or receiving any property or other valued security for the aforementioned purposes, whether done directly or indirectly. Dower or more are not included in the Act's definition of the word that applies in case of muslim personal law.

As their consequences is seen in the form of dowry death..
Even after all measures to outlaw dowry and its exchange have been taken, the practise of giving and receiving dowry is still seen as a matter of pride and persists in our society. Even though India's anti-money law is gender-neutral, the groom is typically the one who requests dowry in most situations. Sometimes, the bride's guardians are unable to satisfy the dowry demands made by the groom's family because they are so unreasonable and persistent.

As a result, the girl in the matrimonial household is abused and degraded to force her parents and other family members to comply with their demands. The girl in her matrimonial home is occasionally burned, otherwise tortured, strangled, and thus forced until death when the demands are still not granted, possibly due to any reason.

In the past, deaths of married women were often attributed to "suicide" or "accident". Only in 1975 did a progressive women's association in Hyderabad launch a campaign against dowry murders. During the emergency that the current prime minister declared, this campaign was placed on pause. Only after the emergency was lifted and a new movement against the violence inflicted upon married women for the demand of dowry and its abetment, which frequently resulted in the burning of the woman alive or forcing her to commit suicide, was started in Delhi by Mahila Dakshata Samiti, did this movement regain its strength.

Numerous more similar movements continued to emerge and gain traction, and some legislation was also passed in this direction, but none of these things were able to improve the situation. The Delhi High Court overturned the Delhi Sessions Court's favourable verdict from 1982, which found two defendants guilty and sentenced them to death for the dowry murder of a married woman. The death sentence was changed to a life term by the Supreme Court while upholding the ruling. After that, the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) was passed, which established cruelty to a spouse as a non-bailable, cognizable offence and established a sentence of up to three years in prison as well as a fine for any violator.

However, despite all the efforts taken by the government and courts to outlaw the crime of dowry and the violence that goes along with it, it still occasionally occurs in our culture. According to a National Crime Record Bureau data, India has the largest annual number of dowry death cases.

Dowry Prohibition:

To outlaw and penalise any act of dowry, the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was passed. According to Section 3 of the Act, anyone who offers, accepts, or helps another person offer or accept dowry in any form faces a minimum 5-year sentence in prison. in addition The offender under this Section shall also be subject to a fine of not less than Rs. 15,000 . However, the court may alternatively impose a sentence of imprisonment of less than five years upon presentation of certain special and appropriate reasons, which must also be recorded by the court.

The Act punishes any act of dowry demand in addition to the actual giving and receiving of dowry. According to Section 4 of the Act, anyone who directly or indirectly demands dowry from the other party to a marriage, their relatives, or their guardians would be punished with up to six months in prison. A fine of up to ten thousand rupees may also be levied in addition to the sentence.

The six-month sentence may, however, be reduced in certain exceptional and justified circumstances, which the court shall record in writing.

The Act also defines as illegal any arrangement made for the exchange of dowry and forbids any advertisement exhibiting their property with the goal to entice relatives for marriage. Additional provisions have been introduced under the Act for the appointment of a Dowry Prohibition Officer who will have jurisdiction over and authority over matters pertaining to the Act and be in charge of carrying out its provisions.

Provisions under IPC

The Indian Penal Code's S. 304 B defines the crime of dowry death and provides guidelines for punishing offenders who commit it. The assumption made by this section, which is not gender neutral, is that it is always women who are subjected to dowry demands and who are ultimately driven to die at the hands of their husbands or in-laws for refusing to comply with their endlessly absurd requests for money.

According to S. 304 B, any woman who passes away unnaturally, such as from burns or another type of physical injury, within seven years of her marriage and in cases where her husband and/or her in-laws continued to demand dowry before her marriage, subjecting her to violence or cruelty as a result, will be considered to have been a victim of dowry death, and they will be presumed to have contributed to her passing.

Therefore, in order to establish dowry death under this section, the following conditions must be met:
  1. Married woman's death by burning, physical harm, or any other unnatural circumstance;
  2. death within seven years of marriage;
  3. evidence that the woman was subjected to cruelty and harassment by her husband and/or his other relatives shortly before her death; and
  4. proof that the cruelty or harassment was related to the demand for dowry

Additionally, it is stated in the provision that the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 serves as the definition of "dowry" in this section.

According to the provisions of this section, it will be assumed that a married woman's death under the aforementioned conditions was a dowry death and was brought on by her husband and/or his relatives. As a result, the spouse and/or his family members will be penalised with a term of imprisonment that must not be less than seven years but may be as long as life.

In addition to the legislature, the courts have also tried to stop this crime from being committed by issuing important rulings in this regard. Following are a few examples of such verdicts and judgements:
  • Kamesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar

    In this instance, the dead Jaikali Devi was married to the appellant, and the appellant's parents gave the deceased Jaikali Devi a sum of Rs. 40,000 as dowry at the time of the wedding marriage. At the time of her second bidai, the appellant and his family made additional demands that her parents were unable to meet, including a female buffalo. As a result, the deceased woman was mistreated by the appellant and his family as well as her brother, who had come to take her at the time of her bidai. Additionally, the appellants resisted sending her back until their demand was met.

    A few days after this occurrence, it was announced that the girl had passed away owing to a neck injury that was allegedly caused by strangling and brain matter congestion. Additionally, there was blood dribbling from the corpse's mouth. The session court had ruled that this case involved a dowry death and had issued a directive ordering the husband's ten-year incarceration.

    Even though the High Court lowered this sentence to seven years, the Supreme Court maintained it in its decision on the appeal. The Supreme Court ruled that S. 304 B does not require direct proof of death infliction; rather, it just requires proof of cruelty soon before the marriage, which caused the woman's unnatural death. Due to the appellant's inability to provide an explanation for the injury to her neck, it was determined that she died under unusual circumstances, and the session judge's punishment was affirmed.
  • Baldev Krishan v. State of Punjab

    In one instance, a young girl passed away from burns she sustained in her marital residence. The Supreme Court's Division Bench determined that the woman's death was not a suicide but a dowry death because there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate the humiliation and cruelty she endured for refusing to meet their dowry demands. The husband and other residents of that house were held accountable for the woman's death simply because they were unable to offer adequate explanations for the cause of her burn injuries.
  • Pamiben v. State of Gujrat

    In this historic decision, the Supreme Court relied on the deceased's dying declaration to find her mother-in-law guilty of dowry death. In one instance, the perpetrator doused the victim with kerosene oil before lighting her on fire while she slept. When she regained consciousness, she shouted out for assistance, and when her husband and other family members heard her,they rushed outside to try to save her and transport her to the hospital. However, because of the severity of her wounds, she was unable to be saved, and in her deathbed statement, she claimed that her mother-in-law had set her on fire.

The courts have adopted same strategies in numerous other instances that have occasionally been brought before them. The provisions of S. 304 B and 498 A, which were created for the advantage of women, have, however, recently been abused by them in some situations.

Therefore, it is necessary to amend these laws and alter how courts operate in order to give the innocent the benefit of the doubt.

Finding a way forward:
The number of such instances has not decreased despite numerous attempts to make dowry and associated acts crimes. Therefore, it is necessary to update the government's policies and regulations in order to find a suitable solution to this issue.

In this regard some recommendations are:
  • Spreading awareness:
    The most significant factor in why these incidents continue to occur is because women still do not understand their rights, and as a result, they are subjected to unfair treatment by their husbands and families. Initiatives must be taken to educate people about their rights and to let them know that they are under no obligation to endure.
  • Educating People:
    Additionally, it is crucial that people understand that offering and receiving dowries would not elevate them in society; rather, educated people will look down on them. People can be better educated in this area, which can help to stop this practice.
  • Strict laws and Speedy trial:
    Such offenses will be subject to stricter laws, and cases will be handled swiftly in court.
  • Enforcement mechanism:
    Any instance of giving or receiving dowry or requesting it will be actionable suo motu, and the enforcement procedure for such situations will also be more strict. People must also take the initiative to report any incidence that comes to their attention, and those who do so are protected from being identified.

Thus, it can be inferred that dowry demand and related crimes are closely related to our customs and culture, which is why, despite several successful efforts on the part of the government and courts, the issue still hasn't been remedied. The rise in moral standards among people can prevent this offence more effectively than any rule or punishment. The rigorous stance of the court in these cases has recently given way to the abuse of these provisions by the women who think they may degrade their innocent victims in front of the law because such rules are there to protect them.

There is no way to solve this issue; instead, raising awareness and educating people is the only way out.The majority of these issues can be resolved by instilling moral principles and regenerating humanity.The government must take action in this direction. Take her in with affection. A bride with education is far superior to a million dollars...

Written By: Vartika Ranjan, BALLB, 6th sem , school of legal studies Central University of Kashmir

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