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Dowry Death: A critical analysis of laws made for women's protection in India

Marriage is a holy matrimony of two people who believe and promises each other to love and respect each other for rest of the eternity. In India marriage is not a mere programme, rather a festival celebrated with whole family and friends. It includes various kinds of other customs and rituals. One such custom happens to be is what we call Dowry.

Dowry refers durable goods, cash, movable or immovable property that bride's family gives to bridegroom and his family as a condition of marriage. It is generally in the form of cash or jewellery or vehicles etcetera. In this paper we are going to study and understand about the history of dowry as all the answers lie in it.

We are also going to see the statistical view of dowry death in recent years, what change thus has been brought up by dowry prohibition act,1961. Section 498a has been summarized to understand the importance of amendment brought up. Cruelty being a heinous offence makes us liable to understand the procedure of punishment thus a understandable approach to sections of criminal procedure code has been made.

Indian Evidence Act plays a crucial in the fair judgment of any offence thus subtle explanations of the sections required in proving death by cruelty have been made. We are also going to understand the need of dowry prohibition act of 1961 and what impact had it made in past years. As they say Where there is a law, there is a loophole thus we will also understand how the laws made basically for women's protection are now being used as a weapon by them. A brief discussion on laws: Boon or curse, followed by case study.

It is said that marriages are made in heaven, but in this century I highly doubt that, rather I guess it is being made by the devil himself. The in-laws turning into monsters is the last thing a bride would want after leaving behind her father's home and mother's love. The lust of dowry leads to dowry death and cruelty by husband and in-laws. Dowry death, murder-suicide and bride burning are becoming symptoms of peculiar social malady and are an unfortunate development of our social set-up.

This development is peculiarly Indian, a black Plague spawned by the dowry system. During the last few decades India has witnessed the black evils of the dowry system in a more acute form in almost all parts of the country since it is practiced by almost every section of the society; irrespective of religion, caste or creed to which they belong. It is almost a matter of day to day occurrence that not only married women are harassed, humiliated, beaten and forced to commit suicide , to leave husband, etc, tortured and ill treated but thousands are even burnt to death because parents are unable to meet the dowry demands of in-laws or their husbands.

There is no specific evidence of dowry in ancient history of India. Historical eyewitnesses suggests that dowry was insignificant in ancient India, in fact daughters had right of inheritance. Later in 20th century, evidences suggest that there were instances of bride pricing which resulted in poor man left being bachelor. Code of Manu sanctioned dowry and bride wealth but it was mainly associated with elite caste like Brahmins (Priestly).

However marriage involved reciprocation of gifts, as a part of conjugal estate. Ancient Literature like Vedas proves that there were no such practices in vedic period. Evidently, A women in ancient India had property rights in her father's property. Even Hindu law sources like Smritis speaks for itself, that dowry were not present or infrequent enough to be noticed.

Dowry Practice in India finds its roots in medieval period where a gift in cash or in other kinds like farmland, jewellery, cattle, etc. were given to a bride to maintain her independence after marriage. During Colonial period, Britishers made the practice of dowry mandatory, it officially became legal to get married.

Although seeking dowry has been prohibited by Dowry prohibition Act of 1961, India still sees evidence of bride-price bargaining Dowry.

India by far accounts to highest number of deaths relating to dowry or cruelty by husband or in-laws. According to National Crime record Bureau (NCRB), a total of 8,233 death caused by lust of dowry were reported in 2012, which simply means every 90 minutes a bride was burned.

Indian police reported in 1996 that, every year they receive over 2,500 reports of bride-burning. The death poll is been increasing over the years. In 2019-20, every day a sum of 20 bride lose their life, what for? The answer to it is Dowry.

The brutality of such offense is not limited just to rural areas, even educated families like mine and yours, sitting in metropolitan cities Mumbai and Delhi also are a part of it.

Lockdown and dowry deaths

The year 2020 saw a new pattern in crimes. Crimes against women saw a peak in lockdown days. Lockdown made the perpetrators locked up with the prey. Thus leading to a increment in crime and decrement in number of cases filed. Right after the lockdown in March a total number of 90 cases of dowry death were filed in following month of April in the state of Haryana.

Emergence of Dowry Death Cases

Dowry was meant to be a gift to the bride and her in-laws but who knew a mere gift would lead to a pawn for expectations, or should I rather say invalid expectations. They say Money isn't the root of all evil, Greed is. This is exactly how dowry death came out to be as the worst kind of offense one has noticed. The demand of gift became dowry than a mere gift. The expectations of getting expensive cars, cash, and jewellery are the cause of its emergence. The father who cannot afford such demands often fails to fulfill the demands. The failure of poor father cost him a life, a life of his own daughter.

Indian Penal Code [IPC]

Dowry: Meaning & scope
The term Dowry has been defined nowhere in IPC. However, section 304B says that dowry shall have the same meaning as defined in section 2(1) of Dowry Prohibition Act,1961, which states that  Dowry 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 part to the marriage; or
  2. By the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to the either party to the marriage or to any other person
At or before any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mehar in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (shariat) applies. However, customary payments and gifts are not dowry as said by Supreme Court.

Dowry related offences under the Penal Code

Dowry Death:

In 1986, a new offence known as Dowry Death was inserted in Indian Penal Code as section 304B by the dowry prohibition Act (Amendment Act, 1986 (43 of 1986) with effect from November 19, 1986.The provisions under section under 304B, IPC are more stringent than that provided under section 498A of Penal Code. The offence is cognizable, non- bailable and triable by a court of sessions.

Section 304B Dowry death:

  1. where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is 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, such death shall be called dowry death, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
  2. Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but may extend to imprisonment for life.

Dowry Death Cases to be charged both under section 302 and 304B, IPC
In case of Rajbir @ Raju v. State of Haryana
The Apex court taking a serious note of dowry abuse resulting in rising of the dowry death cases in the country directed to Registrar Generals/Registrars of all the high courts to circulate to all the trials to ordinarily add section 302, IPC to the charge of section 304B,IPC so that death sentences could be imposed in such heinous and barbaric crimes against women.

Under the existing provision, dowry death cases are registered under section 304B, IPC that provides maximum punishment of life imprisonment (minimum 7 years). Now after this order, a person convicted of dowry death would be charged under section 302, IPC along with section 304B, IPC and so he can get either life imprisonment or death sentence. This is welcome step and will go a long way in reducing dowry death cases in the country.

Section 302 (Punishment for Murder) whoever commits murder shall be punishment with death or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.

Essentials of dowry death:

A careful analysis of section 304B, IPC shows that the section has the following essentials:

  • Death of a woman should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances;
  • Death should have occurred within seven years of her marriage;
  • The woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband;
  • Cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with the demand for dowry;
  • Cruelty or harassment should have been meted out to the woman soon before her death.

Section 498A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty):
whoever, being the husband or the relative of the band of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation for the purpose of this section Cruelty means:

  1. Any willful conduct which is of such nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or o cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
  2. Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related t her any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
Written By: Miss Aayushi Selot Student Of Law At Dr.Hari Singh Central University

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