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Wife’s Right Over Dowry

The Dowry Act is a piece of social legislation which aims to check the growing menace of the social evil of dowry and it makes punishable not only the actual receiving of dowry but also the very demand of dowry made before or at the time or after the marriage where such demand is referable to the consideration of marriage. Dowry as a quid pro quo for marriage is prohibited and not the giving of traditional presents to the bride or the bridegroom by friends and relatives. Thus, voluntary presents given at or before or after the marriage to the bride or the bridegroom, as the case may be, of a traditional nature, which are given not as a consideration for marriage but out of love, affection or regard, would not fall within the mischief of the expression `dowry' made punishable under the Dowry Act.Koppisetti Subbharao vs State of AP1)

The dowry and the traditional presents given to a bride in a Hindu wedding may usually be put in three categories as under

  1. Property intended for exclusive use of the bride, e. g., her personal jewellery and wearing apparel etc.;
  2. Articles of dowry which may be for common use and enjoyment in the matrimonial home;
  3. Articles given as presents to the husband or the parents-in law and other members of his family.
  • As regards the articles of category (1) meant for the exclusive use of the bride, she would retain her pristine ownership therein irrespective of her entry and presence in the matrimonial home or that of her parents-in-law.
  • As regards category (2) it is purely a question of fact whether the articles of common use and enjoyment were given and intended to be the exclusive property of the bride or otherwise.
  • Obviously as regards the category (3), those presents and gifts intended for the husband or his relations after delivery would pass into their ownership and may well cease to be the property of the bride. This would be so also as the traditional presents etc. given by the husband and parents-in-law to the bride at or about the time of wedding would pass into her ownership.

The normal presumption would be that the ownership in such like article would vest in the Hindu wife unless it can be clearly established to the contrary that these were given expressly for the joint ownership of the couple. Dowry of this nature would be commonly used and enjoyed with the implied leave and licence of the wife. Mere joint enjoyment thereof does not necessarily divest a Hindu wife of her exclusive ownership or to make it joint property by the mere factum of such use. This seems to be so on general principles of law.

An individual owner of property, apart from a Hindu wife, may well allow the use of the property jointly by others. But that by itself cannot divest him of the ownership or make a licencee a joint owner forthwith.

Indeed the nature of article, whether meant for exclusive or common use, seems hardly relevant to the question of ownership therein. Mere joint user and enjoyment cannot make the husband a joint owner of the property, if it originally belonged to the wife strictly. The joint user of enjoyment herein must be deemed to be with the express and implied leave and licence of the owner, namely, the wife and the moment she revokes such a leave or licence, then any such claim to joint use and enjoyment would obviously come to an end. The breakdown of the marriage or the splitting up of the matrimonial home would inevitably involve the revocation of such leave and licence by the wife thus resuscitating her right to exclusive possession. Vinod Kumar Sethi vs State of Punjab2)

Gifts subsequent to marriage

Properties given to a woman subsequent to her marriage might have been given to her either by her husband or by others. When a husband gives inter vivos or by will, it is a question of construction of the deed of gift or will, whether the husband intended her to take the property absolutely as her stridhana property or only for a qualified interest. The later judicial view seems to be that in the absence of words in the deed indicating the contrary intention, the presumption is that the donee takes the property as an absolute owner. This view seems to be more in consonance with the present-day sentiment of the Hindus which, owing to the influence of western civilization and culture, abhors any distinction being created in the legal rights of parties, merely because of sex. Properties given or bequeathed to a woman by her relations or strangers during coverture or widowhood are her stridhana except that under the Dayabhaga and the Mithila Schools, property given by a stranger during coverture is subject to her husband's dominion and becomes her absolute property only after his death.Raghavacharia's Hindu Law cited in Kolappa Pillai vs K Vadivulekshmi3)

About the Author

Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on Law.

AIR 2009 SC 2684; 2009 Cri LJ 3480
AIR 1982 P&H 372
2008 (2) KLJ 4

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