The ‘dowry system’ as a practice is a great social evil as it deprives a woman and her family of their rights. The reason why girls are considered a burden is because of this prevailing dowry system in society. The repercussions of this system bring cruelty, domestic violence, abetment to suicide, murder and much more.
Many factors effectuate dowry systems such as inheritance systems and the bride’s economic status, structure and kinship of marriage in parts of India and other religious factors. This called out the need to have some special laws with regard to the dowry prohibition and which should at the same time, punish the taker as well as the giver of the dowry.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 came into force on 1st July 1961 for effectively prohibiting the demand, giving and taking of dowry. The Act prevents dowry by enacting section 3, which provides for the penalty. Dowry is defined as any property or valuable security that is given or agreed to be given directly either on or after the marriage by one party to the marriage to the other. The punishment could be imprisonment for a minimum of 5 years and a fine of more than Rs.15,000 or the value of the dowry received, whichever is higher. The Act makes an exception to gifts that are received at the time of marriage, in the absence of such demand. Dowry agreements are void ab initio and if any dowry is received by anyone other than the woman, it should be transferred to the woman. This provides a safeguard by protecting the interest of the women.
Further anti-dowry laws were added to the Indian criminal law – sections 498A and Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code and section 198A of the Criminal Procedure Code in 1983. Section 304B made dowry death a specific offence punishable with a minimum sentence of imprisonment for 7 years and maximum imprisonment for life. Section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 creates presumption of dowry death when it is shown that before her death, the woman had been subjected to cruelty on account of dowry demand. In 2005, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was passed, which provided extra protection from dowry harassment. The constitutionality of Section 498A was challenged. It was upheld in Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India (2005).
A Hindu, marriage is a Sanskara (religious rite or sacrament). It is looked upon as something which is more of a religious necessity. It is also a civil contract, which takes the form of a gift. For example in Purshottamdas v. Purshottamdas, the court observed that “marriage of Hindu children is a contract made by their parents”. In Muthusami v. Masilamani, the court observed, “a marriage is undoubtedly a contract entered into for consideration.”
The secular laws are trying to eradicate the problems of dowry and on the other hand, the Hindu laws are encouraging such practice as a religious one. The evil of dowry cannot be suppressed without the support of its key actors, who are acting in and around this field. Mere legislation cannot be expected to serve the purpose. It is very much necessary to cut the roots of this deep-rooted problem.
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