The Prevalence Of Dowry In The Indian Scenario: An Insight Under The Indian Legal Framework

Author: Priyadarshini Goenka Student, National Law University, Odisha

Introduction

The term marriage symoolizes a vital part of any existing society, a major source of happiness and merriments and inclusive piousness. One of the longest-standing evils interconnected with the above practice in Indian society is the Dowry System. It is considered obligatory for every girl’s parent in providing considerable cash or gold in the forms of jewellery, electronic items, movable or immovable assets to the groom’s family even at the initial stage of the marriage. However, the idea is so deeply rooted in the human psyche that a large number of people either ruin themselves in monetary terms to evade the respective prices demanded by the groom or make a bid to exterminate the burden by gender biases or female infanticide. The practice initially started in the name of providing generous gifts and well wishes to compulsory demands of cash, admiration, and suppression.[1]

Women are considered the helm of life opportunities and are provided equal liberties to stand at par with men in every aspect of life. Although they enjoy prestigious positions in various governmental offices, educational institutions, business firms, and armed forces they are still suppressed by their counterparts. There has been a rapid spread of dowry as a communicable disease according to global standards. Every passing day there is sparking news of frequent deaths of either one or more women who are burnt alive only because they couldn’t have arranged for sufficient dowry. There seems no way out that would help end the practice wherein they are compelled to commit suicide.

The law alone cannot help in this regard to help curb the issue wherein ineffective efforts are required. However, only a pre-determined and cooperative effort would surely help solve the problem that has erupted. For all reasons the government can’t be blamed alone, no doubt there are anti-dowry laws but it is time for every individual to take real and operative action. It is the responsibility of each one of us to address the social evil by creating responsiveness alongside the family, communities, and society at large. Continual and vigilant actions against people would eventually help eliminate the practice in real standards.

Origin Of Dowry

The origin of dowry can be traced back to the Vedic period that initially regarded it being a formal rite in the foundation of marriage. Among all other marriages, ‘Kanyadan’ played an imperative role in the progress of the dowry system. Over the passage of time, the voluntary action connected with Varadakshina died out and the coercive element has come into existence which has extended to post-marital relationships as well.

Overall Impact Of Dowry

Considering today’s situation wherein fixing a social event like that of a marriage or engagement, dowry is speculated to be a precondition to society’s demands and greed. When such a demand is not accepted, there are frequent disagreements and the proposal is foiled from further execution. Another striking characteristic is that the above practice is often associated with the status of one’s family and in society. Especially in arranged marriages, the bridegroom’s parents demand huge amounts in either cash or kind including heavy jewellery, household articles, cars, house, etc. The ironic situation that arises is that demands are usually benefiting the economic status of the groom and if the promised amount isn’t arranged before the marriage is solemnised it eventually leads to termination of the contract meaning the marriage isn’t formalised from both the parties. The practice has been identified being one of the primary sources existing behind various post-marital disputes in society. It is the bride who is abused, forced to bear the brunt of violence, and in extreme cases, she is either put to flame or strangled to death.[2]

Has The Indian Society Been Treating Marriage As A Business?

Harassment in the name of dowry has become an easy money-making scheme for both the husbands-to-be and their families. Talking of contemporary civilisation where industrialisation and consumerism have taken effect both money and status are considered better counterparts and play a central role in their negotiations. The Britishers had familiarised the perceptions of monetisation and materialism considering the existence of Indian society. Furthermore, historians had suggested that such an introduction led to the emergence of a capitalist society that eventually leads to the imposition of heavy taxes as a result of which the families were often put under grave pressure to arrange for large sums of money or give up the rights of their property including their lands. In usual circumstances, it is seen that the professionals unlike the surgeons, technologists, and certified public accountants living in foreign countries demand the highest number of dowries only because they consider themselves to be the ticket to high status and wealth that seems paradoxical. On the other hand, if a woman is more educated the more dowries can be demanded from her husband’s family. In most cases, she is forced to hand over the entire check to her new family and told to bring even more money from her parents in the name of dowry. The demands are never-ending in nature and slowly turns into an obligation for the girl’s family to keep fulfilling. However, the worst happens when a female child is born, especially in the Northern part of our country, where the faces of all the members turn to unhappiness.

What Are The Inherent Flaws In Anti-Dowry Legislation?

Over time different states had made various efforts that would eventually help curb the prevalence. However, the Parliament eventually imposed stringent legal restrictions in the year 1961 thereby enacting the Dowry Prohibition Act. The penal provisions of the Act proved to be ineffective and suffer various shortcomings that eventually came in the way of its implementation. It had no impact on the people for the past decade and unpredictably not even a single case was addressed before the courts. The only cases that were reported so far recount the validity of dowry agreements. In a practical scenario, the anti-dowry law like other legislation has proved to be a pretence and slumbering enactment.

The law alone cannot help tackle traditions like dowry but adequate social awareness and education would help check the existing social evils in society. The mere greed for dowry and the undenied existence of the dowry system has called upon severe criticism. It is apparent that despite such legislative measures like the Dowry Prohibition Act haven’t met the intended targets. Legislations cannot itself succeed in eliminating such n evil and the solution is found in the principles and willpower of the society and its respective expressions through legal and constitutional procedures.

The Dowry system is a well-established Indian tradition that stresses the fact that even if somebody gives money voluntarily the same need not be taken. It is envisaged that unless people are made aware of this social evil, the practice will exist. Mere awareness campaigns without structural changes cannot help bring long-term changes in our society. The campaigns have placed great emphasis on the issue for almost a century ago. Stringent laws that penalize it have resulted in being ineffective because a lot is left to be addressed. Both lawmakers and enforcers aren’t classified as a special breed to humanity. However, the law is recognized being a dead letter unless there retains a social baseline that confronts the required culture of disinheritance of our daughters.

Conclusion

It is often speculated that it is nothing but greed for dowry and undeniably the system that calls for the severest criticism among all. Hence, it becomes evident that despite various legislative measures, unlike the Dowry Prohibition Act which hasn’t been successful in meeting its intended targets. Possible legislation all by itself cannot eliminate such evils that have gained force already, and the solutions must eventually be found in principles and willpower perceived keeping the society in mind and its active expression through legal and constitutional methods.[3]

Usually, the situation is linked to women’s state of poverty which results in extreme vulnerability. They are forced to be dependent on an undignified status that ruins their lives. Thus the empowerment of all women is the only key to success. Education plays an important role in reshaping the lives of these vulnerable people and help them start their lives from scratch. Once they become educated they can put their descriptive focus on not only being independent but have the charismatic personality to walk out of a toxic relationship that might arise from their abusive relationships. Girl’s parents should also help to report their situation to the Governments or concerned authorities about the huge sum demanded from the side of the groom’s parents. Besides arresting, blacklisting in communities of dowry extorters are the most essential steps. Furthermore, all dowry receipts and payments should be recorded with the marriage registration authorities to help them from unwanted incidents or sudden separations. Especially the girl’s parents shouldn’t hesitate to get their payments registered.

[1] Dowry System in India- Causes, Effects & Solution, IMP CENTER, https://imp.center/i/dowry-system-india-causes-effects-solution-5873/.

[2] The Relationship Between Dowry and Poverty, Chandrika Bose, https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/dowry-poverty/.

[3] Dowry System in India: A socio-legal approach, Sriharshitha Chada, ( August 2020), https://lexforti.com/legal-news/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/dowry-system-in-india-by-sriharshitha.pdf.

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