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Author: Alina Sujith, I year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from The National University Of Advanced Legal Studies ( NUALS ), Kochi


Practices that prevail in the society under the masked disguise of tradition, custom, and religion are numerous. The concept of Dowry has evolved, being the root cause for heard and unheard stories of brutality, sexual violence, and death of lakhs and lakhs of women over the centuries. Even before the birth of a girl child, she is considered a burden due to the mental pressure the parents often carry to save for her marriage. This leads them to compromise her education and other areas of development—these restraints limit her world to the knot of a wedding chain attached with a price tag.

This article seeks to discover the origin of Dowry, how it deviated from its original intention of establishment in the colonial period and an analysis of the legal measures taken so far. The article goes on to cite judgments and their interpretation of cruelty as well. The gravity of a concept like Dowry is undermined and thus diluted into a widespread customary ritual associated with pride and prestige. Practices like female genital mutilation and Sathi were followed as obligations or as a part of customs. Just as we gradually realized how they are profoundly an infringement of one’s rights and deeply life-threatening and limiting in nature, similarly, we need to work towards abolishing Dowry. This research highlights that it is high time we work against illogical practices that cripples humanity and exercise stringent legal measures.


“Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood.” -Mahatma Gandhi

From discovering the gender of a girl child, an invisible boundary is drawn to presume capabilities, abilities, and even her future.Among the innumerous crimes committed against women, the one that attaches a price tag to a human being remains the most derogatory social evil, shattering one’s self-worth and self-respect. While social evils have disguised themselves in the name of traditions, the practice of the Dowry system prevails even in the 21st century today. [i][ii]Dowry, by definition, means ‘the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his familyin marriage’. The sad reality is that this is practiced even by the well-educated members of the society, who self – proclaim as progressive, ethical, and logical individuals. This calls for severe stringent measures to be exercised with no exceptions, and issues to be addressed from its root causes, to propagate conscious awareness and above all gain justice to women who have been the victims of the unimaginable tortures and sufferings as a result of these customary practices that stubbornly resists change.

The discriminatory practices against women have prevailed since time immemorial, but the practice of the dowry system, in particular, cannot be traced back to ancient India.[iii] In ancient texts, there is a reference of ‘Yautraka’, a material gift that confirms two people joined in matrimony. The dowry system can be seen in the Vedic period, where the gifts from parents and relatives were considered the women’s property or possession called ‘Stridhan’.[iv]Dowry was initially developed as a system established by women to support women. It was initiated to provide financial independence to women even after marriage, and the bride's family provided for the same.[v]In pre-colonial India, this system was a resort to women in cases of emergency and served as a tool for their independence. The principal difference here is that wealth or valuables were given to the bride and not the groom or their family. Where did we take this steep turn where the system initiated to provide a resort to women translated to be the reason for inflicting mental and physical torture, sexual violence, oppression, and even dowry murder?During the establishment of the feudal or Zamindari system, the British completely prohibited women from possessing any land or property, and her wealth would now belong to her husband. This later became a matter of prestige and a ground for greed to inherit wealth. Women continued to bear the sufferings of the patriarchal society, and marriage transformed into business deals or a source of earning wealth.

Here let us analyse some legal measures taken in order to prevent and abolish this practice.[vi]In 1975, the earliest protest against dowry took place in Hyderabad, headed by a female-led progressive organization. In 1980’s New Delhi,human rights activist Satyarani Chadha became the face of the Anti- dowry movement. [vii]The Dowry Prohibition Act was established in 1961 states that ‘If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such dowry’. [viii]This was amended twice in 1984 and 1986 and was followed by the Dowry Prohibition Rules,1985. Even after these legal measures, there was no significant relaxation in this practice. [ix]In the cases of G.V. Siddaramesh v. State of Karnataka and Gananath Pattnaik v. State of Orissa,the judgments stated that cruelty could not be reduced to a single definition, as harm inflicted could be mental or physical and the concept of the same will vary from person to person. Section 304 B of the Indian Penal Code defines dowry death and [x]according to NCRB, nearly 7,000 dowry deaths were reported in the year 2020 in India.

India’s most literate state, Kerala witnessed three suspicious dowry deaths of – Vismaya, Archana, Suchithra; this incited sparking conversations and led to introspections about moral responsibility as members of a society.Such is the tragic irony of fate that a female requires to turn into a justice hashtag to draw attention to pertaining social injustices. Stringent measures and proper implementation of laws are the only recourse, along with a refreshed perception of marriage, gender roles, and the position of women in a family. These concepts can save society from the pitfalls of social evils and develop a generation conscious enough to distinguish and work towards abolishing crimes such as dowry that hang a price tag on women, whose value is beyond.

[i]Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Dowry. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/dowry. [ii]Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Dowry. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/dowry. [iii] Soumi, C. (2018, January). Concept and evolution of dowry - IJHSSI. http://www.ijhssi.org/papers/vol7(1)/Version-2/M0701028590.pdf. [iv] Gurudev. (2020, January 21). The origin of dowry system in India. HitXP. Retrieved October 3, 2021, https://www.hitxp.com/articles/society/origin-dowry-system-bride-woman-india-british/. [v] Oldenburg, V. T. (2003). Dowry murder: The imperial origins of a cultural crime. Oxford University Press. [vi] Nagpal, H. The historical journey of anti-dowry laws. Feminism In India. https://feminisminindia.com/2017/06/21/historical- journey-anti-dowry-laws/. [vii]Ministry of Women & Child Development. Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 | Ministry of Women & Child Development. https://wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961. [viii]Dowry prohibition act- attempting legal solution to a social problem. Times of India Blog. (2019, May 7). https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/legally-speaking/dowry-prohibition-act-attempting-legal-solution-to-a-social-problem/. [ix] Sharma, D., Savita, Rawat, L., Justin, Editor, &Indulia, B. (2021, May 29). Cruelty to women [s. 498-a IPC and Allied sections]. SCC Blog. https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2018/12/03/law-for-laymen-section-498-a-ipc-and-allied-sections-cruelty-to-women/. [x]19 women were killed for dowry every day in 2020: NCRB. 19 Women Were Killed For Dowry Every Day In 2020: Ncrb. https://www.cnbctv18.com/india/19-women-were-killed-for-dowry-every-day-in-2020-ncrb-10758421.htm. REFERENCES [1] https://wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961 [2] https://vikaspedia.in/social-welfare/social-awareness/anti-dowry [3] https://feminisminindia.com/2017/06/21/historical-journey-anti-dowry-laws/ [4] https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2018/12/03/law-for-laymen-section-498-a-ipc-and-allied-sections-cruelty-to-women/ [5]http://www.ijhssi.org/papers/vol7(1)/Version-2/M0701028590.pd