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THE INVISIBLE PRICE TAG- INDIA'S OBSESSION WITH DOWRY?

Author: Miss.Siddhi Gokuldas Naik, I year of LL.M. from V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Miramar-Panaji, Goa.



INTRODUCTION

Marriage is supposed to be one of the most beautiful moments for many people. It is a magnificent journey that two individuals venture into, which blooms on commitment and partnership. But today innumerable women engaging into marriage are subjected to a lot of violence, stress and torture. The desire of a joyful marriage is often shattered when huge demands for money and other valuables are made by the groom/husband and his family. This menace which has made marriage lose its significance today is commonly known as the “Dowry System”.

MEANING AND ORIGIN

Dowry/Dahej/Hunda in simple terms is the parental payment of cash, gold or any other item while giving the daughter’s hand to the groom in marriage. Legally it is any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other party before, during or any time after the marriage.[1] This practice is carried out irrespective of any religion. Among the Hindus, its origin can be traced back to the Vedic period where gifts received from parents, brother, and relatives out of love and affection were considered as a woman’s property (Streedhan). In Islam, Jahez-E-Fatimiconstituted gifts given to the bride by her family. This was also prevalent among Christians and other religions to help the newly wedded couple to set up a household together. However, with the advent of economic relaxations, this act of gesture turned into a compulsory ritual thereby leading to a lot of complications for the bride and her family. A sacred union slowly got converted into a financial deal between the parties.

TRADITION OR GREED? : REASONS FOR TAKING/GIVING DOWRY

Today, taking and giving of dowry has grown into an indispensable part of an Indian wedding. There is a propelling force in the society to follow certain customs which are completely irrational. Under the garb of tradition, dowry has become mandatory in every cult. It’s like a bidding event for the family to find the most suitable match for their daughter. Blatant demands are placed from the groom’s side. The bride’s family fulfils them by all means under the threat of withdrawal of marriage and in the fear of losing respect in the community. In most cases, extended demands are put forth overtly before the wife by the husband and his family after marriage thereby making her life miserable. There is a general perception among people that a male is always a producer who earns for the family while a female is expected to undertake domestic work which has little or no value at all. So she is often considered only as a consumer and a financial weight to the family. This outlook fuels the plague of dowry. Inadequate educational opportunities for girls have also contributed fiercely. In India, there is a popular concept of ‘Big fat Indian weddings’. There is always a desire in the family to flaunt its social status by spending to a great extent. This also to a stretch contributes to the peril.

TEARS OF SORROW: EFFECTS OF DOWRY SYSTEM

India is a polestar for collective evils like dowry and deaths relating to the same. According to the National Crime Record Bureau’s “Crime in India” 2019 Report, in India after every 1 hour 30 minutes, there is 1 dowry death and after every 4 minutes, one woman is subjected to cruelty by her husband or inlaws.[2] 21 women are killed each day in India due to dowry harassment.[3]The highest cases are recorded from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. These deaths are caused by burning, poisoning, strangulation, torture, domestic violence, confinement, slashing their genitals or breasts with razors and starvation.

They are at times kicked out of the house and kept away from their children. Pouring out a flammable liquid and setting her ablaze is the most common heinous act. Approximately 8000 cases of bride burning are recorded annually in the country. At times women who can’t bear the harassment end up their own lives. Over the years the suicide rate in this context has also doubled. To escape larger dowries many families marry off their daughters at a very early age. In India, an estimate of 1.5 million girls are married before they turn 18.[4]Girls are also deprived of their Right to Education.

The common mindset is that they belong to another household (Paraaya Dhan) and educating them would be a waste of money. Instead, they should be trained on how to be an ideal housewife. The difference between the male and female literacy rate is 20 %.[5]Enormous dowries also entangle poor parents into huge debts. Considering daughters as an economic burden, many female foetuses are brutally murdered in the womb itself. An estimated 45.8 million girls are missing from India’s population.[6] All these figures are indicative of how daughters are devalued in society.

CHILLS DOWN THE SPINE: HORRIFYING TALES

India has a lengthy list of dowry-related cases. Monstrous and dreadful acts are performed mercilessly in the country by husbands and in-laws who are consumed by greed. These narrations make us question marriage and humanity.

In 2015, Raavi died on her way to the hospital after she was brutally tortured by her husband for money by locking her in a small room for over two months without water and food.


Tanya was administered sleeping pills and both her wrists were cut by her in-laws.


Sumitra(Delhi) had to compensate for her dark complexion with her life. After marriage, she was treated outrageously by her in-laws with huge demands of gold, until one day she was found dead in her matrimonial house.

Another gruesome act whereKamlesh Rathore (Uttar Pradesh) nose was chopped off by her husband as she could not afford to pay the ordered amount.

In yet another shocking incident, just for an amount of Rs.50, 000 a husband tied his wife Gulab Kaur (Punjab) to a wooden bench and set her on fire. His cruelty did not end there. Just when their daughter started crying he threw her also in the fire.

Recently married in 2018, Pinkie (Uttar Pradesh)was shot by her husband just ten days after marriage as her family could not give him a car.

BRAVE HEARTS: WOMEN WHO FOUGHT AGAINST THE DEVIL

“Why should I give a dowry? My parents have provided me with education and I am capable of doing anything that a man can do!”Says Rani, who called off her marriage at the last moment when the groom’s demands went beyond limits.

“He never gave me the status of his wife. I was only asked to toil in the house. Now that I am free, I will fight for my rights no matter what!” says Komal, who was humiliated by her husband and in-laws for dowry.

“He married me, took so much money from my family, ran away and now he says I want a divorce. I want an answer to all the grief I have gone through!” says Paramjeet, a survivor of dowry violence.

LEGISLATIVE APPROACH

The fight against dowry started way back in 1939 when ‘The Sind Deti Leti Act, 1939’ was passed by the provisional government of Sindh. However, the Act did not yield the desired results. Eventually, ‘The Bihar Dowry Restraint Act, 1950’ and ‘The Andhra Pradesh Dowry Prohibition Act, 1958’ also failed to make a mark. Looking at the degrading scenario, the Central Legislature made its move towards prohibiting dowry in 1961 bypassing “The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961”.

This Act is currently operative and was amended twice in the year 1984 and 1986 to provide clear definitions of terms associated with dowry and improved stringent punishments. This act prohibits the taking/giving/demand of dowry and provides for imprisonment up to 5 years and a fine up to Rs. 15,000. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 contains specific provisions dealing with the dowry death and cruelty by husband or his relative.[7] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and The Indian Evidence Act, 1872also contains certain provisions dealing with dowry-related offences.[8]

JUDICIAL INITIATIVES

The Supreme Court of India has time and again held that issuing a list of household items and gold at the time of settlement of marriage amounts to dowry.[9]It has observed that the time for the demand of dowry is not just restricted to before or during the marriage but it also includes demands made after marriage[10] and the Dowry Prohibition Act which aims in keeping a check on the menace makes it punishable.[11] The court has held that any man who deprives his wife of her Right to Streedhan shall be liable for criminal breach of trust and a case under Section 406 of IPC is maintainable.[12]In case of death of the wife, the husband or the in-laws can be arrested based on her dying declaration in the absence of any evidence.[13] The court has also expressed its view on providing for the death penalty in such brutal crimes against women.[14]

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

No doubt there is a wedding wish list in every heart and parents are over enlarging themselves to give their daughter a splendid wedding. Yet their happiness is evasive. The general belief is that dowry helps in intensifying her relations with her new family. But the question is, does she need to undertake such a money-oriented business for the same? It is really regrettable to learn that a daughter’s value is just cramped to these items of luxury. Where are we leading towards? What are the flaws? What is the rationale? All these questions are still left unanswered.

It’s high time we need to raise our voice against it. Our daughters are exorbitantly precious to be accepted by anyone in exchange for such assets. Instead of saving up for their big day let’s invest the same money in providing them with the best education, making them self-sufficient and let them choose their partner without any fear of social standing of the family’s honour. There is an immediate need for reform to the existing conservative society. We can't eradicate this practice simply by holding posters and shouting slogans. Women need to be fearless enough to reject boys who seek dowry and insist for a wedding and not a financial deal. Boys on the other hand should stand against such a tradition keeping in mind that they are marrying a girl and not a money minting machine. Life will be endlessly honourable and pleasing.

As far as the laws are concerned, it is not just sufficient to enact them. Proper implementation and conformity are of utmost importance. Despite the laws, there are so many cases reported and unreported in India each day. Sadly the conviction rate of the offenders is also very low. I do agree nowadays certain false cases are also filed by women, laws have been misused but I believe an efficient mechanism can help in detecting such cases. But the actual crimes committed must not go unpunished.No doubt the Government is doing great to curb the danger but a lot more is needed to uproot it totally from mankind. We have a long way to go. Large scale awareness programs like seminars, panel discussions, debates, conferences, street plays, television series, movies, dramas can be of great help to come up with various solutions.

Herein lies the biggest lesson for everyone that a woman’s dignity cannot be traded off. To all the in-laws out there, bring her home as a daughter and not as a daughter in law.

Let’s stop buying grooms for brides!

Let’s not put a price tag on our daughters as well on our sons!

Say a “Big No” to dowry!

[1]Definition of Dowry- Section 2; The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

[2] National Crime Records Bureau, 2019 Report, Available at: https://www.news18.com/news/india/rape-every-every-16-minutes-dowry-death-each-hour-ncrb-data-shows-how-unsafe-india-is-for-women-2925445.html, Visited on: 28/10/2020 at 9.48 pm.

[3]National Crime Records Bureau Report, Available at:https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/dowry-deaths-national-crime-records-bureau-conviction-rate-972874-2017-04-22 , Visited on: 28/10/2020 at 9.56pm.

[4]UNICEF Report on Child Marriage in India, Available at:https://www.unicef.org/research-and-reports/child-marriage-in-india, Visited on: 28/10/2020 at11.32 pm.

[5]Census 2011 Data, Available at: https://censusindia.gov.in/2011-common/censusdata2011.html, Visited on: 10/10/2020 at12.45 pm.

[6] United Nations Report, Available at:https://theprint.in/india-accounts-for-45-8-millions-of-world-female-over-last-50-years-un-report/451545/, Visited on: 11/10/2020 at5pm.

[7]Section 304 B-Dowry death and Section 498 A-Cruelty by husband or relatives of husband; Indian Penal Code,1860.

[8]Section 174(3)-Duties of magistrate in cases of Unnatural death, Section 176(1)- Inquest by executive magistrate; The Code of Criminal Procedure,1973

and Section 113 A- Presumption as to abetment of suicide by married woman; The Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

[9]Madhu Sudan Malhotra v. Kishore Chandra Bhandari, (1988) SCC 424.

[10] Ashok Kumar v. State of Haryana, AIR (2010) SC 2839.

[11] S.Gopal Reddy v.State of Andhra Pradesh, (1996) SCC (4) 596, JT (1996) (6) 268.

[12]Bhai Sher Jang Singh v.Virinder Kaur, (1975) Cr LJ 493(P & H).

[13]Muthu Kutty and anr v. State by Inspector of Police, (2004) Supp (6) SCR 222.

[14]Raju & anr v.State of Haryana, (2010) 12 SCALE 319.

Author's Biography

Miss.Siddhi Gokuldas Naik, resident of Goa, aged 23 years. She has recently graduated in law (5 years BA.LLB Course) with Distinction in August 2020 from the V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Miramar-Panaji, Goa-India. Currently pursuing her First Year LLM in the same institute. She has always been passionate about studying law. Her areas of interest constitute social work, legal aid, public speaking, research work and writing. She has participated in many National level Moot Court, Article writing and elocution competitions. She has won the ‘Best Advocate Award’ in the 13th Shankarrao Kanitkar National Moot Court Competition, 2018-19. Many of her articles on different socio-legal topics are published on various Websites/Journals. She looks forward to making many more contributions to her Profession. Her motto in life is to, “Seek God, Dream, Work Hard, Be Educated, Get Money, and Stay Humble!”

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