Dowry system in India | Wikipedia audio article

Dowry system in India | Wikipedia audio article


The dowry system in India refers to the durable
goods, cash, and real or movable property that the bride’s family gives to the bridegroom,
his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage. Dowry stemmed from India’s skewed inheritance
laws, and the Hindu Succession Act needed to be amended to stop the routine disinheritance
of daughters. Dowry is essentially in the nature of a payment
in cash or some kind of gifts given to the bridegroom’s family along with the bride and
includes cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils and
other household items that help the newlyweds set up their home. Dowry is referred to as Dahez in Arabic (derived
from Islamic jahez-e-fatimi). In far eastern parts of India, dowry is called
Aaunnpot. The dowry system is thought to put great financial
burden on the bride’s family. In some cases, the dowry system leads to crime
against women, ranging from emotional abuse and injury to even deaths. The payment of dowry has long been prohibited
under specific Indian laws including the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by
Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. A court judgement clarifies the legal definition
of dowry as “Dowry” in the sense of the expression contemplated
by Dowry Prohibition Act is a demand for property of valuable security having an inextricable
nexus with the marriage, i.e., it is a consideration from the side of the bride’s parents or relatives
to the groom or his parents and/or guardian for the agreement to wed the bride-to-be. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 article 3
specifies that the penalty for giving or taking dowry does not apply to presents which are
given at the time of a marriage to the bride or bridegroom, when no demand for them have
been made. Although Indian laws against dowries have
been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective. The practice of dowry deaths and murders continues
to take place unchecked in many parts of India and this has further added to the concerns
of enforcement.Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code required the bridegroom and his
family to be automatically arrested if a wife complains of dowry harassment. The law was widely abused and in 2014, the
Supreme Court ruled that arrests can only be made with a magistrate’s approval..==
Historical context==The history of dowry in South Asia is not
clear. Some scholars believe dowry was practiced
in antiquity, but some do not. Historical eyewitness reports, as discussed
below, suggest dowry in ancient India was insignificant, and daughters had inheritance
rights, which by custom were exercised at the time of their marriage. Documentary evidence suggests that at the
beginning of 20th century bride price, rather than dowry was the common custom, which often
resulted in very poor boys remaining unmarried.Stanley J.Tambiah claims the ancient Code of Manu
sanctioned dowry and bridewealth in ancient India, but dowry was the more prestigious
form and associated with the Brahmanic (priestly) caste. Bridewealth was restricted to the lower castes,
who were not allowed to give dowry. He cites two studies from the early 20th century
with data to suggest that this pattern of dowry in upper castes and bridewealth in lower
castes has persisted through the first half of the 20th century. However, it is that marriages involved both
reciprocal gifts between the two families, claims Tambiah, so that insofar as the groom’s
family gives the bridewealth, it tends to be given back as the culturally validated
dowry to the bride as part of her conjugal estate.Michael Witzel, in contrast, claims
the ancient Indian literature suggests dowry practices were not significant during the
Vedic period. Witzel also notes that women in ancient India
had property inheritance rights either by appointment or when they had no brothers. The findings of MacDonell and Keith are similar
to Witzel, and differ from Tambiah; they cite ancient Indian literature suggesting bridewealth
was paid even in brahma- and daiva-types of marriage associated with the Brahmanic (priestly)
upper caste. Dowry was not infrequent when the girl suffered
from some bodily defect. Property rights for women increased in ancient
India, suggest MacDonell and Keith, over the Epics era (200 BC to 700 AD).Kane claims ancient
literature suggests bridewealth was paid only in the asura-type of marriage that was considered
reprehensible and forbidden by Manu and other ancient Indian scribes. Lochtefeld suggests that religious duties
listed by Manu and others, such as ‘the bride be richly adorned to celebrate marriage’ were
ceremonial dress and jewelry along with gifts that were her property, not property demanded
by or meant for the groom; Lochtefeld further notes that bridal adornment is not currently
considered as dowry in most people’s mind.Above analysis by various scholars is based on interpreting
verses of ancient Sanskrit fiction and inconsistent smritis from India, not eyewitness accounts. Available eyewitness observations from ancient
India give a different picture. One of these are the eyewitness records from
Alexander the Great conquest (ca. 300 BC) as recorded by Arrian and Megasthenes. Arrian first book mentions a lack of dowry, Arrian’s second book similarly notes, The two sources suggest dowry was absent,
or infrequent enough to be noticed by Arrian. About 1200 years after Arrian’s visit, another
eyewitness scholar visited India named Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī, also known as Al-Biruni,
or Alberonius in Latin. Al-Biruni was an Islamic era Persian scholar
who went and lived in India for 16 years from 1017 CE. He translated many Indian texts into Arabic,
as well as wrote a memoir on Indian culture and life he observed. Al-Biruni claimed, Al-Biruni further claims that a daughter,
in 11th century India, had legal right to inherit from her father, but only a fourth
part of her brother. The daughter took this inheritance amount
with her when she married, claimed Al-Biruni, and she had no rights to income from her parents
after her marriage or to any additional inheritance after her father’s death. If her father died before her marriage, her
guardian would first pay off her father’s debt, then allocate a fourth of the remaining
wealth to her upkeep till she is ready to marry, and then give the rest to her to take
with her into her married life.It is unclear what happened to these daughter’s inheritance
laws in India after Al-Biruni’s visit to India in the 11th century. It is also unclear when, why and how quickly
the practice of dowry demand by grooms began, whether this happened after the arrival of
Islam in the late 11th century, or with the arrival of colonialism in the 16th century,
or both.==Causes of the dowry==
Various reasons have been suggested as cause of dowry practice in India. These include economic factors and social
factors.===Economic factors===
There are many economic factors that contribute towards the system of dowry. Some of these include inheritance systems
and the bride’s economic status. Some suggestions point to economics and weak
legal institutions on inheritance place women in disadvantage, with inheritances being left
only to sons. This leaves women dependent upon their husbands
and in-laws, who keep the dowry when she marries. Prior to 1956, including during the British
Raj, daughters had no rights of inheritance to their family’s wealth. In 1956, India gave equal legal status to
daughters and sons among Hindu, Sikh and Jain families, under the Hindu Succession Act (India
grants its Muslim population the Sharia derived personal status laws). Despite the new inheritance law, dowry has
continued as a process whereby parental property is distributed to a daughter at her marriage
by a social process, rather than after parents death by a slow court supervised process under
Hindu Succession Act (1956).Dowry gave, at least in theory, women economic and financial
security in their marriage in the form of movable goods. This helped prevent family wealth break-up
and provided security to the bride at the same time. This system can also be used as a premortem
inheritance, as once a woman is presented with movable gifts, she may be cut off from
the family estate.For many, dowry has become a greater financial burden on the family,
and can leave families destitute based on the demands from the groom. The demand for dowry has increased over time.===Social factors===
The structure and kinship of marriage in parts of India contributes to dowry. In the north, marriage usually follows a patrilocal
(lives with husband’s family) system, where the groom is a non-related member of the family. This system encourages dowry perhaps due to
the exclusion of the bride’s family after marriage as a form of premortem inheritance
for the bride. In the south, marriage is more often conducted
within the bride’s family, for example with close relatives or cross-cousins, and in a
closer physical distance to her family. In addition, brides may have the ability to
inherit land, which makes her more valuable in the marriage, decreasing the chance of
dowry over the bride price system.In addition to marriage customs that may influence dowry,
social customs or rituals, and parents expectations of dowry are important factors to consider. A 1995 study showed that while attitudes of
people are changing about dowry, dowry continues to prevail. In a 1980 study conducted by Rao, 75% of students
responded that dowry was not important to marriage, but 40% of their parents’ likely
expected dowry.While India has been making progress for women’s rights, women continue
to be in a subordinate status in their family. Women’s education, income, and health are
some significant factors that play into the dowry system, and for how much control a woman
has over her marriage.===Religious factors===
Dowry in India is not limited to any specific religion. It is widespread among Hindus and other religions. For example, Indian Muslims call dowry as
jahez, justify the practice in terms of jahez-e-fatimi. Islamists classify jahez into two categories:
The first comprises some essential articles for the outfit of the bride as well as for
conjugal life. The other is made up of valuable goods, clothes,
jewelry, an amount of money for the groom’s family, which is settled on after bargaining. The jahez often far exceeds the cost of the
baraat and marriage parties. The jahez is separate from cash payment as
Mahr or dower that Sharia religious law requires.==Dowry in the modern era==Dowry has been a prevalent practice in India’s
modern era and in this context, it can be in the form of a payment of cash or gifts
from the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family upon marriage. There are variations on dowry prevalence based
on geography and class. States in the north are more likely to participate
in the dowry system among all classes, and dowry is more likely to be in the form of
material and movable goods. In the south, the bride price system is more
prevalent, and is more often in the form of land, or other inheritance goods. This system is tied to the social structure
of marriage, which keeps marriage inside or close to family relations.Dowry also varies
by economic strata in India. Upper-class families are more likely to engage
in the dowry system than the lower class. This could be in part due to women’s economic
exclusion from the labor market in upper classes.When dowry evolved in the Vedic period, it was
essentially followed by the upper castes to benefit the bride, who was unable to inherit
property under Hindu law. To counter this, the bride’s family provided
the groom with dowry which would be registered in the bride’s name. This dowry was seen as stridhan (Sanskrit:
woman’s property). Also, an important distinction is the fact
that while the upper castes practiced dowry, the lower castes practiced bride price to
compensate her family for the loss of income.In the modern era, the concept of dowry has evolved
and Indian families no longer practice the traditional Vedic concept of dowry. This is because with the passage of time,
bride price gradually disappeared and dowry became the prevalent form of transfer. In the modern era, the practice of dowry requires
the bride’s family to transfer goods to the groom’s family in consideration for the marriage. Since marriages in India are a time for big
celebrations in each family, they tend to be very lavish. Accordingly, Indian weddings usually involve
considerable expenditure and accompanying wedding presents from relatives in both sides
of the family. This is normal expenditure which is done willingly
and varies from one family to another depending on the wealth, status, etc.Many times, as
part of this mutual ‘give-and-take’, an attempt is made by the groom’s family to dictate the
quantum of each gift along with specific demands for dowry. In such circumstances, there is an element
of exerting coercion on the bride’s family and this is what has come to be recognized
as the menace of dowry in today’s times. Dowry does not refer to the voluntary presents
which are made to the bride and the groom; rather it is what is extracted from the bride
or her parents.==Types of dowry crimes==
Recently married women can be a target for dowry related violence because she is tied
economically and socially to her new husband. In some cases, dowry is used as a threat or
hostage type situation, in order to extract more property from the bride’s family. This can be seen in new brides, who are most
vulnerable in the situation. Dowry crimes can occur with the threat or
occurrence of violence, so that the bride’s family is left with no choice but to give
more dowry to protect their daughter. The northern and eastern states of India show
higher rates of dowry-related violence.Dowry is considered a major contributor towards
observed violence against women in India. Some of these offences include physical violence,
emotional abuses, and even murder of brides and young girls prior to marriage. The predominant types of dowry crimes relate
to cruelty (which includes torture and harassment), domestic violence (including physical, emotional
and sexual assault), abetment to suicide and dowry death (including, issues of bride burning
and murder).===Cruelty===
Cruelty in the form of torture or harassment of a woman with the objective of forcing her
to meet a demand for property or valuable security is a form of dowry crime. Such cruelty could just be in the form of
verbal attacks or may be accompanied by beating or harassment in order to force the woman
or her family to yield to dowry demands. In many instances, such cruelty may even force
the woman to commit suicide and it has been specifically criminalized by the anti-dowry
laws in India. Where as cruelty towards newly wed women is
well recognized and defined by law, the same actions when committed on husbands do not
constitute Cruelty. However often this is not the case.===Domestic violence===Domestic violence includes a broad spectrum
of abusive and threatening behavior which includes physical, emotional, economic and
sexual violence as well as intimidation, isolation and coercion. There are laws like the Protection of Women
from Domestic Violence Act 2005 that help to reduce domestic violence and to protect
women’s rights.===Abetment to suicide===
Continuing abuse by the husband and his family with threats of harm could lead to a woman
committing suicide. In such situations, the dowry crime even extends
to abetment of suicide, which includes all acts and attempts to intentionally advise,
encourage, or assist in committing suicide. The impact of dowry can leave a woman helpless
and desperate, which can cumulate in emotional trauma and abuse. Dowry related abuse causes emotional trauma,
depression and suicide. The offence of abetment to suicide is significant
because in many cases, the accused persons often bring up a defense that the victim committed
suicide at her own volition, even though this may not be true in reality.===Dowry murder===Dowry deaths and dowry murder relate to a
bride’s suicide or killing committed by her husband and his family soon after the marriage
because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry. It is typically the culmination of a series
of prior domestic abuses by the husband’s family. Most dowry deaths occur when the young woman,
unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide by hanging herself or consuming
poison. Dowry deaths also include bride burning where
brides are doused in kerosene and set ablaze by the husband or his family. Sometimes, due to their abetment to commit
suicide, the bride may end up setting herself on fire.Bride burnings are often disguised
as accidents or suicide attempts. Bride burnings are the most common forms of
dowry deaths for a wide range of reasons like kerosene being inexpensive, there being insufficient
evidence after the murder and low chances of survival rate. Apart from bride burning, there are some instances
of poisoning, strangulation, acid attacks, etc., as a result of which brides are murdered
by the groom’s family.India, with its large population, reports the highest number of
dowry related deaths in the world according to Indian National Crime Record Bureau. In 2012, 8,233 dowry death cases were reported
across India, while in 2013, 8,083 dowry deaths were reported. This means a dowry-related crime causes the
death of a woman every 90 minutes, or 1.4 deaths per year per 100,000 women in India.Dowry
deaths can also include sex selective abortions and female foeticide by parents who do not
want to pay for their daughter’s dowry when she comes of age. Daughters are often seen as economic liabilities
due to the dowry system.==Laws against dowry==
The first all-India legislative enactment relating to dowry to be put on the statute
book was The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and this legislation came into force from 1 July
1961. It marked the beginning of a new legal framework
of dowry harassment laws effectively prohibiting the demanding, giving and taking of dowry. Although providing dowry is illegal, it is
still common in many parts of India for a husband to seek a dowry from the wife’s family
and in some cases, this results in a form of extortion and violence against the wife. To further strengthen the anti-dowry law and
to stop offences of cruelty by the husband or his relatives against the wife, new provisions
were added to the Indian criminal law – section 498A to Indian Penal Code and section 198A
to the Criminal Procedure Code in 1983. In 2005, the Protection of Women from Domestic
Violence Act was passed, which added an additional layer of protection from dowry harassment. Although the changes in Indian criminal law
reflects a serious effort by legislators to put an end to dowry-related crimes, and although
they have been in effect for many years now, they have been largely criticised as being
ineffective.===Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961===
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 consolidated the anti-dowry laws which had been passed
on certain states. This legislation provides for a penalty in
section 3 if any person gives, takes or abets giving or receiving of dowry. The punishment could be imprisonment for minimum
5 years and a fine more than ₹15,000 or the value of the dowry received, whichever
is higher. Dowry in the Act is defined as any property
or valuable security given or agreed to be given in connection with the marriage. The penalty for giving or taking dowry is
not applicable in case of presents which are given at the time of marriage without any
demand having been made.The Act provides the penalty for directly or indirectly demanding
dowry and provides for a penalty involving a prison term of not less than 6 months and
extendable up to two years along with a fine of ₹10,000. 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. The burden of proving that an offense was
not committed is on the persons charged and not on the victim or her family. Under its powers to frame rules for carrying
out its objectives under the Act, the government of India has framed the Maintenance of Lists
of Presents to the Bride and the Bridegroom Rules, 1985. There are also several state level amendments
to the Dowry Prohibition Act.===Criminal statutes – Indian Penal Code,
Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act===The Indian criminal laws were comprehensively
amended to include dowry as a punishable offence. Section 304B was added to the Indian Penal
Code, 1860 (“IPC”), which made dowry death a specific offence punishable with a minimum
sentence of imprisonment for 7 years and a maximum imprisonment for life. It provided that if the death of a woman is
caused by burns or bodily injury or occurs in suspicious circumstances within 7 years
of her marriage, and there’s evidence to show that before her death, she was subjected to
cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relative regarding the demand for dowry, then
the husband or the relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.Further, section
113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 (“Evidence Act”), creates an additional presumption of
dowry death when it is shown that before her death, the woman had been subjected to cruelty
on account of dowry demand. Section 304B IPC along with Section 113B of
the Evidence Act have enabled the conviction of many who were not caught by the Dowry Prohibition
Act, 1961. Section 113A of the Evidence Act provides
a similar presumption of abetment of suicide (which is an offense under Section 306 IPC),
in case of death of a married woman within a period of seven years of her marriage. Additionally, the judiciary also includes
a murder charge under Section 302 IPC as this allows courts to impose death penalty on perpetrators
of the offence. Section 406 IPC, pertaining to offences for
the criminal breach of trust, applies in cases of recovery of dowry as it is supposed to
be for the benefit of the woman and her heirs. Further, Section 498A IPC was specifically
included in 1983 to protect women from cruelty and harassment. The constitutionality of Section 498A was
challenged before the Supreme Court of India on grounds of abuse, on grounds that it gave
arbitrary power to the police and the court. However, it was upheld in Sushil Kumar Sharma
v. Union of India (2005). The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides
that for the prosecution of offences under Section 498A IPC, the courts can take cognizance
only when it receives a report of the facts from the police or upon a complaint being
made by the victim or her family.===Protection of Women from Domestic Violence
Act, 2005===The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence
Act, 2005 (“Domestic Violence Act”) was passed in order to provide a civil law remedy for
the protection of women from domestic violence in India. The Domestic Violence Act encompasses all
forms of physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse and forms a subset of the
anti-dowry laws to the extent it is one of the reasons for domestic violence. Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act specifically
incorporates all forms of harassment, injury and harms inflicted to coerce a woman to meet
an unlawful demand for dowry. Some of the common remedies under the Domestic
Violence Act include: protection orders – prohibiting a person
from committing domestic violence; residence orders – dispossessing such person
from a shared household; custody orders – granting custody of a child;
and compensation orders – directing payment
of compensation.===International conventions===
India is a party to several international human rights instruments which provide theoretical
remedies to the dowry problems. These international conventions include the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (“ICCPR”), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”),
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”),
and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”). CEDAW codifies the rights most relevant to
the discussion of dowry-related violence: the rights of women. However, there are issues of non-intervention
and cultural relativism which impede the use of international law to combat dowry deaths.==Criticisms on the enforcement of dowry
laws==Although Indian laws against dowries have
been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective. Despite the Indian government’s efforts, the
practice of dowry deaths and murders continues to take place unchecked in many parts of India
and this has further added to the concerns of enforcement. There is criticism by women’s groups that
India’s dowry harassment laws are ineffective because the statutes are too vague, the police
and the courts do not enforce the laws and social mores keep women subservient and docile,
giving them a subordinate status in the society.Further, many women are afraid to implicate their husbands
in a dowry crime simply because the Indian society is viewed as having conditioned women
to anticipate or expect abuse and in some sense eventually, endure it. While the laws give great powers, they are
not effectively enforced by the police or by courts. It can take up to 10 years for a case to go
to court and even once in court, husbands and in-laws end up getting away with extortion
or even murder because the women and their families cannot prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’
that they are the victims of such crimes, as there are rarely any outside witnesses. Moreover, when deaths occur through bride
burning, evidence itself is usually lost in flames.==Criticisms on the abuse of dowry laws==
There is growing criticism that the dowry laws are often being misused, particularly
section 498A IPC which is observed by many in India as being prone to misuse because
of mechanical arrests by the police. According to the National Crime Records Bureau
statistics, in 2012, nearly 200,000 people including 47,951 women, were arrested in regard
to dowry offences. However, only 15% of the accused were convicted.In
many cases of 498a, huge amounts of dowry are claimed without any valid reasoning. A rickshaw puller’s wife can allege that she
gave crores of money as dowry and since it is a cognizable case, police are bound to
register the case. And in most cases, the capacity of the wife
or her parents and the source of the funds are never tracked. The Nisha Sharma dowry case was an anti-dowry
lawsuit in India. It began in 2003 when Nisha Sharma accused
her prospective groom, Munish Dalal, of demanding dowry. The case got much coverage from Indian and
international media. Nisha Sharma was portrayed as a youth icon
and a role model for other women. The case ended in 2012, after the court acquitted
all accused. The Chief Justice Magistrate observed that
Nisha was in a relationship with another person Navneet, who she really wanted to marry.Section
498A IPC was challenged but upheld by the Supreme Court of India in 2005. In 2010, the Supreme Court lamented about
the possible misuse of anti-dowry laws in Preeti Gupta & Another v. State of Jharkhand
& Another and recommended a detailed investigation. Based on the Supreme Court’s observations,
the Indian parliament set up a committee headed by Bhagat Singh Koshyari. In July 2014, in the case of Arnesh Kumar
v. State of Bihar & Anr., a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court reviewed the enforcement
of section 41(1)(A) of CrPC which instructs state of following certain procedure before
arrest, and went on to observe that the 498A had become a powerful weapon in the hands
of disgruntled wives where innocent people were arrested without any evidence due to
non-bailable and cognizable nature of the law. The decision received criticism from feminists
because it weakened the negotiating power of women. Others welcomed the decision as landmark judgment
to uphold the human rights of innocent people. An organization Save Indian Family Foundation
was founded to combat abuses of IPC 498a. On 19 April 2015, the Indian government sought
to introduce a bill to amend Section 498A IPC based on the suggestions of the Law Commission
and Justice Malimath committee on reforms of criminal justice. News reports indicate that the proposed amendment
will make the offence compoundable and this would facilitate couples to settle their disputes.==See also==
Bride burning Domestic violence in IndiaGeneral: Women in India
Marriages in India Bride price
Female foeticide in India Social issues in India

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