Definition and Meaning:

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Dowry is a property that a woman brings to her husband. Among Hindus, the gift of the bride, Kanyadana, is accompanied by subsidiary cash, gift, or Dakshina and Stridhan refers to the gifts given to a woman by different relatives from either side. Thus, traditional dowry was equated with gifts including woman’s property or Stridhan. The family of the bride gave this voluntarily.

Broadly, two points are discernible in the provision of Stridhan. First, while Stridhan may have included the daughter’s portion of the inheritance, her control over it was far from complete. Second, Stridhan cannot be equated with the dowry. In dowry, the transaction of the gift was from the bride’s father or guardian to the groom or his guardian and not to the daughter alone. In such a way, it did not constitute Stridhan only but more. Even in modern times, the dowry is not Stridhan because it is transacted at the instance of the groom or his family. Women’s limited rights and control respectively over inheritance and Stridhan, However, confirm that the transmission of property to the daughter as a gift was the common practice. Dowry included both movable and immovable property.

IPC Section 304-B[1]

Deals with Dowry Death:

When the death of a married woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs under abnormal or suspicious circumstances within seven years of her marriage duration and it is clearly shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment or torture by her husband or any relative of her husband or in-laws for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called as "dowry death", and such husband or relative or in-law deemed to have caused her death. Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term minimum of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life.

IPC Section 498-A:

Deals with husband or relative of husband of the subjecting her to cruelty-

Whoever being the husband or the relative of the husband or in-law of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty or harassment or torture shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years and shall to pay fine. The cruelty can be either mental or physical torture which drives the women to commit suicide or to cause serious injury, or danger to life or health.

Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA) Section 113-A:[2]

Deals with presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman-

When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within seven years from the date of her manager and her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected to cruelty, the court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.

IEA Section 113-B:[3]

Deals with presumption as to dowry death-

When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death, such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.

The enactment of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, in its original form was found inadequate. Experience shows that the demand for dowry and the mode of its recovery take different forms to achieve the same result and various indirect and sophisticated methods are used to avoid leaving any evidence of the offense. Hence, the consequence of non-fulfillment of demand of dowry meted out to the unfortunate bride take different forms to avoid any causal connection between the demand of dowry and its prejudicial effects on the bride. This experience has led to several other legislative steps in the continuing battle to combat this evil.

Present Situation of Dowry Custom:

The number of cases registered were very low due to the social stigma and also that the parents of the bride themselves asked her to it bare all because it is a prestige issue. But today women are well educated and are independent, they do not require their husbands to support their livelihood and so there is no question of suffering or tolerating bad behavior of their husband or their in-law’s, they can easily terminate the marriage and in cases of any sort of abuse faced, they do not fear to approach the police or the legal system for help and assistance.

Factors Contributing to the Practicing of Dowry:

According to renowned Professor M.N. Srinivas, the increase in dowry-giving is also attributable to a sharp increase in the emulation of the higher castes by the lower castes. There is improved access to education and jobs in the organized sector; dowry is a practice adopted to exhibit a new status.

Another major factor contributing to this evil system is the inheritance law. Until comparatively presently, women were denied the right of inheritance. This led to the rigidity of the custom of dowry among the propertied classes. But with the passage of the Hindu Code Bill 1956[4] which, for the first time, introduced the right of the property upon women and entitled them to a share in the father’s property previously bequeathed only to sons, things have gradually taken a different turn and western values have influenced the institution of marriage. Besides these factors, the modern Indian girl has also become status-conscious and often wants to marry someone of higher social standing who draws a large income. The very institution of marriage is being altered by this evil system. Marriage has become a potential death trap for many women, particularly in the northern parts of the country. Instead of assisting newly- wedded couples to set up a household, dowry has become a major disruption of marital harmony. It has taken the shape of a business transaction, in which material goods take priority over the bride herself. The bride’s parents are often taxed with frequent fresh demands, even after the marriage. The inability to satisfy these demands can lead to the wife bearing the brunt of her In-laws’ anger, and to psychological, social, and economic problems for her family. The parents often get into debt so heavy that it passes from one generation to the next. Where a man has more than one daughter, he usually struggles to get them all married, because he spends all his money and borrows more to get the eldest married.

Connection between Dowry Death and Cruelty:

In Panakanti Sampath Rao Vs State of A.P:.[5]

Accused was charged with the commission of offenses under Sections 498A[6], 302[7], and 304B[8] of the IPC and Sections 3[9] and 4[10] of the Dowry Prohibition Act. He was acquitted of the offense of murder under Section 302 but was convicted on the other counts. Life imprisonment was awarded under Section 304B other than the punishment awarded under other charges. On appeal, the High Court found the accused guilty of the offense under Section 302 of the IPC, which the Supreme Court affirmed.

Vital Role of Judiciary in Dowry Death Cases:

The Indian judiciary, during the recent past, has been overburdened with a huge number of cases relating crime against women with dowry and its disastrous repercussion as a major issue relating to the human rights of women. Therefore, keeping in view the alarming increase in domestic violence cases, the sorry plight of the tortured and harassed women at the hand of either their husband and in-laws or her parental home, the Indian judiciary has adopted very stringent postures towards such cases, pronouncing firm judgment against the guilty and dispense justice to the aggrieved party because in our country, women have more regard and dignity and when a woman suffers any domestic violence, it is supposed that there is no morality or status of like. The Supreme Court in Chandra Prakash Kewal Chand Jain Vs. The state of Maharashtra[11] gave his views as follows: Women are ill-treated, frequently beaten showing intense and extreme indignation to social feelings. From the day of our independence the Indian judiciary, along with the legislature of India, is trying to improve the condition of women. The judiciary interpreted the various legal provisions meant for the protection of women in such a way as to be most beneficial to our women.

Granting Bail in Dowry Death Cases:

In Shakuntala Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh:[12], another dowry death case, wherein the husband and mother-in-law of the young bride were involved. The mother in law was an old woman of 72 and her bail application was pleaded on the proviso to Sec 437 (i) of the code of Criminal Procedure 1973 where under a woman, a sick person or old person could be enlarged on bail on compassionate ground. However, the provision is not mandatory but discretionary. In this case, her bail application was allowed on compassionate grounds on a personal bond and on furnishing two sureties to the satisfaction of Chief Judicial Magistrate. Section 437(4) of the Indian Penal Code requires that when an accused is enlarged on bail in a non-bailable offence, Magistrate has to state reasons.

 In Prahalad S/o Ranjeet Singh v. Mohan Singh And Anr.:[13], the Madhya Pradesh High Court said that it is obligatory to indicate reasons which persuade the court to release the accused on bail. In a case where reasons are not recorded the court may conclude that the order was not proper.  

Anticipatory Bail in Dowry Death Cases:

If an anticipatory bail is obtained by misrepresenting that his marriage took place some eight years before and therefore the presumption of death taking place within seven years did not apply it should be canceled. In Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia v. the State of Punjab[14] Chandrachud CJ said that it cannot be laid anticipatory bail down as an inexorable rule that anticipatory bail cannot be granted unless the proposed accusation appears to be actuated by malafide; and equally, that anticipatory must be granted if there is no fear that the applicant will abscond. Some of the relevant considerations which govern the discretion, noticed therein are –

  • The nature and seriousness of the proposed changes.
  • The context of the events likely to lead to the making of the charges.
  • A reasonable possibility of the applicant’s presence not being secured at the trial.

Essential to Prove Cruelty in Dowry Cases:

In B.S. Joshi & Ors vs State of Haryana & Anr.[15], it was held that the object of section 498-A of the Indian penal code was to prevent torture to a woman by her husband or his relatives in connection with demand of dowry. This section was added to punish a husband and his relatives who harass or torture the wife to coerce her or her relatives to satisfy the unlawful demands of dowry.

In Inder Raj Malik And Ors. vs Sunita Malik:[16], it was held that where it was alleged by the complainant that she was been continuously threatened that her son would be taken away unless she met the demands of the accused by way of compelling her parents to sell their property such threats come within the purview of section 498-A. The word ‘cruelty’ is defined in the explanation which inter alia says that harassment of a woman to coerce her or any related persons to meet any unlawful demand for any property or any valuable security is cruelty.

SC Commuted Capital Punishment to Life Imprisonment:

In Machhi Singh Vs State of Punjab[17], the three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court considered the Constitution Bench decision Bachan Singh Vs State of Punjab[18] and came to hold that where there is no proof of extreme culpability, the extreme penalty need not be given. The Supreme Court also further observed that the extreme penalty of death may be given only in the rarest of rare cases where aggravating circumstances are such that the extreme penalty meets the ends of justice.

Dowry Prohibition Act Inchoate Double Jeopardy:

In the case of Inder Raj Malik and ors. vs Sunita Malik[19], the Delhi High Court held that a person can be convicted both under Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition act as well as under Section 498 A of IPC as it does not create any situation of double jeopardy as defined under Article 20(1)[20] of the Constitution. Kicking and Threatening Daughter-in-law with Divorce is not cruelty under Section 498A of IPC Bhaskar Lal Sharma v. Monica[21], In this case, the Supreme Court was of the view that merely because the mother-in-law kicked the daughter-in-law and threatened her with divorce, the same did not amount to cruelty under Section 498A of IPC. In this case, a very shocking view has been taken by the Apex Court. Kicking by the leg and threatening with divorce are elements that indicate cruelty against women.

Interpretations as Aforementioned Discoursed:

It can be concluded that our society has its respective value system to react differently to crimes and their perpetrators. Spiritual doctrines have a tremendous impact to combat this social evil.

Therefore, the bride’s husband must accept all responsibility for her economic needs. The transfer of dowry should ensure that the husband cannot, accuse the woman of "coming to him like a beggar".

Dowry practices are thus legally prosecuted largely in conjunction with suicides or murders connected to dowry demands or in conjunction with domestic violence or property recovery cases often filed in conjunction with divorces. Legal directives are blatantly ignored in the focus on wealth and status accumulation, and the urgency of having daughters married at all cost.

[5] Appeal (crl.)  946 of 2004

[11] 1990 AIR  658  1990 SCR (1) 115 1990 SCC (1) 550  JT 1990 (1)  61 1990 SCALE (1)33

[12] 2003 CriLJ 687

[13] 1991 (0) MPLJ 53

[14] 1980 AIR 1632, 1980 SCR (3) 383

[15] Appeal (crl.)  383 of 2003

[16] 1986 CriLJ 1510, 1986 (2) Crimes 435, 1986 RLR 220

[17] (1983) 3 SCC 470

[18] AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980 CriLJ 636, 1982 (1) SCALE 713, (1980) 2 SCC 684, 1983 1 SCR 145

[19] 1986 CriLJ 1510, 1986 (2) Crimes 435, 1986 RLR 220

[21] CRL.M.C. 1762/2016 & Crl. M.A. 7434/2016