A CRITICAL ANALYSIS ON DOWRY DEATH: THEN AND NOW

Updated: Apr 17

The authors in this post have analysed the plight of women in India due to the curse of Dowry death in India. They have critically analysed the present laws in India for curbing Dowry Death.


The reputation and footing of modern Indian women appear to have a kind of instability. On one side there are certain remarkable examples of the success of different women at different levels and on the other side, several women in different parts of our society face violence, discrimination, torture, exploitation and several types of sexual violence. Violence against women is not a myth but a reality that exists everywhere. The violence against women continues to increase in India in spite of several laws and legislations which were passed with an objective to curb violence. Seventy-one years of our Independence have passed but yet we are discussing that women of India are a subject of exploitation and ill-treatment by a patriarchal society. Dowry death is considered to be a heinous crime where women are ill-treated and exposed to violence by her husband and in-law. The dowry system in India has a long history.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF DOWRY HARASSMENT

The term dowry is derived from the ancient Hindu tradition of “Kanyadaan” where the father presents his daughter ornaments, clothes during the time of marriage and “Varadakshina” where the father of the bride presents the groom cash and several other gifts. This was originally a traditional practice intended to be done voluntarily out of affection but this practice has been blown out of proportion in recent years. In the legal sense, dowry refers to the property, money, ornaments or any form of valuable security that a man or his family receives from his wife or her family at the time of marriage. Dowry death refers to the death caused because of the sole reason that the demands for dowry remain unfulfilled by the bride’s family members. The motive of this crime is nothing but ruthless greed and avarice as the desire for money ignores the morality of the woman and kills all sentiments. The inception of the 19th century played a dominant role in degrading and humiliating women. Dowry system has given rise to many socio-economic issues with serious repercussions, and it was observed in many cases that when the dowry amount is not considered adequate, the bride is often harassed and abused. According to the Indian National Crime Record Bureau India has by far the highest number of dowry-related deaths in the world. The court observed in the case of Bhagwant Singh V. Commissioner of Police Delhi {1983 AIR 826, 1983 SCR (3) 109}, the woman had died due to burn injuries and the husband was prosecuted and his contention was that the deceased herself set her on fire. The court in this case rightly observed that young women of education and character and intelligence would not set herself on fire unless provoked to that desperate step by intolerance of misery. Similarly in Jaspal Singh V. State of Punjab, AIR 1979 SC 1708, the prosecution story was that soon after marriage, the husband’s demand for dowry began. As the demands were not accomplished, the husband strangled his wife to death and burnt her body. The High Court convicted the husband to life imprisonment.

LEGISLATIVE ENACTMENTS


i. THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT

The Dowry Prohibition Act came into force in May 1961. It was the first penal legislation to prohibit this evil practice, stringent provisions have been made in the act and yet dowry continues to be the aspect around which all the Indian marriages revolve, and has resulted in the death of a large number of women. The main objective of this act is to forbid the wrongful practice of giving or taking dowry. Around the latter half of the seventies, it was felt that the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961was ill drawn and poorly enforced. The government appointed a Parliamentary Committee to study the defects of the act. As a result, there were a number of changes made in the working of the Act keeping in mind the demands from various social groups and women’s welfare organization to prevent inhuman treatment to a woman under the name of dowry, however, it was felt that the laws existing or reformed were inadequate.

The legislature’s effort to curb dowry deaths lead to the amendment of the Act in 1984 and again in 1986. In 1986, Dowry death was incorporated in the Indian Penal Code. A new section 304-B was included in the Indian Penal Code. Over the years, laws against demanding dowry and harassment for dowry have been drastically strengthened. Giving or taking of dowry fall under cognizable offenses with imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and may extend to life imprisonment in certain cases. According to the Dowry Prohibition Act (Amendment) 1986, it is mandatory to investigate every unnatural death of a woman within the first seven years of her marriage.


ii. THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1890

Section 304B: Where the death of women is caused by any burns or bodily injury or any other circumstances within seven years and it is done by her husband or in-laws for dowry, the husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused for death and shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

Section 498A: HUSBAND OR RELATIVE OF HUSBAND OF A WOMAN SUBJECTED HER TO CRUELTY. - Imprisonment of husband or his relative for up to three years and fine. Which is non-compoundable and non-bail able.


iii. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE –

Section 198A explains regarding the prosecution for offences against marriage.


iv. THE EVIDENCE ACT, 1872 –

Section113A deals with presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married women. And 113B deals with presumption as to dowry death.


v. THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, 2005

The Domestic Violence Act came into force by the Indian government and was enacted to protect women exclusively.


DOWRY SYSTEM A BANE TO OUR INDIAN SOCIETY

Lately, people have become very greedy and the concept of getting a gift from the bride ‘in the name of dowry’ has become a compulsory practice and marriages take place only if the bride’s family accepts to give the required dowry. This evil system of dowry will only bring in more heinous crimes as people have failed to fulfill their original purpose. Family plays a pivotal role in everyone's life. It is the duty of the family to protect their members from all the dangers they face. But in the cases of dowry harassment and dowry murder the perpetrators are none other than the victim's husband and relatives. Hence, it is very clear that the dowry system is the root cause for various other offenses. To our shock and surprise, the main reason behind such violence is the own family of the victim. In spite of knowing all the troubles she faces in her in-law's house they force her to stay there with her husband and strive hard to fulfill their demand without thinking about the serious consequences of sending her back to such a cruel place.


SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In order to bring an end to these evil offenses, there has to be changed in the legislation in two ways. Firstly, the amendments which need to be made in the legislation to abolish dowry and secondly, the measures to be taken to abolish gender bias.


LEGISLATIONS TO ABOLISH DOWRY

One of the main reasons why such offences exist is due to the lack of stern punishment. There are various laws that protect women against dowry violence but these laws need to be amended effectively. In countries like the U.S.A and Saudi Arabia, capital punishment is prevalent. But in our country capital punishment is not provided easily. According to Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab {AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980 CriLJ 636, 1982(1) SCALE 713, (1980)2 SCC 684, 1983 1 SCR 145} it was held that capital punishment can be given in “rarest of rare cases" but even in such cases mostly death sentence is avoided. Under humanitarian grounds, it is suggested that this should be treated as rarest of rare crime and severe punishment should be given to the people who harass and abets the victim to the extent of committing suicide.

It is pertinent to note that section 304B of IPC provides punishment only when the occurrence takes place within seven years of marriage but there are various chances where the in-laws may turn against her after the period of seven years due to financial crisis or any other circumstances. Hence, it is necessary to take up cases regarding dowry violence if the complaint is lodged even after the said period.

The following are certain steps that can be enforced and followed for improving the welfare of women of our society:-

  • Necessary steps to be taken to spread awareness of all the laws which are in favor of women

  • Measures to be taken to improve the court's role in providing speedy justice to women in relation to dowry death.

  • The dying declaration of the victim to be done by the Judicial Magistrate immediately as the victim is in serious condition.

  • Counseling centers should be organized by the government to treat women who are suffering from both mental and physical harm.

  • Prioritization of dowry death cases for listing without any unnecessary adjournments.


CONCLUSION

The evil system of dowry is a great insult to womanhood. It is nothing but a symbol of male superiority and woman’s degradation. Women are the one, who sacrifices her life for her family but everyday women face so many problems not only by strangers also by very own family. In order to improvise her status in society the male dominant society needs to be equalized. Regardless of the statutory measures of the government, the dowry system is continuing prominently in several parts of our country. Such a complex and crucial issue requires an integrated social endeavor to overcome it successfully. This issue has to be fought on various fronts such as legal, educational and social. Many legal laws and penal laws are available to check this phenomenon. If this is implemented effectively, there is every hope of abolishing the dowry system from India.


Submitted by,

S.Reeha Sulthana and R.Roshni

School Of Excellence In Law,

The Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai.


(Images used for representative purpose only)

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