NEWS FLASH “A 27-year-old woman burnt by her in-laws for dowry”. A flight attendant jumped off her terrace and was tortured emotionally for dowry. India has an alarming trend that women die every day due to harassment over a dowry – either murdered or compelled to commit suicide. 

Why is the dowry system still a scary reality?

Why do we value a woman’s life around the amount of gold she brings in dowry? 

Questions like these need to be raised again and again.


What is India’s dowry system?

In Indian traditional marriages, the dowry system perpetuates the concept of the girl’s parents giving gold, money, cars, homes, and other material goods to the boy’s family for ‘taking care of their daughter. It reinforces the ‘belief’, that Indian society has long perpetuated, that girls and women are a burden on society. This in turn reduces a girl’s value to the money and material goods she brings to her wedded house.

For centuries, this has been a system actively followed. It also projects that the boy and his family are superior to the girl and that the girl’s parents are ‘expected’ to service the boy’s family with special treatment. The amount of dowry often becomes an issue of contention between the two families, and eventually leads to pressure on the girls who either suffer the marriage or kill themselves.

The brutal reality of the dowry system is not the story of rural areas only. Even educated family sitting in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore is harassing a woman for not bringing enough gold or money.

In some cases, to escape the punishment by law, the husband and his family do not kill the woman directly but harass her mentally and physically forcing her to commit suicide.

Perceiving dowry death as the law speaks

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

According to Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, “Dowry is any kind of property or valuable security directly or indirectly agreed to be given by-

(i) One party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or

(ii) By the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or any other person, at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties.

Indian Penal Code,1860

Section 304B of IPC defines dowry death as “if a woman dies within seven years of marriage by any burns or bodily injury or it was revealed that before her marriage she was exposed to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any other relative of the husband in connection to demand dowry then the death of the woman will be considered as dowry death.”

Essentials of dowry death

  • Death must be caused by burns, bodily injury, or other circumstances.
  • Death must occur within seven years of marriage.
  • It must be disclosed that soon before her marriage, she was exposed to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any other relative.
  • The cruelty or harassment of her should be connected to the demand for dowry.

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Dowry death is a non-bailable offense, that is, offenses under which statements by the court are required to arrest a person and the person cannot be acquitted without the court’s order and cognizable that is that the police do have the authority to arrest any person without issuing of any warrant along with the authority to carry out the investigation with or without the permission of magistrate of a court.

According to Section 41 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973  the police officer, while arresting any person without a warrant, be satisfied with the complaint registered against a person and fulfill all the provisions of Section 41 of CrPC.

Section 498A Cruelty

This provision defines cruelty as “whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

What is Section 113B of the Evidence Act?

This provision deliberates presumption as to dowry death: “When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman & that soon before her death, the woman has 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 (accused) had caused the dowry death.” In simple words, the court presumes the accused to have committed such a crime, so the accused has to prove him innocent.

Dowry is a cognizable offence

Dowry death is a cognizable (the police officer can arrest without a warrant and can investigate the case without seeking permission from the court) and non-bailable offense. This offense is so serious that it is considered a crime against society and in order to convey a strong message to the offenders, it must be dealt with an iron hand, as the Supreme Court had already iterated.

Landmark judgments

Although it has been difficult to get the whole thing and laws pertinent to dowry death to be properly implemented, there were some of the causes which brought a breakthrough in the backdrop of existing faults. In the case of Satbir Singh vs The State of Haryana (2021), it was held by the Apex Court that if the prosecution can establish the ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC the burden of proof of innocence completely lies on the defense.

Further, the provisions under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code are far more stringent in comparison to those in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code in the sense that offenses under it are cognizable, non-bailable, and can be tried by the court of Session.

While in the case of Mustafa Shahadal Shaikh v. the State of Maharashtra (2012), the ratio decidendi of the court states that the language used under Section 304-B, “soon before death” does not ascribe any definite time frame as such under both the Indian Penal Code as well as under Section 113-B of Indian Evidence Act. Accordingly, the term “Soon before death” could be determined by Courts depending upon the facts & circumstances of the case.

However, it would imply that the interval should not be much between the cruelty or harassment concerned and the death in question. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would have no consequence.






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