Dowry and Bride Price


DOWRY AND BRIDE PRICE IN INDIA: A Socio-Legal Perspective

A. Introduction

Problem related to dowry have come to the attention of Indian social workers from 1960’s onwards. Dowry induced violence may be physical or mental, overt or covert. Dowry has been referred to as a social cancer, a cruel custom and an insult to the dignity of women. It has been crystallized in Indian society and, despite legislation, cases of dowry harassment and dowry deaths are increasing every year.

The National Commission for women in India in one of its year reports (2000) states that everyday, almost every six hours, somewhere at some place in India, a young married woman is being burnt alive or beaten to death or being pushed the commit suicide. Over the past few years, the cases of bride burning have registered a sharp increase through-out India.

B. Conception

1. Dowry

Dowry has been referred and may defined as “unilateral transfer of resources from the bride’s family at marriage to the groom’s family for inviting her to their home permanently and that dowry is, therefore, a compensatory payment to the family which agrees to shelter her hypothetically for the rest of her life. 2. Bride PriceDowry implies ritual and secular transfer of gifts from the family of the bride to that of the groom. On the other hand, bride price implies transfer of gifts from the family of the groom to that of the bride with or without similar transfer from the family of the bride that of the groom.C. Justification

The justification as offered by the groom and his family are:

  1. Most men think it is their right to demand dowry for the expenses they will incur in looking after the bride;
  2. Parents of the groom expect dowry to reimburse the expense of their son’s education;
  3. Dowry is a status symbol. Men who do not accept dowry are sometimes astracised not only by the society but also their own family members;
  4. Marriage with dowry is considered more prestigious and is recommended for the higher castes.

Nevertheless, one can refuse all these unreasonable justification.

D. Involvement of Different System and Individual

Dowry harassment and death are psycho-legal issues. There is, therefore, interplay of many systems in handling the case of dowry related violence.

The following is a brief description of roles played by each system:

1. The Bride’s Parental Family

  • It is well known that birth of daughter is not a happy event. Giving a birth of daughter means additional burden of expenses of her marriage and endless expenses thereafter.

2. The Potential Bride

  • In few cases it has been observed that daughters expect a substantial dowry from their parents as they feel deprived of parental property.

3. The Groom’s Family

  • The birth of a boy is an occasion for rejoicing women who give birth to a son gets special favours from the husband and in laws of some communities.

4. The Potential Groom

  • The Groom is as responsible as anyone else in his home because he: (a) Rarely sides with his bride, especially in relation to dowry; and (b) Indulges in harassing his wife and/or is apathetic and a silent observer to her victimization.

5. The Community

  • Both the educated and uneducated sections of Indian society still adhere to outdated traditions. The Caste Panchayats and religious leader heads of community play the role of mediators but only to manifest their anti-women bias.

6. Media

  • News regarding dowry harassment or death rarely makes the front-page headline. Additionally, the newspapers fall to publish the outcome of these cases.

E. Role Played by Law and Its Enforcement Agencies

Let us observe the role played by some legal institutions relating to the practice of dowry.

1. The Police

The role of the police is crucial in cases of dowry-related violence. The investigative process, which includes FIR and the lying declaration, is extremely important in bringing the culprits to book.

Unfortunately, police department mostly being male-dominated is also sometimes influenced by its patriarchal values. Improper investigation and lack of proper approach often result in the offenders roaming free without any fear or punishment.

2. Judiciary

The familiar fact of inordinate delays in disposing of dowry cases is deterrent to many parents lodging complaints against the in-laws of their daughter. There should be special courts to handle these cases. This will help in the quick disposal of cases and resinstate the people faith in the judiciary.

3. Government

Finally, the Central Government due passed the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961. Ironically, for around 50% of Indian population have not free and even after 60 years of Indian independence.

And notwithstanding the constitutionally declared goals of egalitarianism and social justice in Article 14, Article 15(3), Article 38, Article 51 and Article 21, freedom in determined by gender, biology, economics and power of which ‘dowry’ is a manifestation.

F. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

The Act is applicable to all the communities, the practice, though, originating among the Hindus, has penetrated non-Hindu communities. The fundamental flaw in the Dowry Prohibition Act is the very definition of ‘Dowry’ in Section 2 of the Act.

“Definition of ‘dowry’ – In this Act, ‘dowry’ means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly –
(a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage, or
(b) by the parents of either party to marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person at or before or any time after marriage….”

Nevertheless, the interpretation of the Act by the subordinate and High Court has been from satisfactory, for instance in the case of Vikku Ram v. State of H.P.

The various factors operating against effective implementation of the Act are:

  1. Granting of bail to dowry offenders which enable them to compel with evidence;
  2. The hesitancy of independent and honest witness to come to the court;
  3. The lack of legal assistance to private complaints;
  4. The failure to communicate the provision of the Dowry Prohibition Act to those whose can use it to obtain relief against dowry offender.

G. Suggestion

1. Preventive Measures

  • Awareness Building: A massive movement to create awareness among adolescents, youth and parents need to be initiated and sustained by all involved in the eradication of dowry.
  • Networking with other systems: There is a dire need to network with the police, legal system, the media, the health system and women’s organizations;
  • Other Measures: There should be on-going training programmes for the police, lawyers, judiciary, media personnel, the doctors and paramedical staff.

2. Remedial Measures

  • Reporting of cases: Dowry harassment or death cases should be reported without delay.
  • Registration of cases: The delay in registering cases at the Police station and in the Medical examination at the hospitals should be drastically reduced, as it can be fatal.
  • Court procedures: As far as possible, the culprit should not be granted bail as this gives him ample opportunities to destroy all evidence to threaten the witness.
  • Community Action: Social boycott of families which have harassed bride for dowry is a string weapon to effect social change.

H. Conclusion

Dowry as well as bride price humiliate and dehumanize women in India. It is true that the increasing coercive character of dowry has led to a decline in the status of women. But it must be pointed out that contrary to popular wisdom; women do not have a higher status in those castes and communities where dowry and bride price is paid for them.

Though laws are necessary to provide basic rights and to punish offenders, what is requires is a more holistic approach to dealing with the phenomenon of violence against women, particularly in Dowry and Bride Price.

***

Main References:

  1. Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
  2. Concept and Function of Dowry and Bride Price by V.K. Dixit.
  3. Dowry and the Indian Women: The Need for a Two Pronged Attack from ILI Journal.
  4. Dowry and the Law: Subversion on Human Rights by Ram J.
  5. Dowry, Dowry Deaths and Violence Against Women by Julia Leslie.
  6. Dowry – Related Violence: An Overview by Kalindi Muzumdar.
  7. Economics and Sociology of Bride-Price and Dowry in Eastern Rajasthan by V.K. Dixit.
  8. Economics of Bride-Price and Dowry by Indira Rajaraman.
  9. Legal Realism and the Dowry Problem by Werner Menski.
  10. Sociology and Economics of Dowry and Bride Price by V.K. Dixit.
  11. Sociology of Bride-Price and Dowry by Shalini Randeria and Leela Visaria.

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