A news channel is constantly bloating out news for the consumption of its viewers in the warmth of their houses, but the irony is that the listeners seem to be perturbed. The news is displayed with a headline. “A woman burnt by her in-laws for dowry”. But the thing to be noted is that the news does not seem to be astonishing. Marriage is considered a sacrosanct institution. As in India, it is considered a religious obligation and held with reverence. The matrimonial institution is not only complementary to the family institution but also the girl who is married off has a lot of expectations from her married life and wishes to have a blissful life with her family. But unfortunately, these expectations have been turning out to be surreal due to the dowry system in India. These days we often debate on women empowerment, equality before the law, but in the same instance, we see rising cases of dowry death. So, how come these dowry-related crimes took a toll on the existing legislation. But, before drawing up to these points we need to understand the concept of dowry and dowry death and even before that, we need to delve into the history of dowry. Dowry refers to any kind of gift in the form of cash or goods which could be ornaments or some sort of commodities or household items that are required by the newlywed to start their married life which is given by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family.
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-
One party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
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.
The history of dowry in Asia is a bit ambiguous. According to some scholars, dowry was practised since time immemorial, but according to others, it does not exist in antiquity. Historical eyewitness reports suggest dowry in ancient India was of very little significance, and daughters of the family did have inheritance rights when they had no brothers, which by custom were exercised at the time of their marriage. And further evidence suggests that there existed a system of “bride price”, whereby the family of the groom had to give some gifts to the family of the women before marriage but in instances where the bride suffered from some sort of defect then the family had to bestow her to be in-laws with some gifts. However, this was not very much prevalent either. At that point of time, it was very prevalent that the girl had to be beautiful and virtuous but there was not any concern as such with the materialistic gifts she brought to her in-laws. The bride had to be adorned richly as ceremonial gifts which slowly took the form of dowry. As of today, this adornment has become the cause of abuse by the groom’s family to the bride.
Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code covers the offences affecting the human body. Under which Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, “if a woman dies within the seven years of marriage by any burns or any other 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 the dowry then the death of the woman will be considered as a dowry death.” Punishment for dowry death ranges from a minimum sentence of imprisonment for seven years and a maximum sentence extending to imprisonment for life. There are certain pre-requisite for consideration of dowry death laid under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code which are as follows:
Death should be caused either by burns or bodily injury or by any other circumstances for that matter.
Death must occur within or before seven years of marriage.
It must also be revealed that soon after the marriage of the bride, she was exposed to some sort of cruelty or harassment by her husband or any other relative.
And lastly, her cruelty or harassment of her should be connected with the demand for dowry.