Government Intervention to Tackle the Dowry Issue
After witnessing the dark side of this medieval practice, the government had to intervene to protect the interests of the victims. The Parliament of India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 in order to make the giving and receiving of dowry directly or indirectly by parents of either party a punishable offence by imprisonment and fines. However, this act had its shortcomings, Section 3 of the Act lays down that presents could be given to the wife or the husband, as it is a customary practice, as long as the present were not excessive in financial terms. This excessive value is not properly defined in the act. The act demanded that both the parties should maintain a list of gifts that were given, which indirectly amounted to the legitimisation of dowry. This initiative of the government failed because of lack of support from people.
To overcome the shortcomings of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the government amended the concerned legislation and passed The Dowry Prohibition Amendment Act of 1984 which not only increased the punishment for the offence but also laid down in clear terms that the presents given to the bride or the groom at the time of wedding were to be maintained in a list describing each gift, its value, the identity of the person giving it, and the person’s relation to either party to the marriage.
Further, in order to deal with the alarming increase in the number of dowry deaths and the cases of cruelty related to dowry, the Parliament of India decided to take a step forward and amend the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1982 to add certain provisions which would provide rights to the women to deal with the negative repercussions of this practice.
Section 304 B of the Indian Penal Code defines “dowry death” and lays down punishment for the same. As per this section if within 7 years of marriage, a woman’s death is caused due to physical torture which may include body burns or some irregular circumstances and it is apparent that the set of events that led to the death of the woman were violence and torment by the husband or husband’s family concerning the demands of dowry then the guilty parties will be punished under this section for the same.
In Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab, the court held that in order for section 304B to be applicable, it is not sufficient that the harassment was caused to the victim at some time, but to invoke the section it should have been done soon before the death to leave no doubt that the death was a consequence of the harassment that took place against the victim. Hence, the proximity period plays a significant role. It is also necessary to show that the death was due to demand for dowry in relation to the marriage of the parties and not due to some other circumstances.
In State of Rajasthan v. Jaggu Ram held that as section 304 B of Indian Penal Code nowhere explicitly describes what would constitute as the before death period, which is taken into consideration while adjudicating whether a case can be tried under this particular section. It will be decided by the court, depending on the facts and circumstances of each case to ascertain whether the period between death of the woman and the harassment she suffered at the hands of her husband or in-laws would be considered as immediate or not.
Section 498 A was inserted in the Indian Penal code which defined and laid down “cruelty” as an offence. This section provided that if a married woman was subjected to violence, physical or mental torment which may be detrimental to her health or may arise circumstances which would force her to commit suicide, by her husband or family of the husband, then they would be punished under this section.
M. Srinivasulu vs State Of A.P. laid down that even though both the Sections 304 B and 489 A essentially address cruelty against women in relation to dowry, both the acts are not mutually exclusive. Section 489 A talks about what constitutes “cruelty”, and as both the sections have a common background, the cruelty referred to in section 304 A is the same as defined and made punishable under section 498 A of I.P.C. Furthermore, section 304 B is concerned with dowry deaths within seven years of marriage. An individual can be convicted under either or both the sections of the I.P.C.
In Pawan Kumar and others v. State of Haryana the apex court of India held that Section 304 B which makes demand for dowry punishable, does not require the plaintiff to prove existence of an agreement between the parties, as if the same was asked for, it would make it hard to dispense justice. Further, in the spirit of equity, the court also held that if a woman is driven to suicide because of the actions of her husband or the husband’s family and the harassment she was subjected to was a result of demand for dowry, then the accused will not only be convicted under Section 304 B of the I.P.C and Section 498 A of the I.P.C. but also under section 306 of the I.P.C. which lays down that whoever abets the commission of suicide of an individual is liable to be punished under law.
Now, to talk about the Indian Evidence Act, Section 113-A of the act lays down that if a married woman commits suicide within 7 years of her marriage and during hat period, she was subjected to harassment by her husband or family of the husband, then on the basis of all the facts of the case, the court may presume that the woman was abetted to commit suicide by the husband or husband’s family.
Section 113 B lays down that if before the death of a married woman, she was subjected to cruelty by her husband or family of the husband for the payment of dowry, then the court will presume that it is a dowry death.
In Inder Sain And Another vs The State, the Delhi court held that as per the definition of dowry given in the Dowry Act, 1961, it is clear that it is a consideration that is given for the marriage of the parties, and to interpret this we must refer to Section 2(d) of the Indian Contract Act which provides that “consideration” referred to in the Dowry Act talks about property or valuables given in the past, to be given in the future or at the time of marriage in order to facilitate the execution of the wedding. Hence, it cannot include any demand which may be made subsequent to the marriage and was not agreed as a future consideration at the time of entering into the marriage. The learned judge also replaced “after marriage” with “any time after the marriage”, in order to give wider interpretation to the Act.
The Delhi High Court in Inder Raj Malik v. Sunita Malik held that even though both Sections 498 A of Indian Penal Code and 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 are concerned with the invalidation of dowry, but they are essentially different, as cruelty forms an essential element of Section 498 A whereas, section 4 is not in reference to cruelty but fundamentally makes the demand for dowry punishable. Hence, an individual convicted under both sections does not come under the purview of Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution which lays down that a person cannot be prosecuted for the same offence twice.
After discussing all these legislations and judgments, it is clear that the Indian government and the Judiciary have been trying to protect the interest of women and interpreting and amending laws as deemed necessary by the prevailing situation.