Concept Of Dowry Death In India

Amisha Chauhan

From the ancient times, women have been going through numerous problems in the society. Whether the place is home or any working place, women cannot feel safe at any point of time. Of all the never-ending problems that a women faces, dowry death always make itself count in the top list of the social challenges. Dowry death keeps influencing the society, though many other crimes against women like illegal trafficking, acid attack, murder, child marriage, sexual harassment etc. takes place in the society.
Dowry has been contributing a lot to the crimes and violence against women in the past, present and in future too. During the year 2002-2012, Nagaland and Lakshadweep reported no dowry deaths in their places. On the other hand, in the year of 2015, 7634 brides were burned to death as result of dowry disputes.

Concept And Meaning Of Dowry
The Oxford Dictionary defines dowry as the amount of property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage.
In a diversified country like India, institution of marriage has its own deep-rooted meaning and customs. The tradition of marriage in India relies on the custom of dowry. The concept of dowry is not new but have been in continuation since ancient and medieval times. It has its own long history in different parts of the world. In the simplest meaning, dowry was the exchange of gift, money and transfer of parental property at the time when a girl gets married to a man.
In other words, it can be said that dowry is the payment made by the bride’s parents to the groom’s side. However, it can interpreted that marriage is settled on the verge of transfer of huge dowry on the part of the bride to the parents of the groom. However, the concept of dowry have changed in the modern era and sometimes leads to the unpredicted violence against women across the world.

Development Of Dowry System
The concept of dowry in the South Asia is a controversial topic. It is believed that women had inheritance rights that were exercisable at the time of marriage as the custom stated. Some documentary evidence also proves that dowry custom was a common one, rather than an offence in the beginning of the 20th century.
In the ancient era, the Code of Manu however sanctioned dowry and bride wealth in the as stated by Stanley J. Tambiah. In the Vedic concept of caste, to the Brahmins, the custom of dowry was the most awarded and traditional form. Lochtefeld also states that bride adornment was not the dowry demanded for the groom but the religious rituals as per Manu and others stated that richly bride to be dressed in ceremonial dress and jewelry, gifts that belonged to her, not named as demanded dowry for the groom.

There are various reasons due to which the custom of dowry is still prevalent in the Indian society.
SOCIAL CUSTOM AND TRADITION: In a country like India, customs and traditions play an important role in the institution of marriage. Customs influence the society as a whole on areas like dressing, lifestyle, food etc. Hence, the social custom is counted among the reasons for dowry practice in India.
CASTE SYSTEM: The Vedic caste system is however deeply rooted in the Indian society. To get a girl married to a boy of the same caste or upper caste, dowry in form of money, gifts, property etc. is must.
LACK OF EDUCATION: Education play an important in every area whether it be job, marriage, etc. Sometimes, due to the lack of knowledge, groom’s family demands for huge dowry in form of durable goods, gifts etc. of which bride’s parents are not aware of.
INCOME TO THE GROOM’S FAMILY: Dowry mainly consists of gifts, money, transferable property which adds to the income of the groom’s family. Groom’s family considers dowry as a return to the investment made for their son.

Dowry practice acts a major catalyst for the gender inequality. There is a belief in the Indian system that a girl is supposed to get married one day, leave her parent’s home, and take dowry with herself while getting married off. According to 2011 census, for every 1000 number of boys, there are only 943 girls, this means boys still stand ahead of the line. Gender inequality establishes at the time of a birth of a girl child.
DETERIORATION OF THE FINANCIAL STATUS OF BRIDE’S FAMILY: The practice of dowry leads to the financial crisis in the bride’s family in order to fulfil the demand of the groom’s parents. However, groom’s family keeps threatening the bride for more dowry and this leads to the increase in number of dowry deaths, suicides etc. Hence, bride alone does not suffer but the whole family as one.
• NARROWER STATUS OF WOMEN: As seen from decades, girls have been deprived of their fundamental rights like right to education, freedom and speech. The moment a baby girl is born in the family, happiness no longer seems to be there. With her birth, comes many responsibilities and especially the burden of marriage and dowry debt. If a marriage fails due to reasons like incapable of giving more dowry or any other, women suffer from domestic violence, threats etc.
• ASSISTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND CRIME: Dowry related crimes have become common in the country. Several marriages in the society end up resulting in committing crimes against the bride upon failure of dowry, non-fulfillment of demands from the from the groom’s parents. Women are posed with domestic violence, murder threats, cruelty etc. that deteriorates the health of the women, emotional breakdown and social imbalance etc.

The practice of dowry is deeply embedded in the Indian society and treated as a regular common practice across the nation. It threatens and poses difficulties in the normal functioning of the civil society. Not much surprisingly, most of the crimes against women are a result of the failure of paying huge dowry by the bride’s parents.
However, we have been hearing various instances of bride burning in the recent years. In order to curb the menace of dowry, Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 was passed and enacted by the Legislature. The Act was passed by the Parliament in the 12th year of Republic of India on 20 May 1961. It was establish with a motive to abolish the practice of dowry taking and giving. The Act contains one chapter, further divided into 10 sections.
The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 defines Dowry in Section 2. It states “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly while Section 3 defines the penalty for giving or taking dowry. In order to oppose the offence of dowry death, on November 19, 1986, the legislature installed the offence of dowry death punishable under Section 304-B in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It was enacted just after Act 43 of 1986 came into force.
On the other side, Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 when read together with 304-B of the Penal Code reveals the clearer picture. Those offenders that could not be caught with the help of the Act, 1961, became an easy task. Section 113B talks about the presumption as to dowry death. The main ingredients of this section are
• Burns and bodily injuries must be a cause for the death of women.
• The death must take place within seven years of marriage.
• Any cruelty or harassment must be in relation to demand for dowry.
• The above point must have taken place prior to death.
• If the above points are proved for the death of a women, husband or any of his relative involved in the death, shall be punished and be liable for the dowry death and other offence.
The Section 304-B of the Penal Code specifies the offence of dowry death as the cognizable, non-bail able. Non-compoundable and tribal Court of Session.
To show more support to the women, the legislature introduced another offence under Section 498-A of the Penal Code, 1860. It states that if the husband or the any member from the husband’s family subjects the women to cruelty, he shall be punished with a fine and jail imprisonment for up to three year, which may extent in case.


  1. Life imprisonment is the maximum punishment that is given in the case of dowry death. In Ravinder Trimbek Chautal v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court held that dowry death does not fall within the category of “rarest of rare cases” punishable by death.
  2. The Court has also defined the cases in which certain act will not be considered a demand for dowry. As in the case of Baldev Singh Vs. State of Punjab, the court gave the obiter statement that if a husband of the victim demands for the share in ancestral property, it would not constitute a ‘demand for dowry’. In the same side, the demand for gifts and money after the birth of a male child was held distinct and separated from the concept of dowry in the cases of Kamlesh Panjiyar Vs. State of Bihar and Anil Kumar Gupta Vs. State of U.P.

Even though now, the country has strict laws for the dowry death and related crimes, the rate of dowry death have not slowed down as it was expected to. Despite of such criminal laws in favor of women, the Constitution of India preserves and gives equal rights in form of gender equality, equal opportunities regardless of sex, caste, religion etc. Part IV of the Constitution of India deals with Directive Principles of State Policy guarantees equal wages, abolishes child labor and untouchability and allows maternity leave for working mothers.
However, the legislature need to come with more strict laws for further development of the status of women in the society.

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