Marriage as a social institution is recognised as a civilized social order where two individuals, capable of entering into the union, have pledged themselves to the institutional norms and values and promised to each other a very strong bond to sustain and maintain the marital obligation. It works as a root for the continuance of the human race. Despite all the promises made at different occasions of marriage ceremony that the individual incompatibilities and attitudinal differences for non-adjustment or refusal for adjustment may come to an end, but certain circumstances occurred where the husbands and his families demand i.e. Dowry which is not fulfilled and sometimes a perverted sense of revenge occurred.  

Dowry means the transfer of parental property at the marriage of a daughter. Dowry is a payment of cash or gifts from the bride’s family to the groom’s family upon marriage. It may include cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, crockery, utensils, car and other household items that help the newly married couple to start their life journey. Dowry is an ancient custom, and its existence may well anticipate records of it.

The custom of dowry is deep-rooted in Indian society over the years, it has turned into a social peril, too entrenched and devilish to be tackled by reformers and law-makers. Though the efforts for the eradication of the dowry practise go back to more than a century, it has perhaps become the most alarming social issue during the last two decades or so as manifested by the growing violence against women emerging from matters relating to dowry.

Initial Enactments:

The law-makers, taking the note of seriousness and consequence of the problem legislative measures to plug the loopholes in the law as well as to enact new provisions so as to make the law rational and effective. The Dowry Prohibition Act, the first national legislation to deal with the social evil of dowry, was passed in 1961. The object of this act is to prohibit giving and taking of dowry. The act lays down a number of preventive and punitive provisions but, as could be foreshadowing, the objectives have not been achieved.  Though the dowry problem as such may not be the appropriate target of criminal law, the violence connected with a dowry, sometimes fatal, is certainly within the functional domain of criminal law.

As a result of speedy rate of dowry-related deaths and failure of dowry legislation, which results in certain substantial and procedural changes in law criminal law as Criminal Law Amendment Acts, 1983 and 1986. In Indian Penal Code, two new offences have been created under section 304-B and 498-A. The offence  under section 304-B called as the Dowry death whereas section 498-A called as Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty, Code of Criminal Procedure includes section 174 and 176 deals with the investigations and inquiries into the causes of unnatural deaths by police and magistrate respectively and in Indian Evidence act new section 113-B called as presumption in cases of dowry death that the person who is shown to have subjected the woman to cruelty or harassment soon before her death . 

Further Amendments:

In the year 1961 dowry prohibition act was amended twice to widen the meaning of term “dowry” and enhancement of punishment for the various violations of the provisions of the act. Section 2 of the act states that any property or valuable security from one side to another either given or agreed to be given in future directly or indirectly in connection of marriage amounts to dowry.

 The expression used in the original Act was “as consideration for the marriage of such parties” was interpreted by the court to give a narrow meaning of the term “dowry”. In Inder Sain v. State, it was held that “consideration” was restricted to motive or reason, compensation or reward to marriage and would not, therefore, include any property demanded or given subsequent to marriage.

The expression “any time after the marriage” has been brought to replace “after marriage” to eliminate a restricted interpretation of the statute. The concepts of gift in Indian marriages are only allowed which are customary in nature, which does not create a financial burden on a family. A list of such presents, along with value and description, is to be prepared and must be signed by the bride and bridegroom.

In case of Sanjay Kumar Jain v. State of Delhi it was said that “The dowry system is a big slur and curse on our society, democracy and the country. It is incomprehensible how such unfortunate and condemnable instances of dowry deaths are frequently occurring in our society. All efforts must be made to combat and curb the increasing menace of dowry death. The legislature was seriously concerned about this unfortunate reality of our society and to curb combat the increasing menace of dowry deaths with a firm hand the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted.

Essentials to constitute Dowry Death:

The term dowry has not been defined in the Indian Penal Code, whereas section 304-B explanation affirmed that dowry shall have the same meaning as defined in section 2(1) of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

  1. Death was caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances.
  2. Death should have occurred within seven years of her marriage.
  3. Woman must have subjected to cruelty or harassment by husband or his relatives.
  4. Cruelty or harassment should be in connection with demand of dowry and soon before death

Types of Dowry crimes

Dowry is considered a major contributor towards observed violence against women in India. Some of these offences include physical violence, emotional abuses, and even murder of brides and young girls prior to marriage. The predominant types of dowry crimes relate to cruelty (which includes torture and harassment), domestic violence (including physical, emotional and sexual assault), abetment to suicide and dowry death (including, issues of bride burning and murder).

  1. Cruelty

Cruelty in the form of torture or harassment of a woman with the objective of forcing her to meet a demand for property or valuable security is a form of dowry crime. The cruelty could be in the form of verbal attacks or may be accompanied by beating or harassment in order to force the woman or her family to yield to dowry demands. In many instances, the cruelty may even force the woman to commit suicide and it has been specifically criminalized by the anti-dowry laws in India.

  • Domestic violence

Domestic violence includes a broad spectrum of abusive and threatening behaviour which includes physical, emotional, economic and sexual violence as well as intimidation, isolation and coercion. There are laws like the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 that help to reduce domestic violence and to protect women’s rights.

  • Dowry murder

Dowry deaths and dowry murder relate to a bride’s suicide or killing committed by her husband and his family soon after the marriage because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry. It is typically the culmination of a series of prior domestic abuses by the husband’s family.

Criticisms on the enforcement of dowry laws

Although Indian laws against dowries have been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective. Despite the Indian government’s efforts, the practice of dowry deaths and murders continues to take place unchecked in many parts of India and this has further added to the concerns of enforcement. There is criticism by women’s groups that India’s dowry harassment laws are ineffective because the statutes are too vague, the police and the courts do not enforce the laws and social mores keep women subservient and docile, giving them a subordinate status in the society.

Further, many women are afraid to implicate their husbands in a dowry crime simply because the Indian society is viewed as having conditioned women to anticipate or expect abuse and in some sense eventually, endure it. While the laws give great powers, they are not effectively enforced by the police or by courts. It can take up to 10 years for a case to go to court and even once in court, husbands and in-laws end up getting away with extortion or even murder because the women and their families cannot prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that they are the victims of such crimes, as there are rarely any outside witnesses.


It can be observed that government of India along with Indian judiciary makes co-operative and supportive law to safeguard the life interest and dignity of women and provide further justice to the victim of harassment or cruelty by husband and his relatives. Change in education system led to an improvement in the education status of female and door to door employment service will lesser down dowry deaths. Still, certain corrective measures need to adopt to eradicate or at least curb this social menace of dowry death, but most importantly it needs a public will and commitment to shun away materialistic greed of dowry demands.

In cases to curb the rate of dowry deaths, harassment or cruelty more female police personnel should be inducted so available in a situation relating to unnatural deaths of women. In the interest of proper investigation and justice, the investigation cannot be done below the rank of assistant commissioner. Punishment for abetment of suicide must be raised to up to seven years. A rational and practical approach to the above-mentioned matter will certainly be helpful.

Advocate N.K. Verma - Banking & DRT Advocate in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, High Court | Best Banking & DRT Lawyers | DRT Advocates Chandigarh |