Is dowry a form of a gift? Or is it the father’s way of helping the newly wed couple? When and how often are the demands for dowry made? Are you fed up of the direct or indirect demands? This form of harassment has driven many women to despair, anger and even suicide. There are many who do not know what to do, who to speak to and what options are open to them.
Twenty four year old Preeti’s story is a common and unfortunate one:
“Rajeev always said that it’s me he loves the most. Nothing could come in way of us being together forever. During the talks of our marriage, when his mother asked my dad to gift Rajeev a flat, Rajeev supported it saying its just one more step towards our togetherness. My first mistake was that I believed him. My second mistake: I did not stop my dad. My third mistake: I thought the demands would stop after marriage. I tried to kill myself, after my mother in law asked me to hand over my jewellery… “
If you have been subjected to dowry harassment in any form, don’t think you are alone . There might be many questions in your mind, which we will try and answer. You can find out what rights have been given to you or take recourse through law . You can also go to the police to lodge a complaint. Don’t be a martyr, stand up and take action.
Forms of Dowry
“In our community, wedding expenses are shared. But my in-laws asked my parents to bear the entire engagement and wedding expenses, travel expenses of the groom’s party, as well our honeymoon costs!” Radhika, 26 years
“Faisal’s mother said that we’ll have to give jewellery, clothes and other gifts to all members of their family, since they had a “name” in the family.” Hasina, 19 years
“My aunt who fixed my marriage asked my parents to buy TV, washing machine, fridge, bike and furniture which I would take to my in laws home. She said that without these things, they will not agree to the alliance.”
Geeta K, 21 years
“My father in law had insisted that my father should pay cash to help Jignesh set up a business.” Hetal, 29 years
“My father fulfilled all the demands of my in laws. Yet, eight years after marriage, Suren threatens me with a divorce and throwing me out of the house if I didn’t get “more.” Rajpreet, 30 years
Sounds familiar? If your story is similar to any of the ones mentioned above, you are a victim of dowry harassment or violence.
Dowry includes those items given not just to the daughter but also to her husband and in-laws. It can vary from small gifts for the daughter to big amounts of money, house/ land/ property, farm animals or farm machinery, expensive consumer durables and the like given to the groom’s family. Dowry can also include the type of wedding that takes place, the travel and entertainment of the groom’s party, the honeymoon expenses, money for the groom’s education or for him to set up a business.
Dowry harassment or violence can come in many forms:
- Hinting, asking or demanding, whether directly or through a mediator, for property, items, specific expenses etc.
- Any of the following actions for not complying with a dowry demand:
- Threatening you with a divorce or with throwing you out of the house, or with physical violence, etc.
- Verbal abuse (humiliating, insulting or harassing you or your loved ones)
- Harming you physically (not giving you food, hitting you, pushing you around, slapping you, beating you with objects, pulling you hair, slapping you, etc.)
- Not allowing you contact with your friends and family
- Throwing you out of the marital home
- Not providing you money for groceries, rent, children’s needs, personal needs, etc.
Dowry is mostly a hidden crime. We do not officially complain. So the majority of incidents are not part of statistics. We only know about dowry harassment/violence after it becomes grievous or fatal e.g. a stove bursts and a woman dies in the fire or she is found hanging in the bedroom. What were earlier called dowry deaths began to be called dowry murders as the involvement of her marital family became evident.
The statistics on dowry murders are frightening. But more so are the numbers of registered cases. And these are not representative of the true picture of harassment, as most women do not register their complaints.
The National Crime Records Bureau states:
2004 the number of dowry deaths reported were 7026
2005 the number of dowry deaths reported were 6787
2006 the number of dowry deaths reported were 7618
These statistics are partial as it does not reflect the cases registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act.
2004 the number of registered dowry cases were 3592
2005 the number of registered dowry cases were 3204
2006 the number of registered dowry cases were 4504
In India, 22 women are murdered every day, 9 women commit suicide every day and 208 women are abused every day- all for dowry, or lack of it.
In 2005, 92% complaints received by the Delhi Commission for Women were dowry related. 10% of these were from the crème de la crème of the society
One young married woman becomes a victim of dowry in Punjab every week. On an average, 55 women aged 18 to 35 die every year due to their inability to meet dowry-related demands
Your man took his dowries without a blush
Hard cash, jewelleries and a shoe shining brush
Because the skin of your face is quite like a shoe
The scars on your face must be kept shining, too![Poem by Suman Chatterjee, Whack! The Sun Slapped]
“I got married three years ago. I was against my father giving dowry to my matrimonial family but my father insisted saying that this was the only way he could ensure my share in my parental property. But I haven’t still seen my share. What do I do?”
Many parents view dowry as inheritance so they do not have to give a share in the family’s wealth at a later stage. This belief comes from the custom of ‘streedhan’ when agricultural land could not be divided. So dowry and yearly gifts of rice etc was given to the daughter as her share. Now the context is quite different. The law has given all women inheritance rights.
Dowry is not a substitute for inheritance. It is an unequal share for the daughter which is not even under her control for her future security. It is far better for parents to make a will dividing all assets equally between daughters and sons.
A daughter, married or unmarried, can inherit as much as the son under the Hindu Succession Amendment Act (2005), in movable assets (cash, jewellery, money) and immovable assets (agricultural land, house, shop, business, etc.), whether self-acquired or ancestral. This law applies to Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist families too.
Under the Muslim Personal Law, a daughter is entitled to at least half the share her brother gets from the father’s property.
Is dowry a Hindu custom, confined to different types of communities? Or is it present in other faiths as well?
Traditionally dowry started as a practice only amongst Hindus. However, it has now percolated across communities, religions and types of urban and rural families, as well as educated and illiterate ones. In tribal areas, where they practiced bride price i.e. the giving of money to get a bride, there are shifts towards dowry giving.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an apex body of Muslims, was concerned enough to declare dowry and other lavish expenditure during marriages “un-Islamic”. [The Deccan Herald Bangalore, 25 Jun 2008]
Is the dowry custom only prevalent amongst the upper classes and castes? Only they have the wealth to give away!
Earlier large dowry demands were part of upper caste and class marriages. They did exist in other sections but not in the large proportions that it does at present. It has now become a get-rich-quick method towards upward mobility. A study done by the Institute of Development and Communication states, “The quantum of dowry exchange may still be greater among the upper classes, but 80 per cent of dowry deaths and 80 percent of dowry harassment occurs in the middle and lower stratas.”
Can my family’s gifts to my in-laws’ extended family and out of their own accord be called dowry?
Who decides what is voluntary and what is a demand? Also, when status and social pressure push parents to strain and provide dowry, or in your case gifts, beyond their means, can you really call it voluntary? Most of the times, these lavish gifts are exchanged because of social pressures and having to maintain your social status.
There have been judgements given by the Supreme Court saying that gifts for new born babies or loans for business need not be construed as dowry. But it has also ruled that given the context these gifts can be seen as part of dowry demands.
My friend Neha’s family gave a lot of jewellery, appliances and cash to her in laws when she got married. Her mother told her that this was her streedhan which is an important custom and therefore is the same thing as dowry. Are dowry and streedhan the same thing?
Streedhan, according to Hindu customary practice, is any portion of wealth, be it money, jewellery, share in the family property etc which is passed from a mother to daughter. It is the exclusive property of the woman and no one in the family can touch it. So dowry can never be streedhan because dowry is NOT the exclusive property of the woman. In your friend’s case, if all the things given to her matrimonial family are exclusively in her name and her control, it could be counted as streedhan.
I am a successful designer and my husband Vivek is a paediatrician. When we got married, my father paid Rs. 30 lakhs to Vivek’s parents as a compensation for all the money they had invested in his education. How can this be dowry, when thanks to Vivek’s education and profession, we are leading a very comfortable life?
This is often the commonest form of garnering dowry. It is every parent’s responsibility to give their child the best upbringing, be it a boy or a girl. A groom cannot come with a price tag, simply because he is a man and educated. The girl’s family is in no way entitled to compensate for the expenses the groom’s parents have incurred in his upbringing. Haven’t your parents invested in your upbringing? Did Vivek’s family “compensate” your parents for the money they spent on making you a successful designer?
My in-laws did not ask for a single penny from my family. However, my parents gave them a lot of gifts, which they readily accepted. So now I am confused – can that be seen as dowry, since they had not made any demands!
There is a very thin line we are walking here, since exchanging gifts are very common in today’s weddings. So if your in-laws are supportive, haven’t made any demands from your family, and you are happy with them, it would be safest to say that in your case, gifts will not constitute as dowry.
Our daughter got married into a very good family. We had heard a lot of cases where girls are abused because of lack of adequate dowry, so we took loans and bought plenty of gifts, jewellery etc for her in laws family. We also gifted a car, and we plan to gift him a portion in our property. We are doing this only so that our daughter is happy in her house.
Dowry can never guarantee your daughter’s happiness, no matter how big it is. Often, the in-laws see her and her family as a source of income, as an easy way to a quick accumulation of money, consumer goods, and property and luxury items. As long as this perception remain, wives and daughters-in-laws will continue being vulnerable to domestic violence- verbal harassment, constant nagging to get more dowry, physical beatings if she doesn’t comply, denial of food, etc.
“I read in the papers that men are harassed by women who make false complaints of dowry. Is this true?”
Some men’s groups say that women misuse the Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, by using it for extortion on the basis of false dowry complaints.
The Supreme Court, in its July 19, 2005 judgment, ruled that the possibility of misuse does not negate its valid use in the majority of cases of genuine dowry demands and abuse of women. Read more
Misuse of law:
Some lawyers and police officers may advice women facing harassment from their husband and in-laws to file a case of dowry against them. It is their view that fighting a case based upon dowry demands and harassment is taken more seriously and is easier than resolving the individual harassment that a woman may face with her husband and his family.
Some women may also feel that this is a simpler way to stop marital harassment or non-dowry related domestic violence.
A study titled ‘IPC Section 498 A – Used or Misused?’ by the Centre for Social Research was conducted in Delhi, Karnataka, Rajasthan and West Bengal to analyse the prevalence, patterns and trends of cases. The results of the study clearly indicate that the legal and social realities for women in India are more likely to discourage women from filing complaints on domestic violence rather than to misuse it.
Most women facing dowry demands suffer in silence. Over time and as the harassment or violence gets worse, they do not know what to do. On the one hand, they are afraid of speaking and on the other, they cannot bear the situation.
If you feel trapped, start with exploring some options.
Breaking the Silence:
“If I speak, I will be disgraced.” – “I never thought it would happen to me”.
Do not think of social status or family honour. Remember that your life and safety are more important. Talk to your parents, relatives or friends. Explain the events to them in detail. You will be surprised to see what a difference it will make. It will not make the situation go away but make it bearable. You may be told to ‘adjust’ or they may not pay you too much of attention. But keep on talking and making your point.
“How did this situation come about?
Do some hard thinking: when was the first demand made, how was it handled, how did you argue it out, what were the reactions of your husband and in laws? Is it fair for them to make these demands?
Have you changed after marriage and dowry demands? Have you become more resigned, less talkative or enthusiastic? Would your childhood friends recognize you as the girl they once knew?
Get out of the house often, go to the market, and meet your friends or family. Eat nutritious food. When you are confined to your home, you will feel more oppressed.
Contacting women’s organizations: There are plenty of women’s organizations which work towards stopping all forms of violence against women, dowry being one of them. You can approach an NGO or a social worker in your area to guide you and help you find redressal. There are also many NGO helpline numbers which you can call for help.
Going to the Police: In case you are thinking of taking this step, be prepared to face an unwillingness on part of the police to write down your complaint. They are likely to ask you to ‘adjust’ or go for counselling. You have to be firm and insist that they take down your complaint or you can try going to the head of the police station or even speak to the Police Commissioner.
Taking Legal Steps: Please do go to a lawyer and ask him/her for all the steps necessary to be taken, the costs involved, lawyer’s fees and timeline. Court cases are expensive and the time taken can be years. The conviction rate is quite low. So be prepared that you may not succeed.
Make up your mind after all these considerations as it is very difficult to withdraw a case once it is filled.
Going to the Police
You will say to yourself, “I have never gone to a police station before in my life! Do I really need to do so now?” You might think of what it will mean to your family. What will the neighbours say? If the harassment is severe, you fear for your life or if you think that it is terribly wrong, then go ahead and take this step.
- The atmosphere in police stations can be intimidating to most people. Some police stations and officers may not respond well to you and may be dismissive of your appeal for help. Others may think that it is normal and alright for a husband or his family to ask for dowry and to abuse the wife or daughter-in-law. S/he may ask you, the abused woman, to ‘go home and try to work it out’. Expect the police to first dissuade you from filling a complaint. Insist quietly that it is your right and would like to do it. You need not take up their suggestions to go to a counselling centre or therapist.
- It will be good to take along with you a member of your family or a representative of a local women’s organisation, who knows your case. You can approach the police station in the area you are currently living in, whether it is your own residence or your natal family’s your marital family’s residence.
- Before you go to the police station, think about the situation you are in (is it after verbal dowry demands/dowry abuse, or when you have been physically abused for not agreeing to their demands, or when you have been thrown out of the matrimonial home, etc.) and understand clearly what complaint you want to register. Because the experience and atmosphere in a police station may be new and perhaps confusing, it will be better if you were to write down your situation; this will help you in clarifying it for yourself and also in presenting the facts to the police.
- Be polite but firm in such cases because you have three major laws for your protection: the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961, with amendments), Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (2005) and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
- To get cooperation from the police find out who the police officer in charge of the station is.
- Be clear about the law you are filing your complaint under. Depending upon the circumstances of the case and what you want done about your situation, you can choose to :
- file a complaint under the Dowry Prohibition Act against your husband and/or in-laws (both female and male) for demanding dowry from you and/or abusing you,
- file a complaint under The Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA) against your husband (and/or other male members of your marital family) for dowry demand and dowry abuse, i.e. report this as domestic violence
- file a criminal complaint under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, i.e. report the dowry demand and dowry abuse as cruelty to wife.
- Explain the demands and assault/s clearly, calmly and precisely to the Police Officer. Specify the nature of the demand (money, consumer goods, etc.), the nature of the harassment (verbal humiliation, threats, physical abuse, etc.) the dates and times of the demands and abuse, and all other details.
- Be clear in your mind about what your want the police to do:
- Do you want your dowry back?
- Do you want the police to stop the violence with a strong warning to the abuser/s?(They can also visit the abusers at the family home or call them to the police station)
- Do you want them to arrest your husband?
- Do you need continued and immediate rights of residence because you have been thrown out or are being threatened with eviction from your marital home?
- Do you want the police to help you with a place of shelter?
- Do you want them to give you a list of NGOs and/or Legal Aid?
- Show the Police Officer any physical injuries. If this is male, you can ask for a woman Police Officer to show your injuries.
- Give the Police Officer a copy of the medical report, if you have it. If not, you can ask the Police Officer to arrange for a medical examination for you; ask for a female doctor.
- Give the Police Officer the names and addresses of witnesses to the dowry demands or assault, if any.
- Make sure your complaint is registered in writing and a copy is given to you free of cost.
- If a Police Officer refuses to register your complaint, i.e. to file an FIR, you can write your detailed complaint (nature of complaint, dates, times and contexts of dowry demand and dowry-related abuse) and send it by Registered Post to the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) of your district. Information on their address and phone numbers have been posted online. This is provided under Section 154 (III) of Criminal Procedure Code. The DCP is under duty to register your detailed complaint as a FIR. If s/he fails to register your complaint, you should file the complaint before the Metropolitan Magistrate under Section 190 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
- Keep in mind that many of the cases filed against dowry demands or for harassment and abuse for dowry are acquitted due to lack of evidence. This does not mean that dowry was not demanded or that cruelty and harassment for dowry did not take place as complained; it could often mean improper submission of initial evidence by the complainant or inadequate gathering of initial evidence by the police or even bias in the Court.
- The initial evidence collected by the Police Officer has to be strong enough for the prosecution to make a case and for the Court to convict the accused. It is in your interests to make sure that the investigating police officer not only fully understands the dowry harassment you have been put through by your husband and/or in-laws but also records it in no uncertain terms. Be aware that the officer may take short-cuts due to irresponsibility or incompetence and that this may cost you your complaint.
Using the Law
When we are in a problem situation, one of our attempts is to seek out what our rights are and if a legal remedy is possible. However, all legal methods have inbuilt problems of costs, timelines, lawyers, survival, etc. Sometimes fighting for rights gives you strength. Be prepared for some of the problems you are likely to face:
- How do you find a lawyer? You have to ask friends and family for names and then it would be wise to interview them as to their experience in handling cases of dowry, or any issues related to women. A lawyer may be good but not experienced in taking up women’s issues. He or she might lack the practical knowledge.
- Lawyers sometimes get over enthusiastic and ask their clients to put in half true information. Like they may ask you to mention the names of your abuser and also include others like the father and mother in law. It would be good to stick to the facts as unsubstantiated statements might make you look manipulative in the eyes of the judge.
- Lawyers may ask to put small children up for questioning. You should be firm about what you want to do.
- You might be asked to press both a dowry case and a domestic violence one as the latter is most commonly accepted by the police and the court. You must insist on the facts and persuade the lawyer to find the legal arguments for it.
- Court proceedings are expensive. This includes stamp paper, court fees, and lawyer’s fees besides your own time and effort.
- Cases take anytime from a year to 8 years to be decided on. Your case may get delayed by lawyers asking for more time or because the court has a heavy backlog.
Laws for different Situations
1. To punish a groom or his family for asking dowry during or before a marriage ceremony.
If a groom or his family asks for dowry in the time the marriage is being arranged or at the time a marriage is taking place, you can use the Dowry Prohibition Act . Any person asking or demanding dowry, whether directly or indirectly, can face imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine of up to ten thousand rupees.
Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) & the Dowry Prohibition Rules (1985)
The Dowry Prohibition Act prohibits the demanding, giving and taking of dowry. It is applicable to all religions and is a criminal offence.
– No agreement for giving or taking dowry is valid.
– Any gift that is voluntarily given is not called ‘dowry’. At the time of marriage, a list should be maintained of all such voluntary gifts given to the bride and the bridegroom. This should be signed by the bride and by the groom.
– any gifts intended for the bride but received by another person should be transferred to her within three months of the marriage.
– The accused has to prove that s/he did not ask for dowry.
– It is non-bailable (i.e. no bail can be given to the accused), and non-compoundable (that is, once a complaint is filed, it cannot be taken back)
2. To stop and punish dowry demands and dowry harassment after marriage.
If your husband and/or his family ask for/ demand dowry and abuse you for dowry after your marriage, you can use:
Dowry Prohibition Act, Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. [see the text given in the section on Domestic Violence-Using the Law]
There are other laws which can be used according to the situation:
Section 326 which can be used for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means
Section 307 has under its purview an attempt to murder
Section 406 (for not returning a woman’s dowry), This Section is for criminal breach of trust. It is applicable in cases where the marriage breaks down by the husband and his family does not return the dowry received at the time of the marriage.
The Court can pass an Order for the husband to transfer the all the dowry (gifts, money, consumer durables, furniture, movable or immovable assets, etc.) to the wife within a specified period of time. If he fails to do so, the Court can pass an Injunction ordering the man to pay an equivalent amount of cash. In addition, the man can be sentenced to three years in jail and/or a fine.
Section 304: ‘Dowry death’ is the death of a woman caused by any burns, bodily injury or under abnormal/suspicious circumstances within seven years of her marriage. If you suspect that your daughter, a female relative or known woman has been killed for not bringing dowry, within seven years of her marriage, use Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code.
Every such death should be investigated by the police as a dowry death first, i.e. a murder of the wife by the husband and/or his family for reasons of dowry. For a woman’s death to be a dowry death, it must also be shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of his for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry. If this is evidence gathered by the police and the case is registered as a ‘dowry death’, the woman’s husband or relative is assumed to have murdered her. In such cases the accused will have to convince the Court that this was not a dowry death, i.e. the Court assumes that the man and his family have murdered the wife unless they can prove otherwise.
The punishment for a person or persons convicted of a dowry death is imprisonment for minimum 7 years to life.
Section 306: If a woman commits suicide because of the harassment, torture or abuse for dowry, use Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. The Court assumes that harassment by her husband and his relatives has driven the woman to commit suicide unless it can be proved by them that their harassment for dowry was not the cause of her suicide.
3. To help you get back your dowry during or after a separation.
[i] Dowry Prohibition Act and its amendments, all gifts presented to the bride, if they are in the possession of the groom and/or his relatives, must be returned to the bride within three months of the wedding. If the gifts have not been returned, a case can also be filed under the rules of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
The Court can pass an Order for the husband to transfer all the dowry (gifts, money, consumer durables, furniture, movable or immovable assets, etc.) to the wife within a specified period of time. If he fails to do so, the Court can pass an Injunction ordering the man to pay an equivalent amount of cash. In addition, the man can be sentenced to three years in jail and/or a fine.
4. To punish a woman’s death over dowry, i.e. dowry-death.
Dowry death is when a woman is murdered for dowry or if she commits suicide because of dowry harassment. People who murder brides in India are ‘normal’ people like householders, shopkeepers, service people, businesspeople, accountants, lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc. These are the “normal” people murder a bride without any sense of guilt. Section 304, Section 306, Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code can be used in case of death over dowry.
Who can File a Complaint?
The complaint can be made by the wife, her relative, by a police report, or by a Government recognised social organisation.
How can you complain?
You can, as a first step, go to the police station and inform them about the harassment and cruelty to you.
You can also, with or without a police complaint, file legal proceedings.
All dowry offences should be tried by a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the first class.
It is a non-cognisable Act, that is, the court can only try those offences where a complaint has been made by the wife, by her relative, by a police report, or by a Government recognised social organisation.
According to its rules, Dowry Prohibition Officers can be appointed by the State governments to prevent dowry from being taken or given and to collect evidence of any dowry being taken or given.
If a person demands dowry, whether directly or indirectly, s/he can face imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine of up to ten thousand rupees.
– If a person gives or takes dowry s/he can be imprisoned for not less than five years and can be fined up to 15,000 rupees or the value of the dowry, whichever is more.
An Initiative of Akshara, a women’s resource centre