A dowry death is violence by the husband and his family with a motive to extort money and gifts from time to time against married women. Dowry is an ancient custom in which payments of cash or gifts are given to the groom’s family by the bride’s family at the time of marriage. It may include cash, jewelery, electrical items, furniture, utensils and vehicles etc. that help the newly married couple to start their journey. The continuous demand of dowry and non fulfillment of the same often leads to unnatural death of recently married woman.
What are the laws?
The Govt. of India has enacted many laws to curtail this social evil like the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and also introduced specific amendments in Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, the Evidence Act and other statutes. The elaborations of these laws are given below:-
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
Being a primary dowry related law in India, the Act define the term dowry and provides punishment for breach of various provisions of the Act. Let’s study the essential provisions associated with dowry enshrined under this Act:
What is dowry?
By amendment the Act extends the definition of term dowry. According to Section 2 of the Act dowry mean any property or valuable protection or agreed to be given directly or indirectly in connection with marriage in the future amounts to dowry from one hand to another.
In Inder Sain v. State (1981 CriLJ 1116), Delhi HC held that consideration was limited to intent or intension, compensation or reward for marriage and would therefore not include any property sought or rendered after marriage. The expression “any time after the marriage” has been delivered to replace “after marriage” to eliminate a restricted interpretation of the statute. Gift concepts are only allowed in Indian marriages which are customary in nature, which does not create a financial burden on a family. A list of such presents is to be prepared along with the value and description and must be signed by the bride and bridegroom.
Punishment under the Act:
According to Section 3 of the Act giving and taking dowry is punishable with a minimum term of 5 years and fine of Rs. 15000/- or dowry amount. Similarly, dowry demands also are punishable under Section 4 for the period of 6 months to 5 years and fine up to Rs. 15000/-.
Who can file complaint under the Act?
According to Section 7 of the Act following persons can initiate the proceedings:
- Aggrieved Person
- Family, relatives and friends of aggrieved person.
- Any welfare organization or institution.
Indian Penal Code, 1860
The Indian Penal Code prescribed anti-dowry law with reference to dowry deaths under Section 304-B and cruelty or domestic violence for dowry demands under Section 498-A.
Section 304-B Dowry Death: Section 304-B describes dowry death as the death of women caused by burns or physical injury or under unnatural circumstances within 7 years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand of dowry. A person can be punished under this Section for imprisonment upto 7 years and can be extended to imprisonment for life.
The following essentials must be fulfilled in order to attract the offence under Section 304-B:
- The death is caused by burns or damage to body, or under unnatural circumstances.
- The death has taken place within 7 years of marriage.
- Women must have been subjected to cruelty and abuse by her husband and relatives of her husband.
- Such abuse or cruelty should be linked to dowry demand and shortly before death.
In Mustafa Shahadal Shaikh v. State of Maharashtra (Criminal Appeal No. 1406 of 2008), SC held that the language used under Section 304-B “Soon before death” means no definite period has been mentioned under the Penal Code as well as under Section 113-B of Indian Evidence Act. Accordingly, term “Soon before death” determined by courts depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case. However, the said expression would normally imply that the interval should not be much between the concerned cruelty or harassment and the death in question. In other words, there must be existence of a proximate and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence.
Section 498-A Cruelty on woman by husband or relatives: When the woman is exposed to abuse or cruelty by her husband or relatives of husband then husband and such relatives can be punished for 3 years and with fine under this Section. Cruelty can be both mental and physical. It consists of any willful conduct likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause danger to her life, limb or heath or causing harassment to her with view to coerce her or any person associated with her to satisfy any unlawful demand of dowry.
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
Sections 174 and 176 of Cr.P.C. deals with investigations and enquiries associated with the causes of unnatural deaths by police and magistrate. The amendment within the year of 1983 makes it mandatory for police to send the body for post-mortem examination if the death of woman occurred within 7 years of marriage in a matter of suicide or unnatural death. It also empowers executive magistrate to look into matter of death of woman in unnatural circumstances.
Indian Evidence Act, 1872
Section 113 B of Indian Evidence Act talks about presumption of dowry death. It creates burden of proof in dowry death consistent with which court has to presume that a dowry death was caused by the person who is shown to have treated the woman with cruelty or harassment soon before her death.
Despite the rapid liberalization and globalization dowry has become the one among the gravest social evil. This menace is growing with the passage of time and shockingly the practice is more rampant in urban areas among educated people. Woman in high income and affluent families are subjected to more such practices in the name of honour and reputation of family. It is needed to know that demanding dowry is simply another name for begging. Proper female education, awakening of the general public conscience seems to be the sole remedy that would eradicate this social curse.
Associate at Aggarwals & Associates, S.A.S. Nagar, Mohali