31st Jul 2021
Author: KRISHNA BAJPAI, BA LLB, NMIMS MUMBAI
Today in modern, democratic societies controlled by a written constitution and the rule of law, the importance of the law and the legal system in shaping women’s status as class subordinate and exploitable by males is still obvious. In both substantive and procedural dimensions, India’s legal system, which dates from before independence, reflects this attitude. Though the Parliament has established new laws and Acts from time to time in an attempt to improve women’s position and enhance their visibility in society, there is still a significant gap between the enactment of laws and their execution. The potential power that laws and legal processes contain for women has not been completely realised by them They are mostly unaware of their rights, and even if they are, access to justice is difficult. Because of its ever-increasing and worrisome proportions, the dowry system is a severe source of concern for everyone. As one looks more into the dowry threat, it becomes impossible to separate it from other social issues and study it as a separate issue. It has grown so intimately associated with women’s standing in our culture that the birth of a girl child is regarded by her parents as a burdensome appendage and an economic liability. Dowry is the source of a slew of social ills such as corruption, hoarding, black-marketing, tax evasion, smuggling, bootlegging, adultery, and so on, all of which stymie the nation’s economic and social development. Unfortunately, despite progressive legislation and enactments, the dowry system has a large social sanction and hence cannot easily be curtailed or even reduced. Despite the fact that dowry (demanding and taking) has been declared a criminal offence, the giving and taking of dowry continues apace, with a corresponding rise in dowry deaths. One of the most horrific crimes against women is dowry death. They are well-planned crimes carried out by family members within the four walls of a home. The majority of the victims die on the scene, and those who survive are either persuaded or threatened not to make a statement before a magistrate owing to fear psychosis or a lack of alternative assistance. The government has implemented legislative and administrative measures to safeguard young married women from mistreatment by their in-laws, thanks to the efforts of numerous social groups and women’s welfare organisations. Acts of abuse to married women that force them to commit suicide were added to the list of criminal offences. However, no actions have so far been taken to reduce the number of dowry deaths.
From January 1998 to December 2002, 373 cases of alleged dowry death were subjected to medico-legal autopsy at the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Govt. Medical College Hospital, Chandigarh. Only unnatural deaths caused by burns, poisoning, and other ways (hanging, drowning, use of weapons such as firearms, and sharp cutting) are allowed. The numbers and percentages of females and married females were calculated from these to estimate the number of dowry deaths in Chandigarh. Data on the relevant elements was gathered from a variety of sources, including case files or hospital records, inquest/police files, and information provided by relatives. The findings were compared to those from other universities. On the basis of their families’ socioeconomic situation, the victims were divided into three groups. Those with a monthly income of Rs 25,000 to 50,000 (500-1,000 euros or dollars) or more were classified as ‘High,’ while those with a monthly income of Rs 10,000 to 25,000 were classified as ‘Low’ (200-500 euros or dollars) Those with an annual income of less than 10,000 rupees (200 euros or dollars) were assigned to the ‘Middle’ and ‘Low’ socioeconomic groupings, respectively
The Constitution of India envisages for her citizens:
Justice – social, economic and political
Liberty – of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship
Equality – of status and opportunity; and to promote amongst them all, Fraternity – assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation.
Indian women are still looking for these goals envisioned by India’s “framers” fifty-six years after independence. Despite the passage of legislation, the development of reformative legal processes, the provision of legal aid to the poor, the widespread use of Public Interest Litigation, and the establishment of women/family counselling centres, women in India continue to face discrimination. In many aspects of life, religion, customs, and long-held stereotypes have placed Indian women in a subordinate and exploitable position. Women have been reliant on their male family members due to factors such as low rates of educational involvement, lack of economic independence, and value prejudices. They are typically unaware of their rights, and even if they are, access to justice is difficult. The dowry system is a social practise that has taken the lives of countless women on its own.
Dowry has become socially accepted as a standard part of Indian marriage. For both sides, it has become a status symbol. It’s odd that a father is willing to leave with a large sum of money as dowry when his daughter marries. However, the same father is hesitant to offer his daughter a piece of his possessions. Despite the fact that the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 provides women with property rights, they are unlikely to fight for these rights. Furthermore, other women are more often than not the perpetrators of violence against women, according to reports. According to one survey, women exceed men among those who think dowry is a good thing, while women outnumber men among those who torture the bride for money (Krishnan, 1986).
The way society views dowry is neither uniform nor consistent. Although the majority of the educated people disapproves on the surface, they support the system on the inside, citing social and cultural reasons. The girls and their families have paid a high price for society’s murky outlook, and they continue to do so. Families spend their savings and become indebted; their homes are foreclosed on. To conserve money for the dowry, a bride’s parents and other siblings are denied of fundamental necessities like as nutritious food and a suitable education. Many married women and would-be brides have been driven to take their own lives in order to escape the system’s grasp. The situation has deteriorated to the point where the birth of a female child is considered a curse, and the act of murdering such an unborn kid is considered a crime.
The most crucial factor in dowry-related deaths appears to be socioeconomic level. Eighty-five percent of the victims were from the lowest socioeconomic group, compared to fourteen percent from the middle, and fewer than one percent from the top The majority of girls in the intermediate socioeconomic category appear to be properly educated, employed, and financially self-sufficient, but the parents of those in the high socioeconomic group appear to be capable of supporting the needs of their daughters’ in-laws. In contrast, females from low socioeconomic groups who are undereducated, financially reliant, and poorly supported by their parents appear to be the primary causes of the high percentage of dowry deaths in this group.
According to a review of 64 autopsies of claimed dowry deaths, 67 percent were suicides and 33 percent were homicides. Hanging was the most common cause of death (41 percent), followed by burns (37 percent), poisoning (17 percent), and manual strangulation (15 percent) (6 percent ). According to the survey, 61 percent of instances were between the ages of 18 and 22, with 33 percent between the ages of 23 and 26. 83 percent of the victims were from rural areas, 93 percent were from joint families, 55 percent were illiterate, and 85 percent came from a low socioeconomic level. The survey also found that dowry deaths are most common (59 percent) during the first two years after marriage (Saha, 2002)
According to the current study, the number of casualties decreased in direct proportion to their educational status, from 133 (36%) among illiterates to 19 (5%) among post-graduates. However, regardless of their specific educational backgrounds, economically independent women (working) were less likely to die as a result of dowry deaths than economically dependent women (housewives).
The findings about the place of death are consistent with those of previous studies, who found that the in-house law’s was the most prevalent location (60 percent), followed by the own/house husband’s (17 percent), and the parents’ home (11 percent) (Bhullar, 1998).
The last quarter of the twentieth century saw a considerable increase in public awareness of dowry-related incidents. So much so that the government was forced to amend the Indian Penal Code 1833 to include provisions for “dowry death” and “cruelty or harassment for dowry,” among other things, because the existing punishments set out in the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 were ineffective in combating the menace. However, it has been stated that over 70% of the populace is unaware of the Dowry Prohibition Act. Even those who are aware of it either purposefully avoid it or do not follow it at all (Madhavmenon, 1988). As a result, understanding the legal provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 (as amended in 1984 and 1986) and associated portions of the Indian Penal Code becomes essential
Dowry is defined as “any quantity, money, property, or valuable security promised and granted in connection with the marriage of the stated parties, before, at the time of, or any time after the marriage,” according to section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 (DPA). To be exempt from the Act’s reach, it must be demonstrated that:
- The presents were given without being asked for
- They were included to a list that was kept in accordance with the guidelines.
- After both the bride and groom had signed the list, it was given to the bride or groom to keep.
The dowry rule is extremely strict. Giving or accepting dowry is punishable by a minimum of five years in prison and a fine of Rs 15,000 (or the equal value of the dowry taken, whichever is more) under Section 3 of the DPA 1961. The punishment for demanding dowry (regardless of whether the demand was met or not) is a minimum of six months in prison and a fine. If the dowry is obtained by someone other than the bride, the Act requires that the dowry be transferred to her within three months after receipt. Failure to do so will result in a minimum sentence of six months in prison and a fine equal to the amount of the dowry received (section 6). The penalty is in addition to the penalty imposed for receiving the dowry, undisclosed.
Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code 1833 defines cruelty and harassment. Cruelty is defined as:
(1) Any purposeful action that is likely to push the woman to commit suicide, or that is likely to inflict grave injury or danger to the woman’s life, limb, or health (mental/physical).
(2) Harassment of a woman with the intent of forcing her or anyone linked to her to comply with any unlawful demand for property or valued security, or because she or anyone related to her has failed to comply with such demand (Ratanlal, 1994).
The Criminal Law (2nd Amendment) Act, 1983 defines dowry death as a violation of section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code. The following are the essential components of dowry death:
(1) It is only concerned with the mortality of women.
(2) Burns or bodily injury caused the death, or it occurred outside of typical circumstances.
(3) It had to have happened within the first seven years of marriage.
(4) It must be proven that the woman was subjected to cruelty/harassment by her husband or his relatives shortly before her death.
(5) That such cruelty/harassment was in response to, or in relation with, a dowry demand. If the aforementioned five elements are proven, the spouse or relative is presumed to be the one who killed her (see Shanti v. State of Haryana, 1991).
This presumption of guilt is bolstered by section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act 1874, which states that “where cruelty or harassment in connection with dowry demand is proved before the death of the lady, dowry death shall be presumed against such person.” The Criminal Law (2nd Amendment) Act 1983 established all of the aforementioned clauses, as well as many more, with the goal of bringing in dramatic modifications to the criminal law dealing to cruelty, dowry death, suicide, and the aiding and abetting of suicide. Despite these changes, the High Court of Karnataka recorded a 96.7 percent acquittal rate in such heinous cases in State of Karnataka the High Court went on to say that the perpetrators of these crimes had a near-certainty that they will be able to get away with an offence that is best described as an aggravated type of murder.
Criminal sanctions and legislative maneuverings will not be able to eradicate a long-standing ritual that has become progressively glamorized and justified. In issues of social policy, the law can be ahead of public opinion, but if the gap is too large, there is a good chance that it will be disobeyed, either unconsciously or deliberately. This is especially unfortunate in the case of the Dowry Prohibition Law, which is disobeyed by everyone in Indian society, regardless of caste, creed, or religion. Even law enforcement agencies feel it is merely decorative legislation that will not be implemented. As in other offences, the offenders do not believe they are guilty, and the victims do not believe the behaviour is immoral. Most Indian women, despite the fact that they may suffer and die, prefer to remain with their husbands and in-laws since they have been trained to be a member of their newly acquired family. The woman is raised to put her life on hold for her husband and children in order to keep them happy. Even though she has excellent reason to complain, these conventional restrictions force her to suffer in quiet. For Indian women, public awareness, mass education, financial and social independence, and the desire to protect and fight for their rights are all necessary. It’s important to keep in mind that “God helps those who help themselves.”
 Aggrawal N.K. and Jain G.V. (2003) Suicidal deaths in females. Paper presented at 24th annual conference of the Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine at Patna, India.
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Dasgupta S.M. and Tripathi C.B. (1984) Burnt wife syndrome. Annals Acad. Med. 13(1), 37–42.
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