Current Laws and Situation of Dowry Death and Cruelty in India.

CURRENT LAWS AND SITUATION OF DOWRY DEATH AND CRUELTY IN INDIA

Author: Mr. Ritwij shrivastava, Dr. D.Y Patil Law College.

Introduction-

Dowry deaths are deaths of married women who are murdered or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by their husbands and in-laws over a dispute about their dowry, making women’s homes the most dangerous place for them to be. Dowry deaths are found predominantly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran. India reports the highest total number of dowry deaths with 8,391 deaths reported in 2010, meaning there are 1.4 deaths per 100,000 women. Female dowry deaths account for 40 to 50 percent of all female homicides recorded annually in India, representing a stable trend over the period 1999 to 2016. Adjusted for population, Pakistan, with 2,000 reported such deaths per year, has the highest rate of dowry death at 2.45 per 100,000 women.

Dowry death is considered one of the many categories of violence against women, alongside rape, bride burning,eve teasing, female genital mutilation and acid throwing .

Cruelty to Women [Sec. 498-A IPC and allied sections]-

Section 498-A was introduced in the year 1983 to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives. A punishment extending to 3 years and fine has been prescribed. The expression “cruelty” has been defined in wide terms so as to include inflicting physical or mental harm to the body or health of the woman and indulging in acts of harassment with a view to coerce her or her relations to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security. Harassment for dowry falls within the sweep of latter limb of the section. Creating a situation driving the woman to commit suicide is also one of the ingredients of “cruelty”.

Section 498-A – Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty — Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation. — For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” means—

(a) any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

Prohibition-

The Dowry prohibition act of 1961 prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry, “as consideration for the marriage”, where “dowry” is defined as a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage. Gifts given without a precondition are not considered dowry, and are legal. Asking or giving of dowry can be punished by an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of up to ₹5,000 (US$72, £55 or A$100). It replaced several pieces of anti-dowry legislation that had been enacted by various Indian states. Murder and suicide under compulsion are addressed by India’s criminal penal code.

Indian women’s rights activists campaigned for more than 40 years for laws to contain dowry deaths, such as the Dowry Prohibition Act1961 and the more stringent Section 498-A of IPC (enacted in 1983). Under the protection of women from domestic violence act 2005  (PWDVA), a woman can put a stop to the dowry harassment by approaching a domestic violence protection officer.

Although Indian laws against dowries have been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticized as being ineffective. 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.

Why Dowry Deaths Have Risen in India?-

Dowry deaths rose from about 19 per day in 2001 to 21 per day in 2016. While these statistics are worrying, there is a great deal of variation in the incidence of “dowry deaths” across regions and over time. It is indeed alarming that the rise in dowry deaths is unabated despite greater stringency of anti-dowry laws. In 1961, the Dowry Prohibition Act made giving and taking of dowry, its abetment or the demand for it an offence punishable with imprisonment and fine or without the latter. This was an abysmal failure as dowries became a nationwide phenomenon, replacing bride price. More stringent laws followed but with little effect. Dowry refers to the gross assets brought in by the bride at the time of marriage, henceforth “gross dowry”. Beckerian dowry, on the other hand, refers to the bride’s contribution minus the groom’s payments, henceforth “net dowry”1. Dowry as negative bride price tends to emphasize the marriage market in determining dowry, and focuses on net dowry. Dowry as bequest, on the other hand, focuses on gross dowry.

Literature Review- An important contribution is Rajaraman (1983) who analysed the transformation of the bride price into a dowry as a nation-wide phenomenon in the preceding 2-3 decades. Her main argument is that a dowry system which evolves from a bride price system on account of a decline in female contribution to family income alone, without any other parallel developments, will have a punitive incidence no greater than that of the system replaced. This is of course an incomplete analysis as it doesn’t throw light on inflation of dowry. In an insightful contribution, based on marriage recall data collected by ICRISAT, Deolalikar and Rao (1990), estimate the demand of groom households for dowries and brides in an economic model of bride selection and dowry exchange. They report that grooms and brides are matched not only by individual traits but, consistent with India’s arranged marriage system, by household characteristics as well. Furthermore, they found that while the wealth of a groom’s parental household brings a higher dowry, his individual characteristics do not make much difference to the level of the dowry. They also noted a significant rise in the real value of dowry transfers over time. Following Becker’s (1981) model of marriage, in which he derives dowry and bride price as the price of the joint value of the marriage over the utility in the single state of the spouses, when the division of “income” within the marriage is inflexible, Rao (1993 a) offers a definitive analysis of net dowry inflation using marriage recall data collected by ICRISAT.

International efforts at eradiction-

Reports of incidents of dowry deaths have attracted public interest and sparked a global activist movement seeking to end the practice. Of this activist community, the United Nation (UN) has played a pivotal role in combating violence against women, including dowry deaths.

United Nations

The United Nations has been an advocate for women’s rights since its inception in 1945, explicitly stating so in its Charter’s Preamble, the Universal declaration of human rights (adopted in 1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted in 1966), the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights  (also adopted in 1966) (these three documents are known collectively as the international bill of rights and the convention on the elimination of all forms of description against women (CEDAW) (2012).

The United nations children’s fund (UNICEF), though predominately focused on improving the quality of education available to children globally, has also taken a proactive stance against dowry death. On March 9 (International women’s day ), 2009, at a press conference in Washington D.C., UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman, publicly condemned dowry deaths and the legislative systems which allow the culprits to go unpunished. In 2009, UNICEF launched its first Strategic Priority Action Plan for Gender Equality, which was followed by a second Action Plan in 2010. The aim of these plans has been to make gender equality a higher priority within all international UNICEF programs and functions.

Private organizations

Amnesty International, in an effort to educate the public, has cited dowry deaths as a major contributor to global violence against women. Also, in their annual human rights evaluations, Amnesty International criticizes India for the occurrences of dowry deaths as well as the impunity provided to its perpetrators.

Human rights watch has also criticized the Indian government for its inability to make any progress towards eliminating dowry deaths and its lackluster performance for bringing its perpetrators to justice in 2011. In 2004, the Global Fund for Women launched its “Now or Never” funding project. This campaign hopes to raise funds domestically and consequently finance the efforts of feminist organizations across the globe – including Indian women’s rights activists. As of 2007 the Now or Never fund has raised and distributed about $7 million.

A relatively smaller organization, V-Day, has dedicated itself to ending violence against women. By arranging events such as plays, art shows, and workshops in communities and college campuses across the United States, V-Day raises funds and educates the public on topics of gender-based violence including dowry death. Full-length plays on dowry deaths include ‘The Bride Who Would Not Burn’

LEADING CASES ON DOWRY-

S. Gopal Reddy Versus. State of Andhra Pradesh [(1996) 4 SCC 596]

Reema Aggarwal Versus Anupam and Ors. [(2004) 3 SCC 199]

Appasaheb and Anr. Versus State of Maharashtra [(2007) 9 SCC 721]

Baldev Singh Versus. State of Punjab [(2008) 13 SCC 233]

Dhain Singh and Anr. Versus State of Punjab [(2004) 7 SCC 759]

Dharam Chand Versus State of Punjab & Ors. [(2008Ή 15 SCC 513)]

Tarsem Singh Versus State of Punjab ΊAIR 2009 SC 1454

Smt. Shanti and Anr. Versus State of Haryana [(1991) 1 SCC 371]

Smt. Rajeshwari Devi Versus the State of U.P. [(1996) 5 SCC 121]

Satpal Versus State of Haryana [(1998) 5 SCC 687]

M. Srinivasulu Versus State of A.P [[(2007) 11 Scale 12]

Kishan Singh & Anr Versus State of Punjab [Air 2008 Sc 233]

Dinesh Seth Vs. State of N.C.T. of Delhi [(2008) 14 SCC 94]

Balwant Singh and Ors. Versus State of H.P. [(2008) 15 SCC 497]

Conclusion-

Dowry deaths rose from about 19 per day in 2001 to 21 per day in 2016. While these statistics are worrying, there is a great deal of variation in the incidence of “dowry deaths” across regions and over time. It is indeed alarming that the rise in dowry deaths is unabated despite greater stringency of anti-dowry laws12. In 1961, the Dowry Prohibition Act made giving and taking of dowry, its abetment or the demand for it an offence punishable with imprisonment and fine or without the latter. This was an abysmal failure as dowries became a nationwide phenomenon, replacing bride price. More stringent laws followed but with little effect.

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