Dowry harassment complaint: Procedural aspect

Dowry harassment complaint: procedural aspect

Author: Mr. Sonu Kumar, ICFAI Law School, Dehradun

“When men are suppressed it is a tragedy whereas a women are suppressed it is a tradition”

I read this line somewhere written and the line shook my soul deep inside. Since, the very beginning, women are subjected to cruelty and being tortured or harassed. To satisfy their manhood, Men were suppressing women from many decades before and treated women as an object. It is even continuously practiced in modern society too and women who are illiterate or don’t know their rights are still subjected to cruelty or harassment. One of the most common forms of such cruelty which many women are subjected to is Dowry. Everyday news related to dowry harassment and death is flashing in the TV channels and newspapers. In the case of Rajeev Kumar V. State of Haryana,[1] the court has pronounced a judgment and stated that for the purpose of section 304B of the IPC, the essential requirement is that the deceased should have subjected to cruelty in demand for dowry before her death.

Similar judgment has been also enumerated in the case of K Prema S. Rao vs. Yadla Srinivasa Rao[2], where it was observed that whether the woman was subjected to cruelty and harassment for dowry promptly before her death is the also an element to establish that the offence has been committed under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

What is Dowry:

The practice of giving dowry or a gift to a woman at marriage originates from the system of “streedhan”. The Dowry system has been originated from the upper caste of the societies many decades ago as they used to give their daughter a wedding gift and later it became a system of meeting the marriage expenses. However, in India, the practice of giving dowry plays a significant role in marriage ceremonies.

Dowry means giving any valuable security at or before marriage by one party of marriage to another party to the marriage. In simple words, it refers to the cash paid or any valuable property by the family of the bride to the bridegroom’s family.

Section 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 defines the word “dowry” as:

Any property and valuable security is given and agreed to be given either directly or indirectly

  1. By one party to a marriage to the other parties to the marriage; or 
  2. By the parents of either party to a marriage or any other person, to the other party to the marriage or any other person at or before or any time after the marriage.

It does not include dower or Mahr comes under the Muslim personal law.

Dowry harassment:

In recent days dowry has become a widespread evil and several women are victims of dowry harassment every year. Some are subjected to torture, while others are found dead in questionable circumstances. Many of the women nowadays are being subjected to cruelty and tortured for dowry demanded by her husband or his relatives or in-laws.

Dowry harassment is a criminal offense in India. It covers a span of behavior and action by a husband or by his parents or by any other relatives. These are:-

  1. Giving and taking dowry
  2. Demanding dowry
  3. Willful conduct drives a woman to commit suicide or which is or is likely to endanger the life, limb, or health of a woman whether mental or physical.
  4. Harassment to women was such harassment is with the view to coerce the woman or any person relative of her for an unlawful demand of any property or any valuable security.

Is demanding dowry an offence?

Women can be victims of general crimes like murder, robbery, cheating, etc, whereas the crimes which are indicating specifically against the women are to be said “Crime against Women”. Dowry is one of the common forms of it. 

Dowry has been considered as a very serious offence under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. It is punishable with a minimum of five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 15, 000/- or equal to the value of the dowry demanded or paid.

It has been also enumerated as a crime under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 under section 376( rape), section 363 to 373 for kidnapping & abducting for a specified purpose, section 302/ 304-B for homicide for Dowry, Dowry Deaths or attempts, Section 498A for Torture by in-laws, section 354 for Molestation, and section 509 for Sexual Harassment.  

Whereas, section 498A is the most common provision, popularly known as anti-dowry law and many of us must have heard of it. The section talks about the cruelty to women by her husband and his relatives to demand money or property or which force her to commit suicide. In the case of Kamlesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar[3], the Supreme Court held that for the purpose of section 304 of IPC it is not necessary to put direct evidence of causing death. Cruelty before death is sufficient.

Who can register a complaint under this Act?

The woman herself, her parents, the police, Dowry Prohibition Officer appointed under S.8-B of the Dowry Prohibition Act, or even a non-governmental organization on behalf of the woman, can register a complaint.

The Supreme Court in a recent case, Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh[4], held that a woman who eloped from her marital house because of the cruelty she has been experiencing there can file a case under Section 498 IPC against her husband and in-laws at the place where she is currently housed.

Further in the case of Rashmi Chopra vs. State of Up[5], The Supreme Court bench while giving judgment, stated that under Section 498A it is not necessary that only the victim can file the complaint, instead, the complaint can be filed by any relative on her behalf and the same would be maintainable in the eyes of law.

Misuse of laws:

In the last two decades, it was observed that laws made against the matter related to violence against women in India have been that women misuse these laws. Many situations or examples have come in the light where the complaints are not bonafide and have come with a Mela-fide motive. The legislative intent behind this section is to be used as a shield and not as an assassin’s weapon. However, in Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India[6], it was stated by the Honorable SC that a mere possibility of abuse of legal provision does not invalidate section 498A. Thus this section is constitutional.

To prevent this misuse of section 498A Supreme Court in the Rajesh Sharma case, establish some direction

In the case of Rajesh Sharma & Others v. State of U.P. & Another[7], the Supreme Court has abolished the practice of “Automatic Arrest” made under section 498A of IPC. Further, SC stated that no arrest can be made or strict action should be taken before the proper verification of the allegation mentioned in the complaint. SC has also given some guidelines and directions, in this case, to deal with such complaints.

Further, this direction was revised in the case of Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v. Union of India.

Complaint against dowry harassment:

In the Indian legal system, the following laws are in place, which can be used while filing an FIR against the accused in any local police station-

  1. Section 498-A of IPC was introduced to deal with the matter related to cruelty or harassment against the women in demand for property or money or any valuable securities.
  2. If a woman perpetrates suicide because of dowry-related harassment within 7 years of her marriage, it will be prosecuted under section 304-B of the IPC which specifically talks about the Dowry-Death. The period of seven years has been kept to ensure that the limitation period for filing suspected dowry-related complaints is high.
  3. Under The Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), dowry has been defined under section 2 as “give and take of any valuable property”. Section 3 and section 4 of the Act provides punishment of giving, taking, and demanding dowry. It also includes imprisonment of 6 months which may extend to 5 years and a fine of rupees 10,000 which may extend to the amount of dowry demanded.
  4. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) also deals with dowry related violence and provides a remedy for the same.

[1] (2013) 16 SCC 640.

[2] (2003) 1 SCC  217

[3] (2005) 2 SCC 388

[4] 2019 SCC onLine SC 493,

[5] SC 2019

[6] (2005) 6 SCC 281.

[7] AIR 2017 SC 3869 : 2017