Dowry System in India: A Customary Practice or a Social Evil?
Introduction: Defining Dowry
Dowry, as defined under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, is any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly, by one party in a marriage to the other, at or before or any time after the marriage, in connection with the marriage of the said parties. It includes cash, jewelry, household appliances, property deeds, or any other tangible items given from the bride's family to the groom or his family.
Dowry: Customary Practice or Social Evil?
Historically, dowry in India was a customary practice, associated with the 'Streedhan' concept, where the wealth was intended to serve as a safety net for the bride. However, over time, the dowry system has devolved into a social evil due to its misuse and associated social issues, such as dowry-related violence and deaths.
Transformation of Dowry Practice Over Time
Initially, dowry was voluntary and was seen as a means of providing financial security to the bride in her new home. It was considered her share of the parental property, which she could use independently. However, over time, it transformed from a voluntary practice into a mandatory and exploitative one, where the groom and his family started viewing it as a source of augmenting their wealth.
Dowry as a Social Evil
In its current form, the dowry system has led to social evils like harassment, physical violence, mental abuse, and even dowry deaths, where brides have been killed or forced to commit suicide due to excessive dowry demands. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, a dowry death occurs every hour in India, making it a pressing social issue.
Legal Framework Against Dowry
Recognizing the social evil that dowry has become, the Indian Government enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, which criminalizes the giving, taking, or abetting of dowry. Additionally, offenses related to dowry demands can also attract punishment under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
In the landmark case of "State of Haryana v. Jasvinder Saini and Ors" in 2013, the Supreme Court held that any demand of cash, property, or valuable security made from the bride or her family by the groom's family constitutes a dowry demand, punishable under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
While dowry may have originated as a customary practice aimed at protecting the financial interests of the bride, its transformation into a coercive tool for wealth extraction has rendered it a social evil. Today, the Indian legal system condemns dowry and enforces strict punitive measures against dowry demands.