According to Manu marriage is an essential, ‘Sanskar ’in which every Hindu is obligated to marry. There are two maxims from which we can devise the nature of marriage. The first one is, “conjunctic martitet perminae est de nature” that means the husband and wife should live together in a household. The second maxim, “viret unor consenur in lege una pensona” means that husband and wife are one soul. According to ancient marriages, ‘vivah’ rites and rituals are related to two ceremonies, one is, ‘kanyadan’ formal offering of the bride to her bridegroom by her father, and the second important ceremony is ‘saptpadi’ which is derived from two words; ‘sapt’ means seven and ‘padi’ means steps taking seven promises around a fire.
It is mentioned in, ‘dharamshastra’ that the noble act of kanyadan is not complete until some ‘Dakshina’ is given to the bridegroom in the form of some gift, in cash or kind by the father of the bride and that is termed as, ‘varadakshina’. It is associated with kanyadan and is treated as an important ritual in marriage. The ‘varadakshina’ was given out of love and affection, it was not an obligation for marriage, but over time the voluntary aspect of, ‘varadakshina’ has disappeared and the corrosive aspect glided in, not only at the time of marriage but, after the marriage also. According to Hindu law, marriage doesn’t take place between two individuals, however, it is a communion between the families. Traditionally, in India, marriage is celebrated by giving up one’s daughter at marriage with the gifts of cash or kind which they afford to give willingly. This practice of giving ‘Dakshina’ to the bridegroom and his relatives, as a token, is now described as “dowry” in the modern era.
History of dowry
From the ancient times, it was said that dowry is a norm of receiving gifts from the bride’s family and given to the bridegroom’s family and was expressed as an important part of the marriage ceremonies. The system of giving and taking dowry is prevalent in many parts of India in a malicious way.
There are some instances from the past about giving dowry such as:
- In 1661, a marriage treaty was signed between Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza, daughter of John IV of Portugal who gave, ‘Bombay’ as a consideration of marriage to British Empire as a part of Catherine’s dowry to Charles II.
- In the ancient Hindu epic, “Ramayana”, it has beenmentioned that there was a custom of giving bride money and it also mentions, “Sukhyana Griha sutra” in which the bridegroom should give a hundred cows together with the chariot to the father of the bride as a token of fidelity towards marriage.
- The “Atharvaveda” (1500 BC) enunciates about a royal bride bringing dowry of a hundred cows.
- The Hindu saga “Mahabharata” also talks about the incidence of taking dowry at the time of marriage of Draupadi with Arjuna.
However, these don’t constitute as dowries in the modern sense, but bequest given by the parents to their daughters is called as “Stridhana” which means a women’s wealth. Stridhana only belonged to the wife and husband had no right in it. According to Manu, what was given at the conjugal fire, what was given at the time of marriage, what was given out of love and respect by a woman’s brother, mother or father is known as six-fold property of women.
The advent of dowry in India
In different parts of India dowry is known with different names such as ‘dahej’ in Hindi, “jahez-e-Fatemi” in Arabic and “Aaunnpot” in eastern parts of India.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Dos (dowry) was a gift given to the husband from the Wife as her contribution to the expenses of the joint establishment. It was given by a wife or the other person on behalf of her, usually before marriage or on the place where the marriage was taking place; but the demand of dowry can also be increased after marriage.
The Chambers dictionary defines dowry as an amount of wealth handed over by a women’s family to her husband on marriage.
In India, the trail of dowry comes from the ancient concept of “varadakshina” where the father of the bride at the time of marriage while performing the ritual of kanyadan gives some gifts in cash or kind to bridegroom or his family for ensuring the happiness of his daughter, however, this custom of giving ‘Dakshina’ to the bridegroom, has been termed as dowry which has become a social evil in India of today.
During the social reform period, in 19th and 20th century, there was a rapid increase in the cases of giving and taking dowry in almost all parts of the country and all sections of the society. To eradicate the dowry system from society, the state governments of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh enacted “The Bihar Dowry Restraint Act 1950, and “The Andhra Pradesh Dowry Prohibition Act 1958”, but both of these enactments failed to attain their purpose for which they were established.
After the failure of enactments made by the state government of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, the parliament decided to take up this issue in the first session of Lok Sabha itself. Many proposals were presented in the parliament for restraining dowry in the form of private members bill. After the bill was presented in the parliament, then it was submitted in the Cabinet for consideration, then cabinet decided that the enactment of a bill related to Dowry will be postponed until the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
On 24th April 1959, the Dowry Prohibition Act was introduced in Lok Sabha after some deliberations, however, due to internal problems between both houses related to some changes in the Bill, the Dowry Prohibition Bill was reintroduced in the Parliament in 1961. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961) came into force on 1.7.1961.
Legal Implications of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
In 1984, to make laws more effective, due to rampant increase in the dowry crimes committed by the people, the parliament amended The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 videthe Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1984. Now the offences under this act were Cognizable and the police officer was allowed to arrest the culprit without any warrant issued against him and could initiate criminal proceedings against him. The punishment for demanding dowry had been made more severe for people. The following are highlights of the Act:
- Section 2 defines dowry which means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given by one party to a marriage to another or by either of the parents or by another person to either party of the marriage at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the parties.
- Section 3 punishes for giving and taking dowry in which, the person shall be punished with the imprisonment of not less than five years and with a fine of not less than fifteen thousand rupees or according to the amount of dowry.
- Section 4 punishes for demanding dowry and the person shall be punished with the imprisonment of not less than six years, and with a fine of ten thousand rupees.
- Section 6 punishes the person who received dowry other than the bride and if the person doesn’t return or transfer within three months from the date of receipt, shall be imprisoned for not less than six months or fine not less than the value of dowry received.
In the case of Raksha Devi v. Aruna Devi, it was held that making the list of jewellery and household items which should be given at the time of marriage amount to the demand of dowry and the person will be convicted under section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
Types of Crimes related to Dowry
- Cruelty against wife committed by Husband or his Relatives: Cruelty is mentioned in Section 498A, of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which talks about the willful conduct of the husband of such a nature that women commit suicide or that lead to cause grievous injury or harm to women subjecting to harassment by the husband to fulfil an unlawful demand.
In the case of Pawan Kumar v. the State of Haryana the Apex held, that if the death of a woman is caused due to cruelty and harassment in relation to demand of dowry the person will be convicted under section 304 B.
- Dowry Death: Dowry Death which is mentioned under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 according to which, when the death of a woman is caused, by any bodily injury or harm within seven years of marriage, and soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the husband or his relatives about dowry demand such death will be termed as Dowry death and such husband or relative deemed to be the cause her death.
In the case of Davinder Singh v. State of Punjab the death of the deceased took place within seven months of marriage due to burning under unnatural circumstances and the husband was convicted under section 304 B, IPC.
- Death of a woman: Whoever, intentionally causes the death of a woman would be held liable under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Abetment of suicide of women: Under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, if a woman is subjected to cruelty or any situation which drives the women to the condition of committing suicide then the husband or his relatives will be held liable under section 306.
In the 21st century Dowry or Dahej is nothing but a black evil that destroys the society as a whole. As dowry doesn’t just ruin the life of the bride but, also ruins the life of her parents as they spent their lifetime income to meet demands of bridegroom’s family so that their daughter lives happily after marriage.
It is often seen that even after the marriage the demand for dowry doesn’t come to an end, rather, it is the beginning of agony suffered by the women, which left her with no option but to end her life.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood’, this philosophy should be followed by everyone in upcoming years.
 Bryan A. Garner, Henry Campbell Black, Blacks law dictionary, St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 505, 7 edn 
Mairi Robinson, George W. Davidson, Chambers 21st Century Dictionary, chambers 1999
 1 (1991) DMC 46 (P&H)
 (1998) 3 SCC 216
 AIR 2014 SC 2918