The Problem Of Dowry
The problem of Dowry has always been persistent in India and is also rising at a rapid rate and so are the offences related to dowry demand. Dowry demands can go on for years together. The birth of children and a number of customary and religious ceremonies often tend to become the occasions for dowry demands. The inability of the bride’s family to comply with these demands often leads to the daughter-in-law being treated as a pariah and subject to abuse. In the worst cases, wives are simply killed to make way for a new financial transaction—that is, another marriage. The Section 304-B, IPC has been inserted by the Dowry Prohibition Amendment Act, 1986 with a view of combating increased menace of dowry deaths. The Supreme Court in the case of State of Himachal Pradesh v. Nikku Ram interestingly started off the judgment with the words ‘Dowry, dowry and dowry’. The Supreme Court went on to explain why it has mentioned the words ‘dowry’ thrice. This is because demand for dowry is made on three occasions:
(i) before marriage;
(ii) at the time of marriage; and
(iii) after the marriage.
The term dowry is defined in the Dowry Prohibition Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly-
(a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
(b) by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person;
at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
Greed being limitless, the demands become insatiable in many cases, followed by torture of the girl leading to either suicide in some cases or murder in some. The Supreme Court has explained in this case that though the definition of ‘dowry’ is stated as ‘property or valuable security given or agreed to be given…’ demands made after marriage could also be a part of the consideration because an implied agreement has to be read to give property or valuable securities, even if asked after the marriage as a part of consideration for the marriage when the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 was enacted, the legislature was well aware of the fact that demands for dowry are made and indeed very often even after the marriage has been solemnized and this demand is founded on the factum of marriage alone. Such demands, therefore, would also be in consideration for marriage.
Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code:
304B. Dowry Death
(1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called” dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
To invoke Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code the following ingredients are essential:
- The death of a woman should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances.
- Such a death should have occurred within seven years of her marriage.
- She must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
- Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with the demand of dowry.
- Such cruelty or harassment is shown to have been meted out to the woman soon before her death.
One of the important ingredients to attract the provision of dowry death is that the death of the bride must relate to the cruelty or harassment on account of demand for dowry. It is true that Section 304-B does not define cruelty. However, under explanation of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, by which presumption of dowry can be drawn, it has been provided that ‘cruelty’ shall have the same meaning as in section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. As per requirement of clause (b) appended to section 498-A I.P.C. there should be a nexus between harassment and any unlawful demand for dowry.
If these conditions are fulfilled then a presumption acts under the Indian Evidence Act and the burden of proof shifts on the accused to prove that he is innocent. The section states:
113B. Presumption as to Dowry Death
When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a women and it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry; the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.
In the case of State of Punjab v. Iqbal Singh, the Supreme Court clarified the position as to why the necessity to introduce Section 113-B in the Indian Evidence Act was felt –
The legislative intent is clear to curb the menace of dowry deaths, etc. with a firm hand. It must be remembered that since crimes are generally committed in privacy of residential houses and in secrecy, independent and direct evidence is not easy to get. That is why the legislature has by introducing Section 113-B in the Evidence Act tried to strengthen the prosecution hands by permitting a presumption to be raised if certain foundation facts are established and the unfortunate event has taken place within seven years of marriage. This period of seven years is considered to be the turbulent one after which the legislature assumes that the couple would have settled down in life. When the question at issue is whether a person is guilty of dowry death of a woman and the evidence discloses that immediately before her death she was subjected by such person to cruelty and/or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry. Section 113-B, Evidence Act provides that the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.
A conjoint reading of Section 113-B of the Act and 304-B I.P.C. shows that there must be material to show that soon before her death the victim was subjected to cruelty or harassment. Prosecution has to rule out the possibility of a natural or accidental death so as to bring it within the purview of the ‘death occurring otherwise than in normal circumstances’. ‘Soon before’ is a relative term and it would depend upon circumstances of each case and no straitjacket formula can be laid down as to what would constitute a period soon before the occurrence. There must be existence of a proximate and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death.
Suggestions and Solutions
- Awareness : The first and foremost solution to the problem of dowry deaths is awareness, taking into account the illiteracy rates in India most of the women who are subject to the evil of dowry harassment are unaware of their legal rights. Thus the most important task is to create awareness this can be achieved by setting up awareness programmes and initiative in different sections of the society.
- Education: This is another approach to increase awareness by educating people about such issues and imbibing such social issues in to the curriculum of primary education.
- Stringent Punishments and speedy trials: Imparting Stringent punishments to the people convicted of such crimes can also help to create a deterrent effect. Also, speedy trial system also works in favour of the victim and acts as a deterrent.
- Enforcement Mechanisms to be strengthened: We see that in the Indian scenario there are legislations like the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Indian Penal Code and also legislations like The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act are in place but still the problem of dowry demand continues, thus it is high time that the enforcement of these legislations should be strengthened.
 (1995)Cri LJ 4184 (SC).
 AIR 1991 SC 1532.
Student, School of Law, Christ University, Bangalore.
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]