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Need to end the evil of Dowry: Supreme Court

Published: 13th Dec, 2021


The Supreme Court bench told petitioners seeking guidelines to discourage dowry in India that the matter was in the domain of the legislature.


  • In India, dowry persisted despite draconian criminal law provisions introduced in the Indian Penal Code, a new law in the form of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 and the formation of the National Commission for Women.
  • In the present day, dowry is paid in over eighty percent of marriages in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
  • The practice of dowry was proscribed in India in 1961. But even more than half a century after the ban, an Indian woman becomes a victim of dowry death roughly every one hour as per the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) 2019 data.
  • As per NCRB-
    • 10,366 cases were registered under ‘The Dowry Prohibition Act’ in 2020
    • 6,966 cases of dowry deaths were reported in 2020.
    • Highest number of cases was registered in Uttar Pradesh.

Marriage market in India

  • Nearly all marriages in India are monogamous
  • Less than 1% end in divorce
  • Parents play an important role in choosing the bride/groom - in more than 90% of marriages between 1960 and 2005, parents chose the spouse
  • Over 90% of couples live with the husband's family after marriage
  • Over 85% of women marry someone from outside their own village
  • 78.3% of marriages are within the same district


What is dowry?

  • Dowry, commonly known as ‘dahej’ is any gift that the groom’s side asks from bride’s side directly or indirectly.
  • If any such demand is a precondition to marriage, then it is considered as dowry.
  • This practice is common in cultures that are strongly patrilineal, patrilocal and have male-biased inheritance laws.

Causes of dowry system

  • Social structure- The patriarchal nature of society which treat women as subordinate sex dependent on men for social and economic needs, thus dowry is seen as compensation for it.
  • Tradition- As people believe they are adhering to social practice as a matter of choice than being forced to.
  • Social security: Dowry is considered as a social security by girl’s parents to prevent any ill treatment to the bride.
  • Lack of awareness: Less awareness among people about dowry related laws and regulations

Impact of dowry system

  • On bride’s family-
    • Financial burden that increases with the status of groom.
    • Matter of prestige as more spending means higher position of bride’s family.
    • Female infanticide and undernourishment.
  • On bride-
    • Objectification of women
    • Considers herself as a liability on her family.
    • Psychological burden and so, not able to call off marriage in case of marital issues.
    • Dowry Death

Dowry death is defined as:

“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”.

  • On society-
    • Suicides, domestic violence and subordinate status of women.
    • Indian society looked down by others due to such evil practices.

Challenges in ending dowry system

  • Socio-Economic challenges-
    • Subordinate status of women vis-à-vis men
    • Social and Economic dependency of women on men.
    • Peer pressure on bride’s family to spend higher to marry a better educated groom.
  • Legal challenges-
    • Delayed and denied justice
    • Poor conviction rate
  • Misuse of anti dowry laws by women

Ending dowry system and female empowerment-

  • Dowry Prohibition Act 1980- Under it, any act to take or give dowry is punishable in India.
  • Indian Penal Code- Crime non-bailable and can be booked under following sections-
    • Section 304B- it is with regards to dowry deaths
    • Section 498A- cruelty or domestic violence for dowry demands

Women Rights in India: Constitutional Rights and Legal Rights

The rights entitled to women in India can be classified broadly into two categories namely constitutional rights and another one is legal rights but there is an exception in the case of fundamental rights.

  • Constitutional Rights: The Constitutional Rights are the rights granted by the Constitution of India to the citizens of our country which are provided in the various provisions of the constitution. Any infringement of constitutional rights, we can approach the Supreme Court on its violation.
  • Legal Rights: The legal rights, on the other hand, are those which are provided in the various laws (acts) of the Parliament and the State Legislatures. The legal rights are protected by an ordinary law, but they can be altered or taken away by the legislature by changing that law.
  • Fundamental Rights: The Supreme Court is the guardian of fundamental rights. Further, all constitutional rights not fundamental rights e.g. right not to be subjected to taxation without authority of law (art. 265), right to property (art. 300a), and freedom of trade (art. 301). A fundamental right cannot be waived. 

The various constitutional and legal rights for women enshrined in India are summarized in the below table-

Constitutional Rights

Legal Rights

Article 15(1): The state shall not discriminate against any citizen of India on the ground of sex.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) enacted to protect women in India from all forms of domestic violence. It covers women who have been/are in a relationship with the abuser and are subjected to violence of any kind—physical, sexual, mental, verbal or emotional.

Article 15(3): The state is empowered to make any special provision for women. In other words, this provision enables the state to make affirmative discrimination in favor of women.

Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act (1986) prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner.

Article 16(2): No citizen shall be discriminated against or be ineligible for any employment or office under the state on the ground of sex.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 

The Act expands the access to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian and social grounds to ensure universal access to comprehensive care.

Article 39(a): The state to secure for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood.

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (1994) prohibits sex selection before or after conception and prevents the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination leading to female feticide.

Article 39(e): The state is required to ensure that the health and strength of women workers are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their strength.

Indian Penal Code (1860) contains provisions to protect Indian women from dowry death, rape, kidnapping, cruelty and other offenses.

Article 243-D (3): One-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women.

National Commission for Women Act (1990) provided for the establishment of a National Commission for Women to study and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and legal rights and safeguards of women.

Article 243-T (3): One-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Municipality shall be reserved for women.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (2013) provides protection to women from sexual harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organized or unorganized.

Reasons for Prevailing Women Issues in India:

  • Prevailing Patriarchy: Indian Society has been a male-dominated society. This has lead to inferior treatment to women in the society in every front of life.
  • Labelling women as a Liability
  • Discrimination against Women: Many Indian women face discrimination throughout all stages of their life beginning at birth, continuing as an infant, child, adolescent, and adult.
  • Economic factors
  • Lack of education and leadership training

Concluding thoughts

Dowry is deeply prevalent in many communities in India and various other parts of the country. An immediate change cannot happen. The change has to happen at various levels if we are remove dowry completely.

While women are to be considered as goddess and worshipped, this should be practiced in reality and gender parity should be brought in the society by removing discriminatory practices like dowry.

Verifying, please be patient.

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