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    Dowry

    Dowry is anything of value, including cash and property, which is given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family as a condition of marriage. The law prohibits the practice of giving or taking dowry as well as demanding and advertising for dowry.

    Complaining about being asked to pay dowry

    In case you have had to pay dowry at the time of your wedding, or someone from your family has paid on your behalf, or you personally know of someone who has had to pay dowry as a condition for marriage, you can make a complaint at the local police station or the Dowry Prohibition officer in your district. You can also directly write to the appropriate judicial authority for your case. Another option is to approach a government recognized welfare organization and process your complaint through them.

    In case you have been coerced into paying dowry, you can still file a complaint against the offenders. The statements you make to the police and to the courts cannot be used against you and the police can start investigating the crime without the permission of a magistrate.

    There is no time limit on when you can file a complaint under this law.

    Women’s right to take possession of the dowry

    If the dowry has passed hands at or after a wedding anyway, the woman has the right to take possession of the dowry.

    Example: Raj and Simran get married on August 20th. Simran’s father has given a car as dowry to Raj’s uncle, Aman in connection with the marriage. In this case, Aman must give it to Simran.

    There are different guidelines given on this based on when the dowry was received.

    • If the property was received before the wedding, then Aman must give it to Simran within 3 months of the wedding (before 20th November)
    • If the property was received on the day of the wedding or after, then Aman must give it to Simran within 3 months from the date on which he received it.
    • If Simran was below 18 at the time of her wedding, then Aman must give the car to Simran within 3 months of her turning 18. Aman must keep it in trust for her till she turns 18.

    If by any chance, Simran dies before Aman gave her the car, her heirs can claim it from Aman. If Simran dies due to unnatural causes within 7 years of her marriage, the property will be transferred to her children. It will be held in trust for them until they are 18. If she has no children, the property will go to her parents.

    Duty to hand over Dowry

    If the dowry has passed hands at or after a wedding, the law imposes a duty on the person who has received the dowry to hand it over to the woman.

    Maintaining a list of gifts received

    Giving gifts or presents by either the bride or groom at the wedding is not punishable when it has been done voluntarily. The gifts should be entered in a list, according to the rules given in the law. Gifts from the bride’s side should be according to custom and as per financial capacity of her family. Customs vary from place to place and from family to family. For example, In marriages in central and east India, sarees and jewellery are given to women relatives of both the bride and the groom, by the other side. This is as per custom. In terms of financial capacity, it would depend on each individual case, but generally, gifts given should be of a value which does not create an extraordinary financial burden to the person giving them. For example, if the Bride’s father has to take a loan of a significant amount to buy gifts for the groom’s side, then it cannot be said that the gift has been given as per financial capacity of the person.

    Demanding dowry

    Anyone who in any way demands dowry from anyone related to the bride or the groom, as a condition for marriage, can be punished under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Demanding dowry is treated as a separate offence with the punishment being jail time between 6 months and 2 years and/or a fine which can go up to Rs 10,000

    Giving or taking dowry

    Any person who gives or takes dowry, and anyone who helps in the exchange of dowry, can be punished under this law.

    Example: Raj and Simran are getting married. The marriage has been fixed by the marriage broker Roja. Simran’s father, Sitapati gives Rs. 10 lakh and a car as dowry to Ram’s father Raja Bhoj. The exchange is facilitated through Roja. In case, the complaint is made by Sitapati, then both Raja Bhoj and Roja can be punished under this law. In case the complaint is made by someone else, or it comes to the knowledge of the authorities that an exchange of dowry has taken place, then all three parties involved in the exchange can be punished.

    Any person who gives or takes dowry, and/or anyone who helps someone give or take dowry can be punished under this law. The punishment can be jail time for a minimum of 5 years. The fine is equal to the amount of dowry exchanged. If the amount is below 15,000 then the fine will be Rs. 15000.

    Agreeing to pay dowry

    Any agreement for the exchange of dowry is void. Raja bhoj cannot go to court if Sitapati refuses to pay the dowry even though they might have agreed to it earlier. The law treats such agreements as ‘void’-the agreement will be treated as if it never happened. It has no legal effect.

    Advertising for dowry

    Anyone who advertises and offers to give money, share in a business or property in return for marrying his son, daughter or relative and anyone who publicizes these kinds of advertisements can be punished.

    Example: Sitapati advertises in the newspaper that he will give half his estate to anyone who marries his daughter. Sitapati can be punished for advertising the offer for dowry and the newspaper publisher can be punished for sharing it publically.

    Anyone who advertises and offers to give money, share in a business or property in return for marrying his son, daughter or relative and anyone who helps to publicize this kind of advertisement can be punished under this law.

    The punishment can be jail time between 6 months and 5 years or it can be a fine up to Rs. 15,000. The court can impose jail time for less than 6 months for special reasons such as old age or medical conditions. The reasons for giving a reduced jail time have to be recorded by the court in the judgement.

    Taking someone to court for dowry

    The judicial process in a court starts when it comes to the knowledge of the concerned authorities. Given below are some circumstances:

    • When it comes to the judge’s knowledge
    • When the Police have filed a charge-sheet (or a police report)
    • When a private complaint has been filed from a victim or a relative of victim; or
    • When a complaint has been made by a government recognized welfare organization

    The trial of a crime under this law can only happen in:

    1. Court of Metropolitan Magistrate (urban areas with a large population usually have such courts)
    2. Judicial Magistrate (First Class)
    3. Any higher court ( eg. Sessions court)

    Accused of Dowry crime

    If a case is filed against you for taking dowry, or helping someone to take dowry, or for demanding dowry, then, as per this law, the burden of proof for showing that you have not done the same lies on you. For example, If Simran makes a complaint that Raj has asked her family for dowry, then Raj has to prove that he has not asked for dowry.

    Bail

    A person arrested under this law cannot get bail as a matter of right. He or she will have to make an application to the Court and the Court has the power to decide if you can be granted bail after your arrest.

    Questions and Answers
    Click on a question to view the answer

    The crucial difference between dowry and a wedding gift is that gifts are given out of one’s own free will, there is no coercion or pressure. The main condition for something to be seen as dowry is that it must be given as a condition for marriage. So any gift that is given, whether it’s property, money, or anything else of value, would be considered as dowry, if it’s given as a condition for marriage. Customary gifts exchanged in accordance with prevailing practice and custom is not considered dowry.

    Certain less serious crimes can be settled by the victim and the accused. However, dowry crimes cannot be settled in this manner.

    It depends on who has made the demand for, and is harassing the bride for dowry. If the family members can prove that they were not involved in any kind of harassment and never demanded dowry, they shall not be held liable. Therefore, it depends on who is liable and how. In case the demand was made by one person, say the husband, or the father-in-law, then the other family members will not be prosecuted. However, the burden of proof for showing that demand was not made by the whole family, remains on the family which has been accused.

    Yes, depending on the type of harassment faced, whether verbal or physical, it would qualify as domestic violence under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. The act provides immediate relief from any kind of harassment faced. The definition of domestic violence given in the law is very wide and covers a broad range of behaviours and instances.

    There is a specific provision in the Indian Penal Code, S. 304B which deals with Dowry death. This section makes it easier to prove dowry death as against other death-related offences. This is because it shifts the burden of proof on an accused (normally the burden of proof is on the prosecution or the complainant). As long as the prosecutor proves the case, the court will deem that the person has accused committed the offence.

    The burden of proof only shifts once the prosecution can show certain things. These are:

    • The death of the woman was caused by burns or injuries which are not like ordinary course burns and injuries.
    • The victim was a married woman and she died within 7 years of her marriage.
    • The victim suffered ‘cruelty or harassment’ because of demands for dowry. So there must be some connection between the death and demands for dowry.

    Once all this is shown by the prosecutor, the court will deem that the accused has committed the offence. Now, the accused must prove that she or he did not commit the offence. The burden of proof shifts onto the accused. You can be punished with jail time of up 7 years or more (including jail for life).

    No, while the investigation in the case can start immediately, accused can only be arrested after a warrant is given by the magistrate. Practically, police is instructed to make sure that all possible efforts should be made, before recommending registration of any complaint, for reconciliation and in case it is found that there is no possibility of settlement, then necessary steps in the first instance be taken to ensure return of stridhan and dowry articles etc. by the accused party to the complainant

    Glossary
    Dowry
    Dowry is anything of value, including money or property, given by the bride or groom, their parents or anyone else related to them or their families. It is given to the corresponding party, either directly or to their parents, or to their families. Dowry can be given any time in connection with the marriage. Dowry is given as a condition for marriage
    Mahr
    According to Muslim personal law, the wife is entitled to either money or property from her husband when she gets married. This is known as dower or Mahr and is not considered as dowry.
    Streedhan
    Streedhan is the property given to the bride at the time of marriage. It is different from dowry because it is a voluntary gift given to the bride before or after her marriage. The bride has exclusive and absolute control over all her Streedhan. She has full freedom to sell, modify, use the Streedhan as she wishes. She can even decide to give it away, during or after her lifetime. Streedhan includes both movable and immovable property. Eg: Resham, on her marriage receives two gold bangles from her mother. This is her Streedhan. However, if the gold bangles had been given under coercion by the groom’s family as a condition for marriage, it would be considered as dowry.
    Dowry Prohibition Officers
    These are officers designated by different state governments for each state. They have some designated functions and may have additional functions assigned to them as per the decision of the state governments.