Dowry in India was prohibited in the year 1961 under the Indian civil law. It was enacted to make it easier for the wives to seek redress from possible harassment by their husband’s family. These dowry laws have come under heavy criticism in the past because they have been abused by women and their families. In India, there are criminal and civil laws against the custom of dowry. People who are accused of taking dowry are therefore subjected to an array of legal processes. Under section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry is defined as any property given by one party to the other in connection with marriage.

Gifts that are given without a precondition are not considered as dowry, therefore they are legal. Asking for and giving of dowry is a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to six months. Another punishment is a fine of Rs. 15,000 or an equivalent of the dowry amount. However, the laws of dowry in India have been criticised by men for the following shortcomings:

  • Gender bias- these laws do not recognize any form of domestic violence against men
  • There are no penalties for sham complaints or for perjuring these laws
  • The definitions of dowry are vague

Even though dowry was prohibited, the bride’s family is still expected to bribe the bridegroom’s family with cash and/or gifts. These gifts can include jewellery, furniture, beddings etc. This system of dowry places a heavy financial burden on the family of the bride. As a result, many couples in India opt for sex selection in favour of males when having children. The practice of dowry related abuse is on the rise in India with the most severe being bride burning. Men who feel that their dowries are not sufficient usually abuse their wives.

Due to the rise of dowry related deaths in India, many women are complaining about the dowry system. Women are not only expected to give gifts and money before the wedding but also after the wedding. Unfortunately, in India, the basic attitude to the lives and plight of women have remained unchanged. The dowry paid by the bride’s family is considered to be a bribe to the groom so that he can keep their daughter. Most families know that they are basically signing their daughter’s death warrant when they give her away but this does not hinder them. The dowry laws need to be amended so that women can be protected.

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