Dowry in its formal sense means "an amount of property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage". 

It was an ancient custom, along with bride-price ('kanyashulkam', amount paid to the bride in marriage) that had been prevalent across ancient European, Greek, Russian and Asian cultures. 
Originally, Dowries were considered as an early division and payment of the daughters' inheritance.After this payment, the daughters could not exercise a right in the division of their parents' property after their death. Also, the dowry (money, estate, property etc) were in the name of the woman/bride and the husband or his family could not exercise an independent right over them without the bride's consent.

Unfortunately in today's world men have confirmed it as their birth right to be given expensive gifts and to have all their desires and whims satisfied at the hands of their fathers-in-law. And as has surprisingly always been the case, women become women's worst enemies and join their husbands and sons in extorting incredible dowries from the families of the young brides. Marriages have become contracts where dowry is the currency and on its non or delayed payment inhuman behaviour is meted out to the young bride. We are all aware of the number of atrocities thats are committed in the greed for dowry (which in its strictest sense, they have no right upon). The monstrous "bride burning" on their family's inability to pay dowry has become so astonishingly common that it is now an accepted stereotype.

It is infact this terror of dowry that is the foremost leading cause of female foeticide and infanticide.

The Indian government has passed the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, IPC Section 406, IPC Section 304B, 113B of the Evidence Act and recently the IPC Section 498A. 

The most controversial of these laws is the IPC Section 498A which has been under wide scrutiny for a long time. It deals with matrimonial cruelty against women and was introduced into the IPC via and amendment in 1983. 

It is defined as:
"Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.
Whoever being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects her to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to a fine. 
Explanation – for the purpose of this section, "cruelty" means:
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or 
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demands for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand."

This is a non-bailable, non-compoundable  (can not be privately resolved between the parties concerned; complaint can not be withdrawn) and cognizable offence.

Keeping in mind the the beastly, frightful, henious and insane atrocities that have been committed against women for centuries, one would suppose that these laws come as a redress and a boon infact to the hapless and wretched women of the country. But regrettably, due the corrupt greed and malevolence of several of our citizens, these laws are proving to be vehicles of abuse of a different kind. Many innocent men and their families are being victimised by covetous and brutul agencies ( wives and their families/friends) who file false complaints against the husband and in-laws. As the law provides for immediate arrest of the husband  and his entire family (you are considered guilty until you are proven innocent)without providing for bail, the family has to undergo intense mental agony and even physical abuse at the hands of some unfair and violent policemen. There have been several cases where large sums of money have been extorted from the husband and family by a mere threat of filing a complaint under this section. And also cases where the husband or members of his family have committed suicide due the dishonour and shame caused by these wrongful arrests.

Many voices have been raised against the immense and absolute power of this law, which can be abused to cause great harm to the accused (falsely) party.

Recent Judgements:

Indian Courts in their recent judgements have looked into the matter of misuse of Sec.-498A I.P.C. As this Section provides that when an F.I.R. is lodged all the family members of the husband can be roped in. In their judicial observations and remarks, the courts have expressed deep anguish over this law. Here are some recent judicial observations.

 1990 Punjab and Haryana High court observed in Jasbir Kaur vs. State of Haryana[20], case as:

 “It is known that an estranged wife will go to any extent to rope in as many relatives of the husband as possible in a desperate effort to salvage whatever remains of an estranged marriage.”

 In Kanaraj vs. State of Punjab[21], the apex court observed as:

“for the fault of the husband the in-laws or other relatives cannot in all cases be held to be involved. The acts attributed to such persons have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and they cannot be held responsible by mere conjectures and implications. The tendency to rope in relatives of the husband as accused has to be curbed”

 Karnataka High Court, in the case of State Vs. Srikanth[22], observed as:

“Roping in of the whole of the family including brothers and sisters-in-law has to be depreciated unless there is a specific material against these persons, it is down right on the part of the police to include the whole of the family as accused”

 Supreme Court, In Mohd. Hoshan vs. State of A.P.[23] case, observed as:

 “Whether one spouse has been guilt of cruelty to the other is essentially a question of fact. The impact of complaints, accusation or taunts on a person amounting to cruelty depends on various factors like the sensitivity of the victim concerned, the social background, the environment, education etc. Further, mental cruelty varies from person to person depending on the intensity of the sensitivity, degree of courage and endurance to withstand such cruelty. Each case has to be decided on its own facts whether mental cruelty is made out”

Supreme Court, in a relatively recent case, Sushil Kumar Sharma vs. Union of India and others[24], observed as:


SOURCE: In the context of the Malimath Committee's recommendations and the
landmark judgement of Justice J.D. Kapoor, the Centre for Social Research
(CSR) with the support of IFES and USAID took up the present study to
investigate some of the issues relating to IPC Section 498A.

Findings of the Study:

Nearly five crore married women in India are victims of domestic violence
(DV). Only 0.1 percent (1 out of 1000 DV cases) of these are being reported.
Out of 100 cases that are ordered for investigation under 498A, only in 2
cases does the accused get convicted.

It has been found that out of 30 cases there is not a single case where the
accused has been convicted only under Section 498A. The accused have been
acquitted (11 cases) by the court where the prosecutor failed to provide
evidentiary proof of cruelty, mainly mental, inflicted on the victim as provided
under Section 498A IPC. It is difficult to prove cruelty when the victim is still
alive. This makes conviction only on the basis of Section 498A, difficult. Only
in cases where Section 498A is used along with other Sections is the
conviction rate high.

On the basis of the interviews conducted, we can conclude that victims find
the Section somewhat useful and felt the need for further strengthening it. In
the perception of the NGOs, the provision (498A) is the only Section, which
acts as an effective redressal mechanism for victims of domestic violence.

Under the circumstances, the question that bothers the nation is whether the law should be repealed or even relaxed to reduce and prevent the misuse to which this section of it is currently open to. However, looking at the long history of abuse of women and the kind of  inhuman and vicious treatment that women have to suffer even today, the statistical pros of the the law far outweigh the cons of its existence and practice. And, hence I believe that the law should hold as it is for atleast a period of the next ten years before a serious move towards its change is made.


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