A crime is definitely a crime if it affects a human being both physically and mentally. Around us, there are hundreds of crimes getting executed every day without any result to solve out those. The legislature is making the laws and the judiciary is protecting it. Yet, committing a crime remains to be the same deadly affair.
‘Dowry’, the word may be a small one but its effect as a crime is a disastrous on human beings.
THE CONCEPT OF DOWRY
Dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage or 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 said parties but does not include dower or mehr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies. The penal provision lays down that when a women is harassed, where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand , then the person doing the same shall be liable for a punishment for imprisonment for not less than seven years or life imprisonment and fine or both.
EVOLUTION OF DOWRY IN INDIA
A Dowry is a transfer of Parental Property, gifts or money given at the time of marriage of the daughter. In ancient India the code of Manu sanctioned the concept of dowry, but in those times it was in a more prestigious form as it was associated with the Brahmin caste. But Bride wealth was given in the lower caste as they were not allowed to give dowry (Tambiah Stanley; Goody Jack, 1973). The Difference between Dowry and Bride Wealth or Bride Price is the Dowry is the wealth that a father of the girls gives to the husband at the time of marriage and Bride Price is more like Dower in Muslim Laws where the Husband pays money to the father or guardian of the girl at the time or before the marriage. But studies show that Dowry was not in practice during the Vedic Period.
- In Ancient India
In ancient times dowry was given as a form of valuable gift by the girl‘s father even by her brother and sisters, so that she may use by her whenever she wished. It is to be noted here that the dowry was given to the bride and not to her husband or her in-laws. The dowry strictly remained with the bride. This wealth given by her family provided her financial independence. It was treated more as a tool of financial independence. According to M. A Reshma, Dr.Ramegowda. A, “She was allowed to hold property in her name. In Ancient India especially during the Vedic Period and the Indus Valley Civilization women were treated with divine respect and were given prominence in matters of state affairs and decision making”.
- In Medieval India
When the French came to India, they praised India women for having a say in the state of affairs, they also developed great fondness for Ahalya Bai as she was a great administrator of the society. It is only when the British came to settle permanently under Lord Cornwallis in 1793, he enabled a system of private ownership of land which was an unknown concept in India. It is then that the Feudal system or the Zamindari System emerged, before this zamindars were just tax collectors of the society. It was only during this time when the British completely prohibited women from owning any land or any kind of property. This was the time when parents used to give money to the bride during her marriage and as the British prohibited women from possessing any kind of wealth the money that she received during her wedding will now belong to her husband.
- The Modern India
The current concept of dowry is connected with greed, mala-fide intention of the husband and in-laws to extract more and more money from the girl‘s parents. It has become a means of extortion in both ways. In the modern times the Anti Dowry laws are primarily misused by the women in order to fulfill their evil motives as these set of laws are non-compoundable offences.
LAWS IN SUPPORT OF ANTI DOWRY IN INDIA
The first and the foremost is the Dowry Prohibition Act,1961- which defines the concept of dowry and lays down various provisions to eradicate the evil of dowry system in society. Indian Penal Code which lays down the penal provision under section 498A of IPC. Another mention is under section 113 A of the Evidence Act, 1872, which states as-
Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman.—
When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.
Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, ―
Cruelty- shall have the same meaning as in section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. Section 113 B of the Evidence Act, 1872 mention
Dowry Death- When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman has 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. Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, dowry death shall have the same meaning as in section 304B, of the Indian Penal Code.
The government over the years has been fighting by executing various measures to combat in the battle ground of dowry. The first attempt came from the government with the Dowry prohibition act of 1961. To make it stronger with better effects, the government has amended the act two times one in the year 1984 and then in 1986.
There were several cases reported and many actions taken regarding this deadly act. Yet neither the government not the court could actually stop the people from committing an act of violence. The demand for dowry has actually infiltrated into the mind of some poor workers and even those idealistic humans.
In addition to criminalizing dowry, the Indian Parliament has criminalized dowry-related violence against women. The Indian Penal Code, amended in 1983, outlaws dowry-related cruelty by the husband and his relatives. The Parliament further amended the Penal Code in 1986 to explicitly provide that dowry deaths are punishable with imprisonment between seven years and life. Additionally, the Code of Criminal Procedure now mandates a police investigation into deaths of women under suspicious circumstances that occur within seven years of marriage. Finally, in addition to criminal laws, the Parliament amended the Indian Evidence Act, which now creates a presumption of dowry death whenever a woman is subjected to dowry-related cruelty or harassment soon before her death.
In spite of legal breakthroughs, shocking statistics on dowry deaths continued to show up in Indian newspapers. The 90’s showed a steady yearly increase in bridal death tolls with many more deaths unreported. Like clockwork every 12 hours a dowry related death claimed to have taken the lives of over 20,000 women across India between 1990 and 1993. And the dowry death statistical beat goes on…live, time, emit, evil…
While no time limit has been prescribed by law for courts to decide dowry death cases both the Government and the Judiciary are concerned with the pendency of such cases. Meanwhile various steps are being taken to expedite disposal of cases by the courts. These include amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure increase in the number of judges or judicial officers appointment of special judicial and metropolitan magistrates and setting up of fast track courts.
Dowry—both giving and taking it—is illegal under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. If found guilty, the punishment is five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs.15,000 or the value of the dowry given, whichever is more. The punishment for dowry death includes imprisonment between seven years to imprisonment for life. It’s stringent, but activists say the law has some flaws.
The flaw in the law
It is ironic that in India dowry was originally designed to safeguard the woman and it was the provision of “Streedhan” (“Stree” meaning woman and “dhan” meaning wealth) in the form of money, property or gifts given solely to the woman by her parents at the time of her marriage. “Streedhan”, an inheritance was meant to exclusively belong to the woman at the time of her marriage. The abuse of this custom eroded and aborted the original meaningful function of dowry as a safety net for the woman and was corrupted to become the price tag for the groom and consequently the noose for the bride.
The definition of “Dowry” (sec. 2) as at present is not specifically defined the term or incomplete, i.e., – if u analyse it seems that –
- What is meant by the direct or indirectly?
- How one can define phrase “in connection with marriage”?
- What time period one can consider by the use of the phrase “any time after marriage”?
- Dose this definition includes gift and exchange?
As per the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry is forbidden but ‘gifts’ are allowed. The anti-dowry law cannot be invoked against the giving of presents at the time of marriage to the bride without any demand having been made ‘provided that such presents are entered in a list maintained in accordance with the rules’ as defined under the Act. “But who decides what is a ‘voluntary gift’ and what is given under pressure of a demand “And how do you decide what is ‘excessive’ in relation to income by way of gifts when in India no more than two to three per cent people declare their incomes and those too are grossly under-reported? When giving dowry is a crime, why would a groom or bride’s family put their signature on the list of gifts being given?”
The Act was sought to be amended in 1986 with a view to checking the misuse of the Act, introduced Sec.8-B which deals with appointment of Dowry Prohibition Officers by State Govt. The punishment prescribed for demanding, taking and giving dowry were very low. So the Act has been amended from time to time.
The act of unsuccessful accomplishment in stopping dowry by the government is due to certain loopholes.
Complicated language of the law- The language of the law to stop the act of dowry has become very vague and complicated. It is said that acceptance of money is a form of a dowry, but even acceptance of costly gifts also comes under the circumference of dowry. The law should be written in a proper way with every detail presented.
Ambiguity of the definition dowry– the Act adds an ambiguous clause, that ‘where any dowry is received by any person other than the woman in connection with whose marriage it is given, that person will transfer the dowry to the woman within three months after the date of marriage or within three months after the date of receipt’.
No proper execution of laws – Though there are laws to protect such crime. Yet, there are loopholes in its execution. The authority which includes the police takes very less responsibility in order to fight such a menace.
Women are still a burden– The attitude towards women in Indian family has still not changed. It is still supplemented with the idea that a girl child is a burden and she must be sent to another house to lead her life. A girl is never given the right to conserve her freedom.
Women are discrete on economic ground: The women are still discriminated on economic grounds and are not allowed to handle any ownership.
CASE LAWS :
With changing time and society the mentality of women has also changed. The rate of criminality among women has been at a rise but the laws have not changed with their changing mental capacity. The tendency to adopt to crime against their own family members has risen to an alarming rate and it is certainly not fair to pre-establish that domestic violence happens to women only.14 The reason why these laws are so much likely to be misused is because of the strict nature, as they are non- compoundable, non- bailable, women have used them as shield to harass and torture men. Section 498 A has created a havoc in the society, says Amit Bhandariin his book, “I was Alive, 498 A killed me‘. It is a classic book which has put forward the absolute torture than a man goes through when such a law is used against him and his family. It show the actual picture, where the police actually harasses the accused without any pre-investigation into the matter and showers hell upon his family members. In his book he has shown by using reports and data that why certain section of women are hated more rather than respected. Chief Justice Vikram Jit Sen, Delhi High Court says, “Don‘t Allow it to happen as the misuse of section 498A of the Act, which allows criminal proceeding towards Husband and their relatives often nullifies the genuineness of the case, this is a note of caution.”
Basically loopholes in the Act leads to Misuse of the Act, so case laws below will best illustrate the consequences of the loopholes that is ultimately its misuse which is followed by the harassment to the family or the husband or both and sometimes also leads to injustice to the innocent families against whom the mala fide suits has been filed by the bride / spouse.
- Sunil Bajaj v. State of M.P. is one of those land mark cases which points out towards the drawbacks of the section 304-B in the sense of its misinterpretation by the lower courts and use of it as a weapon of revenge against the innocent persons. In this case Sunil Bajaj married Suman (deceased) in 1991. He was asking her wife to bring money from her parents and parents were giving money to her from time to time. In June 1995 Suman told her mother that her husband was demanding an amount of Rs. 20,000 and that he had illegal relations with some girls of doubtful character and used to bring those girls to his house. Those girls have beaten her also. That the appellant was ill-treating and harassing her. The prosecution says that all that cruelty of the appellant led her to commit suicide by burning herself on August 28, 1995.In this case the question of law before the Apex Court was that whether the conviction of appellant was in the interest of justice under section 304-B I.P.C. in the light of the facts and circumstances of the case?I t was held by the Hon’ble Justice Shivraj V. Patil:
It is unfortunate that the trial court did not properly and objectively consider the evidence to reach a conclusion that the appellant was guilty of the offence u.s. 304-BP.C. the High Court also did not appreciate the evidences as being the first court of appeal and had disposed the appeal in a summary way, confirming the order of the trial court. In the light of the above stated facts and evidences both the courts have committed a serious and manifest error in not looking that the crucial ingredient of the offence under section 304-B was not established that the deceased was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the appellant soon before her death in the connection of the demand of dowry. So the judgment of the High Court suffers from infirmity and illegality.
So the appeal is allowed and the order and conviction passed by the High Court and the trial court is set aside and the appellant is acquitted.
Before coming to any conclusion there is a dire need of analyzing the statutory provisions about dowry death critically.
- Kans Raj Vs. State of Punjab, Supreme Court held that, Close relations of the husband cannot be roped in the offense only on the ground that they were relatives of the husband, in this case the court found that the fault of the husband, in-laws and other relatives cannot be held to be involved in the demand of dowry. Many times women try to rope in all the related members of the family of the husband during a complained under the Anti- Dowry laws.
- Women have gone too far to establish their say even if their grounds are false. The desperation to prove their upper hand on her husband and in- laws have today taken an evil turn and so the criminality of women mind has entered the society. Section 498A, has proven to be a bane rather than a boom. In the case of Preeti Gupta Vs. State of Jharkhand the Supreme Court has observed that a serious look is warranted in the section of 498A IPC. The court said that, ―It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incidents are reflected in a large number of complaints‖. The fact that incidents are exaggerated while told by the wives and also the tendency of over implication is very evident in a large number of cases.”
- In many times it has been observed that cases are filed only to fulfil one‘s own personal grudges, like in the case Sushil Kumar Sharma Vs. UOI, in this case the Supreme Court observed that complaint under section s. 498A was filed only to fulfil personal vendetta and held that, ‗It may therefore become necessary for the Legislature to find out ways how the makers of frivolous complaints or allegations can be appropriately dealt with‘, the Court also discussed the concept of Legal Terrorism.
- There are many cases throughout the country where the fact of false allegation on the husband and his family against cruelty because of want of dowry is filed. In the case of Ramaiya Vs. State , the Court observed, ‗there is no iota of doubt that most of the complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trifling fights and ego clashes. It is also a matter of common knowledge that in their tussle and ongoing hostility, the hapless children are the worst victims’
- It is worth mentioning here that in the case of Savitri Devi Vs. Ramesh Chand & Others , this kind of petition is misconceived and is being used as a tool to accuse the entire family of in-laws of ransom, the women is rather extorting money by putting false allegation under s498A and allegation of dowry. The court observed that, ‗it appears that the legislature was mindful of the fact and situation that this provision may be exploited that it defined ―cruelty‖ and for that purpose ―harassment‖ falling within the parameters of ―intentional conduct‖ of such a degree that may either drive the women to commit suicide or danger to life, limb or health or cause grave injury. Of course ―health‖ means mental health also and not just physical health‘, but unfortunately these provisions have been abused by the investigation and prosecuting agencies and exploited by the women and her relatives to such an extent that these have proved to be the most ineffective in curbing the evil of dowry as well as disciplining the husband and his relatives to treat the women in humane manner and give the bride and wife proper respect and honor’.
- n 1995 there was much media exposure about the Ambati family and the legal encounter with India’s Dowry Act. The Ambatis, resided in the United States and were U.S. citizens of Indian origin. In the June of 1995 the Ambati groom, a young doctor, married his bride in India. The bride accompanied the groom back to the U.S. but the marriage was short lived and the bride returned to India. Months later when the Ambati family visited India to receive a prestigious award from the Raja Lakshmi Foundation, the bride filed a claim with allegations of dowry harassment against the Ambati groom, and his family. Indian authorities arrested the Ambati family the instant they revisited India. For almost 4 years the Ambatis battled the courts of India. In a recent update in The India Monitor it was announced that the Ambati family “has now been acquitted of all charges”.
The significance of the Ambati case and its recent legal outcome illustrates two things. One being the emergence and surfacing of dowry related problems entering the domain of family law and matrimonial life on foreign soils, stretching far beyond India’s cultural and social perimeter. More importantly it also depicts the possibility of the Dowry Prohibition Act being abused.
- In Akula Ravinder v. State of A.P.a sort of relief came against the possible misuse of section 304-B IPC when it was held that death must be proved to be one out of the course of nature and the mere fact that the deceased was young and death was not accidental is not sufficient to establish that death must have occurred otherwise than under normal circumstances. Thus, there are still many inconsistencies in law related to dowry, which should be corrected to ensure its effective and fair implementation.
THE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN LAWS TOWARDS MISUSE OF ANTI DOWRY LAWS
The 243rd Law commission report mention that in the case Tr. Ramaiya v. State the Supreme Court gave the following guidelines to the Police Department that are to be followed:
- FIR should not be registered in a routine manner.
- Endeavour of the police should be to scrutinize complaints carefully and then register FIR.
- No case under section 498-A/406 IPC should be registered without the prior approval of DCP/Addl. DCP.
- Before the registration of FIR, all possible efforts should be made for reconciliation and in case it is found that there is no possibility of 5 settlement, then, necessary steps should, in the first instance, be taken to ensure return of streedhan and dowry articles to the complainant.
- Arrest of main accused be made only after thorough investigation has been conducted and with the prior approval of the ACP/DCP.
- In the case of collateral accused such as in-laws, prior approval of DCP should be there on the file. According to a report by The Times of India published on 28th July 2017, the Supreme Court has expressed deep concern over the wives misusing the Anti-Dowry laws against their Husband and in-laws, the Apex Court directed that, no arrest or any sort of coercive action should be taken on such complaints without ascertaining the veracity of allegations. Justice AK Goel and UU Lalit said, ―It is high time, such frivolous cases which violated the human right of innocent was checked.’ In cases of Dowry complaints the reigning perception was cut down and the account of the victims was not to be taken just on the basis of their face value.
Also in a report by the India Today published on 12th March 2015, the center is set to prevent misuse of Anti-Dowry Harassment laws, a proposal has been laid down by the current Government that the section of 498A will be made compoundable, and this will be done by amending the provision of 498A IPC. Former Delhi High Court Judge, S N Dhingra observed that, ―It will be a huge relief for those willing to compromise or framed. The accused can settle the case with the complainant at the trial court itself after arriving at a mutually acceptable agreement. Till now the accused, many of whom are framed only for extracting money was subjected to undue harassment in the trial court and they then had to approach the high court to get it compounded. This step will also reduce a lot of pendency in the lower court.
The Amendment in s.498A will make the offence bailable, the Police officers will be instructed not to arrest a person under s.498A unless and until the parameters laid down flowing from s.41 Cr.P.C which allows the Police officer to arrest without warrant, and the investigating officer has to have a prior permission of the SP or equivalent officer in Metropolitan cities (VijiAthreye, 2015).
According to report by the Hindustan Times on 28th July 2017, the Supreme Court laid down the following:
- A family welfare committee in every district will scrutinize dowry harassment cases before local police can arrest the accused.
- Decide bail application on the same day as far as possible.
- Grant exemption from personal appearance or allow it by videoconferencing
- Don‘t make passport impounding or red corner notice routine for people residing out of India.
- The District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) will form the committee comprising three members who could be para-legal, wives of working officers or citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
- Only a designated Investigating Officer of the area shall investigate dowry harassment cases. The training of these officers may be completed within 4 months.
- In cases where a settlement is reached, it will be open to a District and Sessions Judge or any other senior judicial officer nominated by him in the district to complete the proceedings including the closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord. Committee‘s functioning may be reviewed once a year.
Dowry is a social evil. To curb this evil the Anti-Dowry Laws were enforced by the state. The laws are extremely harsh and strict, as they are non-bailable and non-compoundable.
Women take the shield of these pro women laws to fulfill their mala-fide intention. They harass their husband and his family, the police just on account of their complaint, without corroborating with any evidence put the husband‘s and his relatives in bars. Men as a result go through immense mental agony. The basic nature of Fundamental right to equality that no citizen must be discriminated on the basis of sex, simply gets violated every time a wife files a complaint against husband on grounds of cruelty of demand for dowry.
The state must as soon as possible come up with amendments which can end the havoc that women have laid on innocent men of the society and also set up Men Commission to deal with any atrocities that took place in a man‘s life because of the false allegations of cruelty and demand of dowry by their wives. The state must also include a penal provision that if any women is found falsely accusing her husband or his family members of cruelty or demand for dowry to fulfill her own mala-fide desires then she must be immediately sentenced to imprisonment for a period as long as the actual sentence i.e, not less than seven years and fine or both.
The Police Department should also inculcate a separate branch and should be trained likewise, to deal with such sensitive cases and also provide counselling if and when required. There should be free counselling of Men and their relatives who go through tremendous harassment due to such false accusations by the wife and her family members.
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