Dowry and the Law


The evil system of dowry is rooted deep in Indian society. However, it has taken a totally different form from which it started. It basically started as a system of customary present giving with love and affection to the daughter. In olden days, it was customary to give some presents to the bride and bridegroom and his family at the time of marriage as Var dakshina .The money or other gifts were given by the parents of the bride and their relations out of affection and specially with a view to provide the couple with something to fall back upon in case of need.

Moving from the simple concept of Var Dakshina and putting an economic interpretation to this custom , it can be said that behind it was the existence of an agricultural economy and the practice of saving the fragmentation of land as the girl would leave her family and join the husband’s family and therefore should not be given a share in the agricultural property in the form of land . The daughter then was not entitled to co-share in the joint family properties when she had a brother. Hence, the father out of affection or other consideration used to give some cash or kind to his daughter at the time of marriage. “The right of the father to give a small portion of the family properties to be given to the daughter at the time of marriage was
recognized. But unfortunately, over the years a new practice developed. The boy and his family members started demanding dowry as a matter of right. The demand often continued even after the marriage”.

It is ironical that a woman’s status in the matrimonial home hinges on the goods and
financial benefits that she brings in the form of dowry. This practice of dowry has become the cause of innumerable social evils in Hindu Society such as female feticide, female infanticide, child marriages, unequal marriages etc. “This practice is the symbol of the women oppression that perpetuates the inferior status of women in their matrimonial home and has even been resulting in self-immolation, suicide and death”
Even today the age old belief of the daughter’s marriage as an important moral and religious obligation of parents stand unshaken despite changed modern social and economic situations.
There are certain factors, which have remain unchanged and some new reasons have emerged, which have perpetuated the practice of dowry.
First, the belief concerning the moral and religious obligation of the parents to marry off their daughter has not been replaced, and neither have the social and economic conditions changed in favour of women in India to help displace these beliefs. Large numbers of girls in India are yet not economically independent either due to lack of education or insufficient employment opportunities.
Dowry related violence is a problem unique to India. It cuts across all backgrounds --
social, cultural, economic or religious. It cuts across class, caste and ethnicity. Quiet often there is an unreasonable and unequal power play within the home. An important part of the power relationship between spouses and indeed their families relate to dowry and its ramifications. “In the Indian context the preference for structural asymmetry between the two families and the consequent burden of gift giving on the bride’s family strengthens inequality. It is not a one-time transaction; rituals, occasions, festivals and indeed any minor pretext result in more demands being made on the daughter- in -law’s family”.

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