Q. Is Dowry legal in India?
Dowry is illegal in India under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.
Q. Who is the offender under the Dowry Prohibition Law?
Under the Dowry Prohibition Law it is an offense to both take dowry OR to give dowry. So the groom and his family who have taken dowry can be charged. And if the bride’s family has complied with the dowry demand and given dowry, they can also be charged as guilty as under this law.
The punishment for violating the law is 5 years imprisonment + Rs.15000/- fine or the value of the dowry given, whichever is more.
Q. What is considered to be Dowry?
Any kind of demand made by the groom or his family, that involves a direct or indirect “deal” in connection with the wedding, is considered a dowry. This demand can be made before, or during, or after the wedding. It can be cash, valuable security, property or any other favors.
It includes anything that is sought either directly by the groom’s family or indirectly through a third party. Examples of dowry demands can include things like: “We need our mortgage paid, so we can have the money for the wedding,’ or ‘Our younger son has got into medical school and we need his fees paid,’ or ‘Find a job for this relative,’ or ‘We need a car so your daughter can live comfortably with us.’
Q. How can you tell that it is a Dowry Demand?
Anything that is given by the bride’s family to the groom or his family, that a bride’s party does not offer on its own is dowry.
Anything that a groom’s party asks for directly or indirectly by dropping hints and the bride’s party feels compelled to give – is dowry.
If the bride’s party feels that giving certain things is a pre-condition for the wedding to take place, and they give it because they worry the marriage will be called off – then it is dowry.
If the bride’s family says it cannot afford something and the groom’s family starts negotiating a ‘lesser deal,’ – that is still dowry.
Or after the wedding, if the bride or her family feel like that they either directly or indirectly are expected to meet demands for purchases, money, favors (social, political, economic), — as compensation for marrying their daughter into that family, then these are dowry demands.
Q. What if the bride’s family wants to give the bride and groom a gift of their own desire, but do not want to violate or be accused of violating the dowry law?
If a bride’s parents want to give the newly married couple gifts for the wedding of their own choosing, without being pressured or asked, and they do not want this to be seen as ‘dowry,’or a violation of the Dowry Prohibition Act, then they should have a list drawn up by their lawyer, with details (description, cost etc.) of the gifts they are giving to the couple, and declare that these are gifts they are giving to the couple of their own choosing.
The groom’s family too should have a copy of this list (so they are not accused of taking dowry either). Anything that is given to the bride and groom jointly as a wedding gift, belongs to both of them, and cannot necessarily be legally accounted for later on in case a situation warrants a separation.
Q. What if the bride’s family is not pressured for any dowry, but they want to give their daughter some gifts and securities, which they want to make sure she gets back, if under any circumstance she has to leave the marriage? Or they want to make sure that in the case of her unforeseen death is returned to the family?
Anything that a bride’s parents gift, just to their daughter and not to the groom, is the sole property of the bride and under the law it is called Stree Dhan (The Wife’s Property). This can be given before, during, or after the wedding. Streedhan includes property that a woman inherits or gifts given to her in cash or kind by her parents, siblings, and also husband and in-laws.
The woman is the absolute owner of her Stree Dhan and the husband and his family have no right over it. If the woman gives her stree-dhan to her husband and or in-laws for safe-keeping, then they are only trustees and must return it when she asks for it. If a woman dies under suspicious circumstances within 7 years of her marriage, then the property has to be transferred to her children or to her parents if she has no children.
Q. What can you do to protect yourself from dowry related abuse, violence, and even murder?
1. If the groom’s family asks for anything before, during or after the wedding please take it as a sign of extreme danger. No matter how far into the wedding preparations you are, even if it is the wedding day, DO NOT PROCEED WITH THE WEDDING. Case after case shows that these are the families, the ones that make demands, and extort, that are also capable of extreme violence.
2. IF YOU ARE IN THE MARRIAGE ALREADY, THEN PLEASE LEAVE THAT HOUSE IMMEDIATELY. Do not wait for things to get “better.” They will NOT GET BETTER, only worse! You need to get out soon.
3. The reason for dowry murders is always money. So before the wedding, the bride’s family must insist on a legal documentation of all the things they have given as gifts and as stree dhan. We would also strongly recommend that you consult your lawyers, and have both the bride and the groom sign a PRENUPTIAL clause that everything that is stree dhan must be returned to the woman or her parents should the marriage break up or if the woman leaves the marriage or dies. In the clause indicate everything that you will regard as stree-dhan. Keep detailed records and bills of everything gifted of value before, during and after the wedding. Families must make sure their daughters’ signatures are taken as proof of acceptance each time, and the list is kept with the rest of the legal documents.
4. If the groom’s family is unwilling to be party to the legal documentation of stree dhan and the clause of its return then the bride’s family has every reason to be suspicious of their motives. Please do not proceed with this marriage.
5. If a groom’s family makes a dowry demand, do not comply. Do not marry into that family. And do report them to the police, so they will think twice before harassing another family. Simply asking for dowry is punishable under law and get you 2 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs.10,000/-
6. Finally, a resplendent Indian wedding is all very well. But the Indian laws on religion based traditional marriages are very murky. There have been situations where the families of women killed for dowry have been unable to press charges because they could not prove that the couple were married. Therefore we would strongly emphasize that you make sure that the marriage is first properly and legally registered by a certified government registrar — before you organize the traditional weddings. Make sure you have a few copies of the official certificate, all stamped and notarized, and that this document is in the safekeeping of the brides’ parents and perhaps also in a bank locker, as you should do with the other documents as well.
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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,South Asia