“Too Many Laws but Too Little Justice” – Mr.N.A.Palkhiwala

An eminent jurist of International repute Mr.N.A.Palkhiwala has observed in his book “We the People” that one of the costly failures of the Government in the post-Constitution era in India has been its failure to maintain Law and Order.  It is mostly prevalent in the case of women, who were treating as subordinate to men and socially oppressing from the time immemorial.  Still now the practice of discriminating women is continuing in the society.  The most important aspect to show that the Indian women were still being in oppressed state is dowry in marriages.

From the time immemorial, women in India were subordinate to men and socially oppressed.  The Status of Women was always inferior to that of men.  As a result of the general awakening of the country, a spirit of reform permeated various classes of Indian society and profoundly modified their ideas, habits and customs.  The most striking change in Indian Social life of the day was in the Status of women.  Women not only came out of their purdah and received education, but also took active interest in social and political matters and claimed their rights as citizens.  Inspite of receiving these changes women were being oppressing in the society because of an evil practice called dowry which is responsible for all other violence against women.  A series of laws have been enacted from time to time to raise the status of women.  The laws assume and reinforce the conventional notions of women as having a primary responsibility to the family and motherhood and the need to preserve these roles. All the Acts sounds really pro-women but in the absence of effective publicity, and proper utilisation still all those Acts remains on paper in most of the cases.  The Dowry Prohibition Act is also one of the Acts which remained on paper.


Dowry is an age old practice in Indian society referring to property or valuable security given by one party to another as a consideration for marriage.  Mostly the consideration is given by the family members of the bride.  It may also be regarded as a vehicle for setting up a relation of accord between the bride’s family and the husband’s family.  This relationship of accord is accompanied by giving gifts which persists long after the marriage rites.


          In olden days women were not working or employed, so the economic value of women is low then the practice of dowry is originated as a compensation for the lower economic value of women not working or employed.  It is looked upon as a compensation for the maintenance of the girl which is not on par with the productive and reproductive contribution that her subsistence cost the household she married into. 

          Discrimination of women in India begins at home.  Despite religious and regional differences in Indian Society, there are overriding customs and traditions which govern most communities and undermine legislative or other gains women may make.  While an increasing number of women shows interest in being educated or gaining employment, particularly in urban areas, in private sphere, independent decision making by women without the participation of the family, especially decisions regarding marriage, continue to be discouraged, family and marriage dominates the lives of women from the time of their birth.

          The selection of the marriage partner is an important factor in maintaining a hierarchial society.  Dowry payments ensure that a suitable partner from the right class and caste is obtained for the women within the marriage framework the husband and all outside relationship.  Women are dependent on the goodwill of their husbands and mostly they have no independent financial standing.  Women who have financial standing were also tied up with the bands of traditions.              The attitudes towards dowry may be closely associated with the value orientation of a society.  The old world values seem to have disintegrated, life has become faster paced and attitudes more impersonal and materialistic.  Dowry has become one of the easiest ways of acquiring wealth and thereby reaching a high socio-economic status.  As a result an increasingly difficult and frustrating situation for the present generation and their parents has arisen, especially for those from the middle class and the salaried class.  Dowry which was voluntarily given as a token of love and affection has now become a financial obstacle to marriage.  Dowry demands have increased, resulting in exorbitant payments.  The practice of dowry has thus become a rigid custom that is strongly adhered to.     


          Dowry demands are made both before marriage and at the time of marriage, but in most of the cases they are also made after the marriage where demands are made after marriage it is perceived either as an exercise of the rightful prerogative of the groom and his family, or to express discontent at what was given at the time of marriage or in social comparison with neighbours, at a later date, the dowry is perceived an inadequate. The most common item of dowry demanded is hard cash, usually to expand business, cover marriage expenses, or to buy expensive articles.  This is followed by household furniture and luxury goods.  Jewellery and a share in the bride’s father’s property are also other ways of demand.  When these demands are not met it precipitates serious consequences for the young bride.

          These consequences may be in the form of domestic violence milder to serve form.  It has been reported that, in such cases, the daughter-in-law was not permitted to speak to the neighbours, not correspond with the parents or correspond only under supervision, not permitted to attend social functions or to even step out of the house.  The violence may be quarrelling, beating, taunting, harassing, blackmailing, mental torture and threats of murder.  Even in cases where the parents are aware of the violence their daughters are being subjected to, they may persuade them to bear everything patiently.  The violence against women is very frequent in India.  Statistics show that wives are often the victims of domestic violence in half the states, the percentage of women that are beaten by their husband vary between 10% and 20%.  The practice of dowry has been maintained and thousands of women are murdered every year by their husbands because the dowry is too low.  An estimated 6000 women are killed every year.  However, this figure most likely under estimates the reality as the majority of murders do not get registered.


           At first in the year 1961, the Dowry Prohibition Act is enacted to eradicate the practice of dowry.  It consists of 10 sections.  The penalty for giving and taking dowry is incorporated in Section 3 of the Act. But the Act contains so many loopholes, also the punishment prescribed for demanding, taking and giving dowry were very low. So the Act has been amended from time to time to be effective.

           The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act of 1984 prescribes a minimum punishment of two years imprisonment and fine to anyone demanding dowry. Because of this Dowry Prohibition Act, a person who gives or takes, or helps in the giving or taking of dowry can be sentenced to jail for 5 years and fined Rs.15,000/- or the amount of the value of dowry, whichever is more.  This Act is prohibited to give or to agree to give, directly or indirectly, any property or valuable security, in connection with a marriage. The giving of or agreeing to the giving of any amount either in cash of kind, jewelry, articles, properties, etc. in respect of a marriage is absolutely prohibited by the Dowry prohibition Act. Even the making of a demand for dowry is also now prohibited and it is punishable with imprisonment of 5 years and a fine of Rs.10,000/-

        In Order to provide more teeth to dowry prevention laws, the Government has decided to make it mandatory for couples to make list of gifts exchanged during the ceremonies of marriage.   The Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of List of present to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules were introduced in 1985 in pursuance of the same purpose. It clearly stated that the list of gifts, in form of a sworn affidavit, has to be notarised, signed by a protection officer or a dowry prohibition officer and kept by both the parties. Failing this can invite heavy penalty including a three-year term in jail for not only bride and groom but also their parents.

       To stop the offences of cruelty by husband or his relatives on wife, Section 498-A has been added in the Indian Penal Code, and Section 198-A has been added in the Criminal Procedure Code since the year 1983.  In the case of suicide by a married woman, within 7 years from the date of her marriage, the Court may presume that such suicide has been abetted, encouraged by her husband or his relatives. Provision to this effect has been added in the Indian Evidence Act, by adding Section 113-A since the year 1983. 

          Sec.304-B is incorporated in the Indian Penal Code in 1983.  It deals with Dowry Death.  It states that where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death” and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

          Clause(2) of Sec.304-B stated that whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

          Recently for the Protection of women from Domestic Violence an Act is enacted in the year 2005 which is called as the Domestic Violence Act.  The main objective of the Act is to eradicate the domestic violence against women and to provide protection to women from the domestic violence.  Some measures took by the international community for eradication of domestic violence against women and declared 25th November as the International day to prevent violence against women.

Judicial Decision:

           In a case, State of Uttar Pradesh vs.  Chhoteylal, On 23rd January, 2011 A bench comprising of Justice Aftab Alam and RM Lodha in their judgment held that “It is imperative that the criminal case relating to offences against the State, Corruption, domestic violence, dowry-death, sexual assault, financial fraud and cyber crimes are fast tracked and decided in a fixed time frame, preferably of three years including appeal provisions”.


  • Even though a series of laws have been enacted from time to time to raise the status of women those laws remains on papers due to lack of effective publicity and proper utilization.
  • The definition of dowry is also being widened by changing the word “in connection with marriage” to “given before the marriage, at the time and at any time after the marriage”.
  •  The Juristic and legal persons must conduct awareness camps in rural and slum areas to make the people efficient to tackle any kind of problems by using the enacted laws.
  • The educated people must learn the acts and provisions which were laid down by the Government to utilize them properly and to explain them to the masses and illiterates for utilization of laws in a proper way.
  •  The Electronic and Print Media must concentrate on the provisions and they have to publish comparative Articles regarding the previous and present position of Acts.  Also they must give wide publicity to the enacted provisions and how to make use of the provisions.
  •  Every citizen must try to be updated with the Acts laid down by the Government and must properly utilize them when there is a dire need to exercise their rights.



  1. GID Data Base (2008)
  2. Genderindex.Org
  3. The Gender, Institutions and Development Data Base.
  5. Population and Development Review.