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Dowry Death in Indian Law

Courtesy - Soolegal



A Dowry (Dahej) is the transfer or a gift of parental property which is made during the lifetime of the grantor (parents) to a daughter at her marriage rather than the inheritance of the property which shall take place on the event of the owner’s (parents) death. Precisely, it is a payment of cash or gifts from the bride's family to the bridegroom's family upon marriage. It may include cash, jewelry, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils, car and other household items that help the newly-weds set up their home.

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Dowry has been predominantly an ancient custom in practice which is expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal. Marriages in India are a time for big celebrations in each family, they tend to be very lavish. Accordingly, Indian weddings usually involve considerable expenditure and accompanying wedding presents from relatives in both sides of the family. This is a normal expenditure which is done willingly and varies from one family to another depending on the wealth, status.

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Many times, as part of this mutual 'give-and-take', an attempt is made by the groom's family to dictate the quantum of each gift along with specific demands for dowry. In such circumstances, there is an element of exerting coercion on the bride's family and this is what has come to be recognized as the menace of dowry in today's times. Dowry does not refer to the voluntary presents which are made to the bride and the groom; rather it is what is extracted from the bride or her parents.

A woman’s marriage is of paramount importance in Indian families. If a woman’s marriage requires dowry in return for her secured married life which is a challenge in the world that is unsafe and discriminatory for women, it is never seen as a crime. Hence, it’s evident that the dowry system puts great financial strain on the bride's family. Furthermore, when the requirements of dowry is not fulfilled, it leads to the acts of violence and crime against women ranging from emotional abuse to injuries including acid attacks and deaths.

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When married women are murdered or driven to suicide due to constant harassment and ceaseless torture by their husbands and in-laws over a dispute of dowry, it amounts to dowry death. The bride’s suicide or killing committed by the husband and his family is because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry. The dowry death occurs when young women are unable to bear the harassment and torture and eventually commits suicide. Most of the suicides are by hanging, poisoning, or by fire. Sometimes the husband or in-laws set the woman on fire which eventually leads to her death(bride-burning). Therefore, dowry death is recognized to be one of the crimes committed against women.


In order to prohibit the repeated occurrences of this crime, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and Section 304B, Section 498A under Indian Penal Code, 1860 were introduced.


Following is the synopsis of the provisions for dowry death under IPC:

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(a)        Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury which wouldn’t have occurred in normal circumstances but has taken place 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(considered) to have caused her death.

(b)        Here dowry shall have the meaning as per Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which stipulates any property or valuable security is given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:

i.      by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage - (bride/bridegroom) or

ii.           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 mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

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