The offering of presents, gifts or finance as dowry is a long practice prevailing in Indian society. In India, the 1986 Constitutional Amendment inserted Section 304B in Indian Penal Code (IPC) which punishes dowry death and the 1983 Amendment inserted Section 498A of IPC which provides punishment for cruelty by husband or his relative towards women on demand of dowry and helps to seek redress by the aggrieved party from the cruelty and harassment from the matrimonial home.
The Dowry prohibition Act was enacted by the Parliament in 1961 with an objective to prohibit presenting, obtaining or demanding dowry by any means from either of the party to the marriage. The Act defines the term ‘dowry’ to contain whichever agreement made by the parents or a person connected with the marriage to give any assets, belongings or valuable security or has previously given such asset to the parent or any person related with the marriage, at the time of marriage or at any time prior to or subsequent to marriage as a part of such marriage. The Act excludes from the purview of dowry the mahr or dower given during Muslim marriages or as a part of personal law of Muslims.
The Act penalizes the person for offering, acceptance or assistance made in relation to dowry with imprisonment for five years and with fine of rupees fifteen thousand or sum equal to that of dowry. Where a gift is given during marriage to either party to the marriage without any claim, such gift or present shall be excluded from the description of dowry. Moreover, the present will not constitute dowry if the gifts or presents are given as a part of custom or usage prevailing in the society and such gift does not exceed the financial stability of the person giving such gift. A penalty of minimum six months imprisonment extendable up to two years and ten thousand rupees fine shall be imposed upon a person for demanding or claiming dowry. Where a person advertises or publishes by any means any offer of property or other valuables as a consideration or return for the marriage of his son or daughter or any relative, he shall be punished with imprisonment and fine specified under the Act. The Act invalidates agreements made with regard to offer or acceptance of dowry. The person, who collects dowry other than the woman on whose behalf it is given, shall return the dowry to the woman within the time specified under the Act.
The Acts confers power on the First Class Judicial Magistrate or a Metropolitan Magistrate to take cognizance of offense. Additionally, the Court shall take cognizance of offense on his own information, police report of the incident, complaint by the aggrieved person or any person connected therewith, complaint filed by any welfare association or society etc. But such association shall be acknowledged and recognized by either Central or State Government. The Act recognizes the application of Criminal procedure Code to certain matters specified under the Act. The burden of proof lies on the person who is alleged to have taken or demanded dowry to prove that he has not committed such an offense.
The Act empowers the State Government to appoint Dowry Prohibition Officers in the necessary areas to carry out the powers and functions prescribed under the Act. The functions of the officer includes prevention of receiving or abetting to receive dowry, collection of evidence relating to the incident, further functions entrusted by the State Government etc. The Act delegates the Central and State Government to formulate rules in matters enumerated under the act after publishing in the Gazette of India. The Central Government has framed the Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of Lists of Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules, 1985 to implement the power assigned under the Act. The rule provided that the bride shall retain the record of gifts or presents offered or presented during marriage.
The Act though fulfills its objective, is criticized on the ground that it does not contain special provisions for fake complaint and false swearing. It is also condemned that it duplicates certain provisions in the Indian Penal Code and other municipal laws. The Act lacks remedy for the violence against men at family and often some of them are banned from traveling abroad. There are many recommendations for amending the Act and an order from the Supreme Court to fill certain gaps existing in the present law, but that has not yet accomplished.