Critical Analysis of Dowry laws in India : Dowry Prohibition Act, IPC Section 304B, 498A

Have today's Laws on Dowry become stagnant?

This article talks about the practice of dowry over years, the steps legislation has taken to eliminate the growth of this practice, and how they are emerging to be ineffectual.

“Any young man, who makes a dowry condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonors womanhood”

-Mahatma Gandhi


As one looks at the history of India, Dowry has been a decadent practice for years. It has continued to be a tradition in most parts of India where there are monetary expectations from the bride and her family and on refusal or incapability of meeting these demands, there is harassment and cruelty.

In the earlier days, Dowry was seen as a way of securing one’s daughter financially, by way of which, dowry money or monetarily valued things were only given for her use. However, over time, the path of such a simple tradition changed and the matrimonial home of the bride began to demand such gifts, even if the parents of the bride could not afford it or did not intend to fulfill the tradition. The controversial topic of dowry has been wrath for the country and continues to be a curse on women who enter into a marriage.

When a woman enters into this union of marriage, she fantasizes a healthy and happy life for her ahead, she intends to lead a life with dignity and respect by her household. However, these expectations and hopes come crashing down when her in-laws begin to pressurise the woman and her family for dowry. From a very young age, we are taught and brought awareness about dowry in our history and civics textbook. However, when such young girls, grow up to be women, end up facing this backlash in their own lives and helplessly from that particular point, lead a life of torture.

The curse of dowry demand and dowry death is often talked about in Indian society but the implementation of laws against dowry has been minimal in all these years. The new daughter-in-law is treated like a gold mine, who is supposed to meet the materialistic and monetary expectations of her matrimonial home, failing which, she is vulnerably exposed to violence and mental/physical torture by her in-laws. This torment ultimately leads her to resort to suicide or self-harm. Such victims of dowry are unable to take a stand for themselves or approach for legal aid. There have been thousands of cases with respect to dowry and dowry death every year but to one’s dismay, there has been no outcome to such cases.

The tragedy behind dowry is ironic since dowry was in actuality formed to safeguard a marrying woman’s life financially. But in today’s time, dowry has taken a completely different shape and turn and a beautiful custom has been abused and negatively drained by people.

With the progression of time, many customs and rituals have come and gone slow and steadily. However, the practice of dowry continues to affect people and has, in fact, prospered and celebrated in all these years. The outlook of individuals towards the prevalence of this custom is neither the same nor unsurprising. Ironically, a lot of people belonging to the educated class verbally condemn this practice but in reality, this is the same group of educated people that follow this old and outdated custom under the cloak of certain cultural and social obligations. To be able to find a suitable match for their daughter has been one of the concerning factors for acceptance of dowry demand and falling prey to this unlawful custom.

Dowry has also been seen as a kind of compensation that is paid by the father of the girl to his son-in-law for financial support of his daughter and her in-laws, for the “upbringing” of their son and the expenses they had sustained while “educating” him and “nurturing” him. Another added reason for dowry was the fact that daughters were not given any share in the parental property after the dowry needs were met with and hence the dowry was impliedly a type of share from the father’s wealth given during the time of marriage.

Dowry Legislations in India


The government of India has made multiple efforts to eliminate the growing cases of dowry death by enacting different types of statutes that curb the occurrence of such deaths and also impose severe punishment on those responsible for it. The government’s efforts were reflected with the enactment of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. The act was amended twice with increased effectiveness in 1984 and 1986. This act criminalizes the demand of dowry with a punishment of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to the fifteen thousand rupees or the value of dowry, whichever is higher monetarily. The Indian parliament, with the incorporation of criminalizing dowry, has also criminalized violence related to dowry against women. The Indian Penal Code (section 498A) penalizes any cruelty by the husband and his relatives with respect to the subject of dowry.

This amendment of the Penal code states that any death related to dowry could lead to imprisonment between seven years and a life sentence. Furthermore, the Code of Criminal Procedure Code authorizes the police to conduct an investigation into the death of any woman which may occur under suspicious circumstances that are within seven years of her marriage. Last but not the least, the Parliament also amended the Indian Evidence Act, which presumes dowry death whenever a woman is subject to dowry-related harassment torture, or cruelty soon before her death.

Indian Penal Code

Section 304(B)

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 relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death.”

This particular section intends to state that to make a case of dowry death, the married woman should have died of burns or bodily injuries or “otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage. Therefore, this section attempts to denote that the woman should have suffered harassment or cruelty from her husband or his relatives “soon before her death” in correspondence to dowry demand. Over time, the courts gave the phrase “soon before her death” a strict interpretation of “immediately before.” However, this strict interpretation does not leave room for exceptional cases where dowry death was in question but she could have been harassed a few days or weeks before she died.

Section 498(A)[1]

It states that :

“Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

This is the only section in the Indian Penal code that talks about domestic violence against women and this particular section were enacted solely to suppress any torture or cruelty against married women in their matrimonial home.

The three main key ingredients of Section 498(A) are:

  1. The woman must be married.
  2. She must be subjected to cruelty or harassment; and
  3. Such cruelty should’ve been imposed either by the husband of the woman or by the relative of the husband.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

Say no to dowry
Source: The News Minute

Section 2

It states:

“Definition of ‘dowry’. —In this Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly—

  1. by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
  2. by the parent 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 the said parties, but does not include] dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies”.

Section 3

It states that:

“If any person after the commencement of the Act gives or takes, abets the giving or taking of dowry shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term not less than five years and with fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of dowry, whichever is more.”

Section 4

It states that,

Penalty for demanding dowry: if any person directly or indirectly demands dowry from the parents, relatives or guardians of the bride or the bridegroom shall be punished with an imprisonment of not less than six months and which shall extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees.”

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Section 113B

It states that:

“When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.”

Landmark Cases

Source: Times of India

Arjun Dhondiba v. the State of Maharashtra

In Arjun Dhondiba v. State of Maharashtra[2], the court held that “dowry” under The Dowry Prohibition Act is is “a demand for property or valuable security having inextricable nexus with marriage” i.e. it is a consideration from the girl’s parents to the groom’s parents or relatives as an agreement to wed their son.

Vijeta Gajra v. State of NCT of Delhi

In the case of Vijeta Gajra v. State of NCT of Delhi[3], The petitioner had lodged an FIR against her husband as there were allegations made about the demand of dowry against the husband and the husband’s foster mother. However, the respondent has introduced his foster parents to the petitioner before marriage itself. On refusal of dowry, the petitioner alleged that she was domestically violated. However, the court in this particular case examined the ingredients of section 498 (A) and arrived at a conclusion that the word “relative” would only include blood relatives and that such a statute would only be interpreted and construed strictly.

Arnesh Kumar v. the State of Bihar

In the case of Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar[4], the petitioner by way of special leave petition approached the Supreme Court for a grant of anticipatory bail, which was already rejected once before. The main motive behind the enactment of section 498(A) was to challenge the cruelty and harassment that a woman faced by her husband and his relatives. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that section 498(A) is a cognizable and nonbailable offense and that it should be used as a shield and weapon by aggrieved wives against her husband and their relatives.

Gurmeet Singh vs The State Of Punjab

In the case of Gurmeet Singh vs The State Of Punjab[5], the deceased daughter of the complainant was engaged to the appellant in 2004. After the engagement, the father f the deceased left for Abu Dhabi during which, in his absence, the wedding between the appellant and the deceased was formalized on 23.11.2004. In 2006, a child was born out of their marriage. But when the complainant returned from abroad, the deceased told him about how her in-laws were physically assaulting her for dowry. The complainant succumbed to the emotional abuse and mental harassment and gave a gold chain to the accused person.

However, in the year 2008, the complainant failed to fulfill the dowry demand of a car due to which the complainant was informed that the deceased had consumed poison and had lost consciousness. It was declared at the hospital that she had in fact, died.

According to Section 304-B, to make out a case of dowry death, a woman should have died of burns or other bodily injuries or “otherwise than under normal circumstances” within seven years of her marriage. She should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” in connection with the demand for dowry. Over the years, courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B as ‘immediately before’. This interpretation would make it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died. Such “absurd” interpretations should be avoided, the apex court noted in the judgment.

Vemuri Venkateshwara Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh

In the case of Vemuri Venkateshwara Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the court laid down the following ingredients for exhibiting an offense under section 304(B):

  1. There should be a demand for dowry and harassment by the husband and his relatives.
  2. The victim i.e. the woman has died.
  3. Death is under unnatural circumstances.

Pawan Kumar & others v State of Haryana

In the case of Pawan Kumar & others v State of Haryana[6], within a few days of marriage, there was a demand for a scooter and fridge, which on not being fulfilled led to taunts and harassment. Thus it was held that such evidence qualifies for dowry demand and falls under the definition of dowry under section 2 of the Act.

Bhim Singh & Anr vs State Of Uttarakhand

In the case of Bhim Singh & Anr vs State Of Uttarakhand[7], the prosecution had shown sufficient proof that the deceased was a subject of cruelty and harassment by the accused, who has been taunting the deceased for expenditures incurred during the marriage. With respect to Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 read with prosecution evidence, the High Court held that “the prosecution had successfully proved the charge of an offense punishable under Section 498-A and 304-B of I.P.C. and one punishable under Sections 3 and 4.”

Revision of Dowry Laws?- a Critical Analysis

In many cases in India, these laws which are specially enacted to discriminate against dowry demand, have been misused time and again. It has compelled the lawmakers to relook into the legislature has seen in Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand[8] where it was observed that “It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incidents are reflected in a large number of complaints.”

Due to immoral exercising of these laws and false accusations on the innocent i.e. the husband and his relatives, have to suffer greatly which ultimately leads to men giving up and committing suicide. Hence in the case of Chandra Bhan v. State[9], the Hon’ble Delhi High Court ordered against the misuse of these laws and to completely scrutinize any complaints against dowry demand or dowry death and then register the FIR. However, despite such misappropriation of the dowry laws, it continues to be a very heinous crime in India that needs to be paid heed to. The stricter the laws are, the more beneficial the outcome can be of the case.

One should also remember that no law can be enforced without the committed cooperation of the citizens of the country because such social evils can only be eradicated when the people carry the philosophy behind the law at a much further step. Educating girls also play an important role which can help them to be financially secure and avoid any social stigma associated with dowry. The laws that prevent and deter the demand for dowry are very strictly constructed and only cases that fall within the definition of these laws, are able to seek actual justice.

Section 304(B) of the Indian Penal code and Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, presume that the dowry deaths/suicides occur only due to the subject of cruelty. However, the human mind and mental state of health go beyond only cruelty. Such a reason may be related to the demand for dowry but may not necessarily be cruelty. Therefore, such statutes need to be enacted more liberally and reasonably and not arbitrarily or strictly.

Firstly, the statutory language is too vague to effectively stop the practice of demanding or giving dowries. It is actually a problem of underinclusiveness. As originally construed by the courts, dowry included only money and property given at the wedding ceremony. Consequently, the Act did not prohibit gifts demanded after the wedding. The Act’s definition of what constitutes dowry needs to be expanded to prevent families from evading the Act’s proscription against dowry.


Dowry demands, violence related to such demands and deaths that occur due to these demands are a social curse that is a blazing issue in Indian society. One of the very important steps to be taken to eradicate such a practice is the organization of women’s welfare programs to support and make a move against this crime and also by the execution of deterrent punishment on convicts of dowry deaths. Society needs to rise together and wake up to abolish the shackles of the dowry system so that this custom is long gone and women can lead a life of dignity, respect, satisfactory state of physical and mental well-being.

The extremely entrenched and complex state of patriarchy and son preference is a significant reason for women tortured after marriage and being looked down upon as a burden. The prevalence of such sexism affects the level at which one can seek justice due to which the state fails miserably at implementing equality-based- gender-effective legislations that could contribute to abolishing dowry-related violence against women in India.


Is Dowry’s prehistoric practice continues to haunt most people in India?

Although Dowry was seen as a way of securing a daughter financially after her marriage, it has been profusely been implemented wrongfully. Therefore, this custom has ended up taking the lives of many and has lost its true essence leading to the stagnancy of such a custom.

How efficient have been the dowry prohibition laws in India?

The government of India’s efforts towards dowry prohibition was reflected with the enactment of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. It criminalizes the demand for dowry with severe punishment. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code also penalizes the husband and his relatives with respect to dowry death. The Code of Criminal Procedure Code authorizes the police to conduct an investigation into the death of any woman which may occur under suspicious circumstances that are within seven years of her marriage. Under The Indian Evidence Act, there is a presumption of dowry death whenever a woman is a subject of dowry-related harassment torture, or cruelty soon before her death.

Are dowry laws being exercised immorally?

There have been several cases where the husband and his relatives have been falsely accused of demanding dowry. Due to the priority given to women in this specific matter, many husbands fall prey to dishonest allegations.

What steps can be taken to suppress the practice of dowry?

To curb the growing evil practice of dowry, there should be organizations of women’s welfare programs to support and make a move against this crime and also with the execution of deterrent punishment on convicts of dowry deaths.

Does death have to be an essential component to exhibit a case of dowry demand?

Although the death of the victim is important to make a case of dowry demand, it is not essential to file a suit against the demand of dowry. According to section 4 of The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the mere demand for dowry by a husband or his relatives is liable for punishment up to 2 years and a fine that may extend to ten thousand rupees.

[1] The Indian Penal Code

[2] 1995 AIR HC 273

[3] AIR 2010 SC 2712

[4] (2014) 8 SCC 273

[5]   CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 1731 OF 2010

[6] AIR 1998 SC 958

[7] AIR 2010 SC 2913

[8] (2010) 7 SCC 667

[9] (2008) 5 SCC 747

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