Article on the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961
The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 is considered to be the primary legislation to abolish the prevalent practice of dowry in India. Simplifying the definition of dowry, as given in the Act, dowry is the consideration paid by the bride, her family or relatives or anyone on behalf of the bride to the family of the groom as a part of the agreement to marry the girl. Dowry subjects the woman and her family to numerous dowry related issues right from cruelty, harassments, domestic violence, abetment to suicide, to murders. As is a commonly known fact, the existence of dowry in India is because of various economic, social and religious reasons, and is deeply rooted in the culture of the society. Thus, a law which would tackle the issue in its entirety was required. The Dowry Prohibition Act is a prominent example when legal methods have been resorted to for tackling a social issue.
The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was the first legislative enactment in this regard. It brought together several laws passed in different states. The main aim of the Act is to prohibit the dowry transactions by parties to a marriage. Demanding and advertising for dowry is also prohibited by the Act. The punishments for taking dowry and also for demanding it are provided in the Act. The Act has been amended twice, first in 1984 and later in 1986. In 1984, the Act was amended to specify that gifts given to the bride and the bridegroom during the marriage were allowed and the bride and the groom are supposed to maintain a list of the gifts that they receive. More information about this has been included in the later parts of the article. The 1984 amendment also added the words “in consideration of marriage” with regards to the time of dowry given. This was done with the aim of broadening the scope of the Act. The amendment of 1986 requires the police and the judicial magistrate to investigate any incidence of an unnatural death of a woman within seven years of her marriage. The Act has been made keeping the best interest of the disadvantaged woman and the family in mind, and section 6 of the Act provides a proof for it. The dowry which is received by anyone other than the woman in connection has to be transferred to her, and in case of her death before receiving it, to her heirs. As dowry agreements are void ab initio, the person who takes dowry is compelled to transfer it to the bride within a fixed period of time, and failure to do so results in imprisonment and a fine. The Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of lists of presents to the bride and bridegroom) Rules, 1985 provides the rules for maintaining a list of presents given to both the bride and the groom during the marriage. This was done with a view to make the distinction between proper gifts and dowry related objects easier. In Indian jurisprudence, in almost all the crimes, the burden of proof of proving the crime lies on the complainant. However, in this case, the burden of proof lies on the accused. Offences under this Act have been made cognizable, bailable and non-compoundable.
It is not an unknown fact that the Act has not been successful as estimated. One of the prominent reasons for this is the certain amount of vagueness that the Act includes. The proviso of S.3 of the Act says that the gifts will not be considered as dowry as long as they are of customary nature and their value is not excessive with regards to the person by whom, or on whose behalf they are given. Determining the nature of the objects is very much subjective, and there are high chances that the family which is expected to provide those will be coerced to deny the extortionist demands. The situations will vary from case to case, thereby involving tremendous discretion on the part of the concerned authorities. Along with this, so is the case of deciding the economic credibility of the giver. Moreover, critics have stated that the lawmakers have ignored the stark distinctions between dowry and concepts like Streedhan and Kanyadaan Certain other changes were made to help the functioning of the Act. Some other stringent provisions were added to increase the reach of this Act and curb the ineffectiveness of the existing anti-dowry law. To further create a base for the anti-dowry law, section 498(A)(Cruelty against married women) and section 198(A) (Prosecution for crimes against marriage) were added to the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code respectively. Addition of these provisions helps in accommodating the desired changes of The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.Dowry is one of the main reasons of violence against married women. Thus, providing a provision that would secure this aspect of the anti-dowry law was considered important. Consequently, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was passed to provide more protection to women suffering violence through the issue of dowry as well. Section 113(B) of the Evidence Act- where the court can presume that a person has caused a dowry death; has also helped in penetrating the cause of the anti- dowry law even deeper into the society. Sec.304B of the Indian Penal Code includes Dowry death and its punishment. In this way, in addition to criminalizing dowry, other dowry related offences have also been criminalized with a view of decreasing the number of instances of dowry transactions.
Anti-dowry laws, to this day, have proved to be ineffective. Give and take of dowry and other dowry related crimes go unchecked every day in India. The fact cannot be denied that provisions are in place to keep a check on the issue of dowry, however, their implementation remains a serious concern. The Act makes way for legal sanctions once there has been a demand or a transaction of dowry. However, efforts for uprooting the practice of dowry from the Indian social structure still remain absent.
 S. Krishnamurthy, 1981, The Dowry Problem: A Legal and Social Perspective, p.66, IBH Prakashana.
 The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, Sec.6
 The Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of lists of presents to the bride and bridegroom) Rules, 1985
 The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, Sec. 8A
 The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, Sec.3
 Indian Penal Code, Sec. 498A
 Criminal Procedure Code of 1860, Sec.198A
 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005
 The Evidence Act of 1872, Sec.113B