Friday, January 22, 2010

Brand new, better, faster Dowry Law for you... any takers?

Much news has come out recently about proposed amendments to Dowry Prohibition Act, or DP Act in short.

My eyes must have widened in amazement, when I read some of the interesting provisions of the new DP act.

e.g. here is the provision which says it is mandatory to maintain list of all gifts exchanged, or go to jail.

The ministry of women and child development (MWCD) is planning to make it mandatory for the families of the bride and the groom to maintain a list of gifts and other exchanges made at the time of marriage. The Dowry Prohibition Act (DPA), 1961, will be amended to provide it with more teeth while plugging loopholes that allow women to misuse the act.

The list, in the form of a sworn affidavit, has to be notarised and signed by a protection officer or a dowry prohibition officer. Both the parties will have a copy of the list. The punishment for lapse is heavy, including a three-year jail term, not only for the bride and the groom but also their parents.

Comments: Right now even all marriages are not registered in India. In many places, you will have to give bribe just to get that marriage certificate. There are many child marriages in rural India, so registration of marriage in such cases is quite impossible, since no one will try to register a marriage, which is illegal to begin with.

Now, even if we were to assume that all the infrastructural issues in registering of marriages could be fixed, and on top of that new infrascturcture could be created by hiring more dowry prohibition officers, buying computers, databases, filing systems, and what not; isn't it slightly over the top to think that things will become hunky dory so easily and dowry problems will be solved?

Has any study been done on why dowry giving/taking has only increased even after propagation of so many anti dowry laws like DP Act, IPC 498a, and so on. Even communities where dowry was not prevalent now are following this custom.


The amendments include lesser penalty for dowry givers; allowing a woman to file a case where she resides permanently or temporarily; including parents and relatives of the bride as aggrieved persons who can complain; and linking the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) with the dowry laws for quick relief.

Comment: It is always amusing to read the words "quick relief" in context of Indian judicial system. By some magic wand of proposals, just by linking PWDVA with DP Act, somehow quick relief will be ensured under DP Act. Never mind that no serious study would have been done on how quick is the relief under PWDVA itself! Make more laws, and you make more money for lawyers if not anything else.


For a change, this amendment has also been welcomed by the men’s organisations. “This saves even the man from getting caught in false dowry cases,” said Virag Dhulia, of Save Indian Family Foundation, an organisation of harassed husbands.

False cases is a different problem than existence or absense of provisions in a particular act. The Indian laws relating to perjury are hardly applied by courts, so it is a free-for-all in terms of allegations that one can make and get away with them.


Among other amendments, the ministry has also proposed a lighter punishment for dowry givers since a five-year imprisonment was acting as a deterrent for the girl’s family to complain. The amendment seeks one-year imprisonment for dowry givers unless they prove that they were compelled. Tulsi agreed that this would encourage more parents to come up and complain.

“Parents are often compelled to pay dowry to ensure the security and happiness of their daughter in her matrimonial home. Hence, the giver and the taker of dowry cannot be placed on the same footing under the law,” the NCW clarified.

Comments: The WCD and NCW seem to be animated by the same spirits that believe that more we tinker with the laws, the better. Crush the dowry takers, but go easy on dowry givers! Further it smacks of the arrogance that laws can do some kind of social engineering and change the society's attitudes. In any case, treating dowry givers and takers differently is like saying -- Let the pimp be let off lightly, but you must punish the prostitute! A paradise for lawmakers.

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