July 20, 2024
Home » Meaning of Dowry: Anatomization of Dowry

Meaning of Dowry: Anatomization of Dowry

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This article has been written by Aastha (Second Year student of Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam)


Dowry is the money, assets, or estate that a woman delivers to her husband or his family as part of the marriage contract.[i]

Dowry is a tradition in Indian wedding ceremony in which the bride’s family delivers gifts, money, or property to the groom’s family. The tradition has a lengthy history in societies worldwide, including India, where it has been practiced for centuries. Dowry has ancient origins, dating back to ancient civilizations such as India. It is characterized as “a woman’s fortune” in certain ancient Indian writings, and it was intended to give the bride with financial security and assistance in her new home.

Dowry was common in many countries with strong patriarchal regimes. In such communities, the bride’s family was expected to carry responsibility for their daughter and give dowry to the groom’s family as reparation. To ensure a place in the new family that would be her inheritance, the bride was sometimes granted inherited land or other property.

Dowry practices evolved alongside social conventions and sexual behaviors over time. It went from being a symbol of financial assistance to becoming a source of worry and abuse at times.

Many countries, including India, have put in place legal structures to combat dowry’s detrimental impacts. The Prohibition of Dowry Act, of 1961, made dowry payment and reception illegal in India in order to avoid problems such as dowry troubles. Dowry is still practiced in some places and communities, despite legal provisions. It can cause financial hardship for the bride’s family and can even result in domestic violence, harassment, and death.


Dowry has a highly intricate and complex history in India. It was not done in the exploitative manner that it is today. In reality, dowry is not mentioned in India till the 16th century[ii]. Dowry has evolved into a social scourge, producing problems for women, domestic violence, emotional stress for the bride’s family, and in some cases, murder. Even before colonial authority, India had a dowry system, though not in the sense that it is now. Dowry was a female-run institution for women in pre-colonial times. In this arrangement, the bride’s parents provided money as precious gifts. It was owned and controlled by the wife, and the money belonged in no manner to the groom. It provided the wife with the financial independence she needs to handle her day-to-day life. Lord Cornwallis led the British purchase of a permanent settlement in Bengal in 1793. This enables land acquisition. Until this occurrence, the state owned all land. This phenomenon is responsible for all current real estate violence as it resulted in the zamindar (landlord) system in India. A 1793 version of the law prohibited women from owning land. The prohibition on women owning anything on land was responsible for the societal calamity that is dowry today.[iii]


Dowry can throw a significant financial burden on the bride’s family, resulting to financial hardship, debt, and even poverty. It is a gender inequity in which women are viewed as a financial burden and an liability that must be transmitted from one family to another. Dowry conflicts can result in harassment, interpersonal violence, and even dowry-related deaths. If dowry demands are not paid, women may be subjected to physical, mental, and psychological violence. It also causes an overemphasis on worldly prosperity in marriages, which can harm the emotional and spiritual parts of the marriage.

To summarize, although it began with the intention of assisting financially, it frequently leads to gender discrimination, economic hardship, and even violence. Efforts to eradicate the dowry and promote gender equality are crucial for creating a decent society.


Dowry is a practice that has been around for thousands of years. It was done to provide financial stability for the bride and her new family.

Changing dowry is more than just a formality in many cultures, because families may believe they must pay dowry to meet social norms. Financial factors are significant in the divorce process since they can be utilized to assess the bride’s financial interests or to invest in her future well-being. The bride’s family can demonstrate their social rank by paying an expensive dowry. In cases where the marriage is maintained, the groom’s family may be rewarded by dowry for taking the bride’s services.”[iv]


Dowry perpetuates gender inequity while seeing women as a financial burden. The practice implies that a woman’s worth is determined by her family’s capacity to provide dowry. This perpetuates traditional gender roles while also economically subjugating women. Dowry-related social expectations can limit women’s rights and choices. Families can work extremely hard to meet dowry demand, frequently at the risk of their financial stability. When dowry expectations are not satisfied, dowry arguments and harassment are prevalent. This shamble has the potential to sustain a culture of bullying and power inequities.


Many countries, including India, have acknowledged the socioeconomic and gender harm caused by dowry and have put in place legislative measures to address dowry issues. The most prominent anti-dowry legal system in India is the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 wherein giving and receipt of dowry is clearly prohibited under this law. Its purpose is to prohibit the exchange of gifts, money, or property in conjunction with a marriage. The act also makes dowry seeking illegal, either directly or indirectly.  

The Supreme Court ruled in Panduranga Shiv Ram Kavathkar v. State of Maharashtra [v]that the mere demand for dowry prior to marriage is unconstitutional. In the case of Bhura Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[vi]ruled that the deceased wrote a letter to her father before being set on fire by her in-laws, citing torture, harassment, and satisfaction of the dowry demand. Thus invoking Section 4 of the act.[vii]

The Indian Penal Code, Section 498A (IPC)[viii]: This section addresses dowry-related harassment and cruelty. Those who abuse or rape a woman in exchange for dowry face criminal charges.

Dowry Death (Section 304b)- Section 304(b) states-.

Where a woman dies within seven years of marriage from any burn or physical harm, or from any other exceptional event, and is believed to have been temporarily mistreated or raped by her husband or any relative before to his death on, or in connection with, any dowry demanded which leads to death of the wife is referred to as “Dowry Death,” and such spouse or family are believed to be responsible for his or her death.

Discussion of the Effectiveness of Existing Laws in Curbing Dowry-Related Issues:

The effectiveness of current anti-dowry legislation varies as these laws help to raise awareness about dowry and related issues and women have the ability to report dowry-related issues and take legal action. But enforcing anti-dowry legislation can be challenging. Charges and convictions are often challenging because the cases entail complicated legal and social aspects.

 Challenges in Implementing and Enforcing Anti-Dowry Laws:

First, Dowry-related societal norms and customs might lead to reluctance to change. Some societies consider anti-dowry legislation to be intrusive or anti-traditional.

Second, many cases of dating abuse go unreported because of fear, social stigma, and a lack of knowledge about one’s legal rights.

Third, Delayed Justice: In many jurisdictions, the legal process can be delayed, delaying justice and potentially preventing victims from pursuing legal action.

Also, in some situations, law enforcement and the judicial system may be unable to appropriately respond to dowry proceedings, thus weakening the legal system’s effectiveness.

In conclusion, while legal anti-dowry strategies are important to counteract this destructive practice, their success varies.


Dowry practice and state legislation is a subtle and far-reaching topic. It has strong historical and cultural origins in many nations, and it is frequently associated with complex social norms and expectations. State legislation aimed at preventing dowry strive to address the negative repercussions connected with this tradition, such as financial load, gender inequality, and reliance on women.  Dowry is clearly ingrained in the fabric of many communities and is an important element of their cultural legacy.

However, relying solely on state law may not be sufficient to eradicate dowry. Comprehensive remedies must include not only legal measures, but also societal shifts in attitudes and ideas. Addressing deeply held cultural norms and promoting gender equality through education, awareness campaigns, and community engagement are all part of this.

In conclusion, the issue of dowry as practice and constitutional legislation is a multidimensional one. This necessitates a balanced and holistic strategy that acknowledges cultural variety while actively working to eradicate bad behaviors that come from the process.


Aequitas Sequitur Legem

[i] https://www.britannica.com/topic/dowry

[ii] https://aif.org/the-cultural-legacy-of-a-social-evil-dowry/

[iii]  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/097152150501200209

[iv]  https://www.jstor.org/stable/26638331

[v] https://www.law.cornell.edu/women-and-justice/resource/pandurang_shivram_kawathkar_v_state_of_maharashtra#:~:text=The%20Court%20held%20that%20the,demand%E2%80%94to%20prove%20an%20alibi.

[vi] https://www.probono-india.in/Indian-Society/Paper/255_Case%20Analysis%20ProBono%20-%20SANCHIT%20MEENA.docx#:~:text=(1)%20Where%20the%20death%20of,for%2C%20or%20in%20connection%20with%2C

[vii] https://socialwelfare.tripura.gov.in/sites/default/files/Dowry%20Prohibition%20Act%2C%201961_3.pdf

[viii] https://lddashboard.legislative.gov.in/actsofparliamentfromtheyear/indian-penal-code

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