The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The Dowry Prohibition Act – which Parliament passed on July 1, 1961 – aims to prohibit the giving or taking of dowry. It extends to the whole of India except for the (then) state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Act defines dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be
given – directly or indirectly – by one party to a marriage to the other, or by
the parents of either party, or by any other persons to either party. The
property or security may be given at the time of, or before or after the
marriage. ‘Dowry’ does not include dower or mahr (gifts given by the
bridegroom to the bride at the time of marriage), in case of persons to whom
Muslim Personal Laws apply.
Amendments to the Act (1984 and 1986) introduced clauses on penalties for demanding dowry, minimum and maximum penalties for giving or taking dowries, banning advertisements offering money in connection with a marriage and specifying presents that may be allowed to be given to the bride or bridegroom at the time of marriage – among others.
What is the penalty for giving, taking, or demanding dowry?
The penalty for giving or taking dowry, or abetting such activities, is imprisonment for not less than five years, and a fine of not less than Rs. 15,000 or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more.
The penalty for demanding dowry – directly or indirectly – from the parents, relatives or guardian of a bride or bridegroom, is imprisonment for at least six months and at most two years, and a fine which may extend up to Rs. 10,000.
Courts may – for ‘adequate or special reasons’ – impose a sentence of imprisonment of less than five years for giving or taking dowry, or abetting such activities. For demanding dowry, they may impose imprisonment of less than six months for such reasons.
What kind of presents does this Act not apply to?
No penalties on giving or taking dowry under this Act shall apply to presents given to the bride or bridegroom at the time of marriage ‘without any demand having been made in that behalf’. The Act shall not apply to such presents if they are listed in accordance with the rules made under this Act, and if the presents given by or on behalf of the bride are of customary nature, and their value is not excessive considering the person by whom, or on whose behalf, the presents are given.
What are the Act’s provisions on transferring property received as dowry to the bride?
Where any other person other than the bride receives the dowry, such a person shall transfer it the bride. If such persons received the dowry before marriage, they shall transfer it within three months of the marriage; if they received it at the time of, or after the marriage, they shall transfer it within three months of the date of its receipt; if the dowry was received when the bride was a minor, such persons shall transfer it to her within three months of her 18th birthday.
If any person fails to transfer the dowry within the specified time limit, they shall be punishable with imprisonment of at least five years, and a fine of not less than Rs. 15,000 or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more. Courts may impose a sentence of imprisonment of less than five years for such persons, for ‘adequate or special reasons’.
If a woman entitled to property under this section (Section 6) dies before receiving it, her heirs shall be entitled to claim the property from the person holding it. If the woman dies within seven years of marriage, for reasons other than natural causes, the property shall be transferred to the children or ‘held in trust’ for them. If she has no children, it shall be transferred to her parents.
If an offence under this Act is committed, on whom does the burden of proof lie?
Where any person is prosecuted for giving or taking a dowry and abetting such activities, or demanding dowry, such a person shall have the burden of proving that they have not committed the offence.
Who is the Dowry Prohibition Officer?
The Act says that state governments may appoint as many Dowry Prohibition Officers as they think fit in their areas of jurisdiction. Such officers shall prevent – as far as possible – the taking or demanding of dowries, and the abetment of such activities; see that this Act’s provisions are complied with; collect evidence for the prosecution of persons committing offences under this Act, as may be necessary; and perform any additional functions specified by state governments or rules made under this Act.
Focus and Factoids by Swarna Jain.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
20 May, 1961