New Delhi, March 19: Dowry givers can avoid jail by lodging a police complaint against the receiver’s family under planned changes to the dowry law aimed at encouraging victims to challenge the centuries-old practice.
Under the amended Dowry Prohibition Act, a bride’s family that complains to the police about the dowry it has given to the bridegroom’s family will no longer risk any punishment, senior officials have told The media.
The law now punishes dowry givers and takers equally, with a jail term of at least five years and a fine of Rs 15,000 or the value of the dowry, whichever is higher. But despite the law, many families across the social strata continue to seek and give dowry during marriages.
The amendments will for the first time treat dowry givers as victims and not offenders if they voluntarily inform the police about it.
The women and child development (WCD) ministry is almost ready with the amendments and is likely to soon send them for the cabinet’s approval, after which they can be introduced in Parliament.
The dowry law has long faced criticism that it does not provide any incentive to a girl’s parents who want to complain after meeting dowry demands. If they complain, they are equally culpable and can be jailed for five years or more.
“This, we feel, has been the biggest roadblock preventing parents from freely complaining against dowry,” a WCD ministry source said. “The amendment aims to remove this roadblock.”
The amendment, ministry officials say, represents a realisation that parents who initially succumb to dowry pressures may later want to complain when they face subsequent, repeated demands even after the marriage.
With the current law providing no incentive to complain, victims’ families often feel the only option is to take matters in their own hand, as happened in Burdwan recently after a bride wiped off her sindoor and walked out in protest against the dowry harassment of her father.
The villagers locked up the groom and worked out a settlement with his family to pay the dowry back in instalments, with neither party lodging a police complaint.
Two other amendments are being made to the dowry law.
Under the existing act, gifts given voluntarily, by either the bride or the groom to the other’s family, are not regarded as dowry. The amendments will make it mandatory for gifts shared during a marriage to be registered with a magistrate, else they will be considered dowry.
Activists have argued that the absence of registration makes it hard for law enforcers to pin down dowry crimes even if the victim’s family alleges that the “gifts” it had given were actually dowry.
The amended law will also reduce the punishment for dowry givers — caught because of a third party’s complaint — to a two-year jail term.
This change is the consequence of the argument that a dowry giver’s crime cannot be equated with that of a dowry taker because the former may have been under social pressure to oblige the groom’s family.