Dowry law applies before marriage: SC

New Delhi: Would-be grooms and future in-laws will face the charge of demanding dowry if a proposed marriage fails to be solemnised because the girl’s parents couldn’t meet their demands, the Supreme Court of India has ruled.

Adding teeth to the anti-dowry legislation, the apex court said it’s not necessary that the law applies only when the marriage has taken place, but that it becomes active the moment two parties start a dialogue for marriage.

The definition of the expression ‘dowry’ in section 2 of the Dowry (Prohibition) Act cannot be confined merely to ‘demand of money, property, or valuable security’ made at or after the performance of marriage,” a bench of justices Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly said.

The bench said “demand” of money, property, or valuable security made to the “[would-be] bride or her parents or other relatives by the bridegroom or his parents or other relatives or vice-versa would fall within the mischief of ‘dowry’ under the Act” even if the demand “is not properly referable to any legally recognised claim and is relatable only to the consideration of marriage”.

The court held that “marriage in would include a proposed marriage“, particularly when the “non-fulfilment of the demand of dowry leads to the ugly consequence of the marriage not taking place at all“.

The ruling, which widens the scope of the dowry prohibition law, came in an appeal filed by a “husband”, Koppisetti Subbarao alias Subramaniam, saying he couldn’t be charged with cruelty for demanding dowry as he had never married the woman who made the charge.

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The SC rejected Subbarao’s plea that the “victim woman” should establish that she was his legally married wife. It wondered if “a person who enters into a marital arrangement (should) be allowed to take shelter behind a smokescreen.

“Such legalistic niceties would destroy the purpose of the anti-dowry law provisions (and) would encourage harassment” of a woman over money, the bench said.

The SC said it would be appropriate to construe the expression “husband” to cover a person who enters into a marital relationship and under “such proclaimed or feigned status” subjects the woman to “cruelty” under sections 304B or 498A IPC, “whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself”.

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