How to proceed in a case of harassment due to dowry demand

Overview: Dowry is an archaic system which is still prevalent in certain areas of India, mostly rural. It refers to goods, cash, and movable property that the bride's family gives to the bridegroom, his parents, or his relatives at the time of marriage which serves as a pre-condition to marriage. 

 

It essentially serves as a payment in cash or some kind of gifts given to the bridegroom's family along with the bride and could include cash, television, air conditioner, jewellery, automobile,  electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils and other household items that could be used by the newlyweds after marriage. Gifts exchanged by the families would, however, not amount to dowry.

 

Although the acceptance of dowry is prohibited and punishable under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, economic, social and religious factors have ensured the continuance of this practice over the years.

 

Common instances include harassment by husband/in-laws/relatives resulting in cruelty, physical abuse, sexual abuse, injury by coercion, insult/humiliation etc.

 

Purpose: To afford overall protection to women who suffer abuse of any kind in their matrimonial life due to payment of dowry which is an ancient concept by itself. The Supreme Court has widened the scope of persons against whom relief can be sought to not only include the husband but also other family members who harass the aggrieved person.

 

Areas of Application of Law: Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1960, provisions of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

 

Process: Below is the step by step process for addressing harassment for payment of dowry:

 

  1. The applicant who has been tortured or harassed by their husband, in-laws can begin approach the nearest police station and filing a police complaint on the basis of which an investigation would be carried out.
  2. In order to file the police complaint, the applicant must share details of harassment suffered at the hands of those against whom complaint is being filed.
  3. Based on such details the police will begin an investigation to find if the persons against whom charges are alleged are guilty or not.
  4. Along with a police complaint, the applicant must also bring a suit under the Domestic Violence Act to claim maintenance and protection (including custody for child) from the husband/in-laws/relatives.
  5. For this, engage a lawyer who will understand your situation and file the suit for dowry in the requisite forum, family court at the district level. You will be required to share all information that could form a ground for harassment for dowry and submit all below mentioned documents for this purpose.
  6. The applicant should ensure that he has read and understood the suit for dowry prepared by the lawyer before he files it and thereafter make sure that all affidavits and Vakalatnama (giving the lawyer the rights to represent you in court) are duly signed by him.
  7. The court would be required to take cognizance of the dowry complaint and have a hearing within three days of the complaint being filed in the court.
  8. On the first hearing, the magistrate would issue a notice to be served to the respondent and other persons by the protection officer.
  9. The complaint would include details including numerous incidents of physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse committed by the respondent on the aggrieved person.
  10. Instances would include constant demands for dowry and harassment by husband/in-laws/relatives leading to mental suffering, agony, illness, torture etc.  
  11. If the court is satisfied that a case is made out against the respondent, the aggrieved person can seek it to pass any of the following orders:


-      Protection order- The court can pass a protection order which operates as a restraining order and prevents the respondent from entering the workplace, school or other places frequented by the aggrieved person or establishing any kind of communication with her, her relatives or doing any other act specified in the order.

-      Residence order- The court can pass an order securing the aggrieved person’s right to reside in the household. Under this, a part of the house can be allotted to her for her personal use. It also ensures that the aggrieved person is her possessions are not alienated and in certain cases she could be provided an alternative accommodation by the respondent if she so requires.

-      Custody order- The court may grant temporary custody of children to the aggrieved person and make arrangements for visit of such child by the respondent. It may also disallow such visits at al by the respondent if it is not in the best interest of the child.

-      Monetary relief- the court could pass an order directing the respondent to pay the aggrieved person on account of expenses and losses incurred by the aggrieved person due to the harassment for dowry. This may include medical expenses, litigation costs, loss of earnings and payments towards maintenance of the aggrieved person and/or her children.

-      Compensation Order: The respondent may be directed to pay compensation for damages or injury caused to the aggrieved person as a result of the acts of harassment for dowry. These cover the injury on account of mental torture/suffering and emotional distress.

 

Documents required to be submitted in the court if any: Marriage certificate, instances showing proof of harassment which could include medical reports showing injury suffered by the aggrieved person, family members’ information and background, emails/chats/messages showing constant demand for dowry or threats for the same.

 

Punishment/Expected Relief: The aggrieved person can be expected to secure freedom from harassment at the hands of her husband, in-laws or relatives. The punishment would be in the nature of a protection order, custody order, compensatory order or monetary relief.

 

Landmark Judgments:

1. It was held that the persistent demands of the accused for more money, their tortures for dowry amounted to instigation and abetment that compelled the aggrieved to take away her life- Shobha Rani vs Madhukar Reddi (https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1100461/)

2.  The bride was burnt alive failing to fulfill the constant demand for dowry and the court held that cruelty plays an important role in such cases - Bhatnagar vs State Of Uttarakhand (https://indiankanoon.org/doc/155335344/)

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