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What is Dowry System? Indian Dowry System Acts 1961, 2005

The Dowry System, rooted in historical practices of providing financial security, involves the bride’s family giving substantial gifts or wealth to the groom’s family during marriage. However, it has transformed into a criticized practice, contributing to gender inequality and imposing financial burdens on the bride’s family. Ongoing initiatives, including legal reforms and shifts in societal attitudes, aim to address and combat this system to promote gender equity.

Dowry System

In India, the dowry system, called “dahez” in Hindi and “jahez” in Urdu, means that the bride’s family has to give valuable things, money, or property to the groom’s family as part of the marriage deal. This puts a big financial burden on the bride’s family. Unfortunately, this custom has resulted in various crimes against women, including emotional abuse and even deaths.

To address this problem, Indian law has introduced the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 and added relevant sections to the Indian Penal Code. This law defines dowry as property or assets given before, during, or after the wedding, but it doesn’t include what’s given under Muslim Personal law as dower or mahr.

What is the Dowry System?

India has long confronted the enduring dowry system, where the bride’s family is compelled to provide gifts, money, or property to the groom’s family for the marriage. This deeply rooted tradition has faced substantial criticism for its adverse societal impact, leading to numerous campaigns and initiatives to eliminate it. Despite these efforts, the dowry system persists as a notable concern, especially in rural areas of India.

Dowry System in India

  • Historically, the dowry system was absent from Indian culture.
  • Initially, giving a dowry was seen as a symbol of female empowerment, enabling women to contribute property and wealth to their marriages.
  • Over time, this practice has become corrupted and is now associated with exploitation and abuse.
  • The dowry system has given rise to various social problems in India, including domestic violence, bride burning, and female infanticide.
  • Women are often considered a financial burden on their families, with the dowry tradition reinforcing this perception.
  • Consequently, families have developed a preference for sons over daughters, leading to an imbalanced gender ratio in the country.
  • The dowry system economically exploits the bride’s family, with excessive dowries demanded by the groom’s family, causing financial distress.
  • Many families find themselves in debt, resorting to loans or selling property to meet these demands.

Dowry System in India: The Social Evil

The dowry system in India remains a deeply ingrained social challenge persisting across generations. This practice compels the bride’s family to provide gifts, money, or assets to the groom’s family as a condition for marriage. Despite sustained efforts to confront this harmful tradition, the dowry system continues to cast a shadow over Indian society, particularly in rural areas.

This article explores the roots of the dowry system, its negative repercussions, and the ongoing endeavors to eliminate this detrimental practice. Join us as we navigate the complexities of this age-old issue and shed light on potential solutions to promote a more just and equitable society in India.

History of Dowry System in India

The history of the dowry system in India offers a captivating exploration of age-old customs and their evolution across the centuries. This deeply ingrained practice initially emerged as a means to ensure financial security for brides as they joined their new families. However, as time advanced, the dowry system underwent a significant transformation, influenced by cultural and societal changes that reshaped its significance.

This article delves into the historical origins of the dowry system, tracing its evolution through different historical periods and the roles it played within Indian society. Embark on a journey through time with us as we unearth the historical context and transformations that have shaped the dowry system into its present form.

Origin of Dowry System in India

  • Ancient Roots: The practice of dowry can be traced back to ancient Hindu scriptures, known as the Vedas, where it was initially mentioned as gifts and payments to be given to the bride’s family during marriage.
  • Financial Security: In its early days, the dowry system had noble intentions. It aimed to provide financial security to women who couldn’t inherit property and relied on their husbands for support.
  • Changing Norms: As societal norms evolved, the dowry system began to transform. Women started to be viewed as financial burdens on their families, and dowries were seen as a means to offset this perceived cost.
  • Patriarchal Influence: The dowry system’s transformation took a sinister turn with the rise of patriarchy. Women became increasingly vulnerable to financial exploitation, and dowries became a way to secure a groom for daughters.
  • Extreme Demands: In some instances, the demand for dowry became extreme, pressuring families to take out loans or sell property to meet the groom’s expectations.

Dowry System in India During British Colonialism

  • In the 19th century, British colonialism further exacerbated the dowry system.
  • The British introduced laws that recognized the rights of women to inherit property and made it illegal for husbands to take their wives’ property without their consent.
  • However, these laws also gave rise to the notion that women’s property rights should be compensated for with dowry payments.
  • The dowry system continued to grow in prominence in the 20th century, and in some cases, it became a major source of tension between families.
  • In the 1960s and 70s, the Indian government attempted to address the problem by passing laws that made it illegal to demand dowry, but these laws have been difficult to enforce.

Dowry System in India: During the British Colonialism

The dowry system remains a highly debated topic in contemporary India. While some families regard it as a vital aspect of marriage, others perceive it as a form of gender-based exploitation and discrimination against women. Activists persist in their efforts to campaign against this practice, and there have been indications of limited progress in recent years.

However, the dowry system remains deeply ingrained in Indian culture, necessitating a collective and sustained endeavour by society at large to bring about change.

Dowry System, Causes, Effects, and Solutions

The dowry system, prevalent in many parts of the world, is a practice with deep-rooted causes, far-reaching effects, and complex solutions. Let’s explore these aspects:


  • Traditional Norms: The dowry system often stems from long-standing cultural and traditional beliefs where it was initially viewed as a way to provide financial security to the bride.
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Economic disparities can contribute to the dowry system, as families may see it as a way to improve their social and economic status.
  • Gender Inequality: In societies where gender discrimination is rampant, the dowry can be seen as a way to offset the perceived financial burden of a daughter.
  • Social Pressure: Societal expectations and peer pressure sometimes compel families to conform to this practice to ensure their daughters’ marriages.


  • Gender Discrimination: The dowry system perpetuates gender inequality, reinforcing the idea that women are a financial burden on their families.
  • Violence and Abuse: It can lead to domestic violence, harassment, and even dowry-related deaths, as brides are often subjected to demands for more dowry after marriage.
  • Financial Burden: The practice places an enormous financial burden on the bride’s family, leading to debt and sometimes impoverishment.
  • Skewed Gender Ratio: The preference for male children due to dowry-related expenses can result in a skewed gender ratio.


  • Legal Reforms: Strict enforcement of laws such as the Dowry Prohibition Act and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code to punish those demanding dowry and perpetrating dowry-related harassment.
  • Educational Initiatives: Promote education and awareness campaigns to change societal mindsets and encourage gender equality.
  • Economic Empowerment: Empower women with economic opportunities to reduce their dependence on dowry as a means of financial security.
  • Community Involvement: Encourage communities to take a stand against the dowry system and support couples who opt for simple and meaningful marriages.
  • Support Services: Establish support services for victims of dowry-related abuse, including counselling and legal aid.
  • Media and Entertainment: Engage media and entertainment to depict and promote positive, dowry-free marriages as a societal norm.

The dowry system is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach to address its root causes and mitigate its detrimental effects. Through legal reforms, education, and changing societal norms, progress can be made toward eliminating this harmful practice and fostering a more equitable and just society.

Combating the Dowry System in India

  • To combat the dowry system, several laws have been enacted in India. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 makes it illegal to demand dowry in any form.
  • However, despite these laws, the practice continues to be widespread. The root of the problem lies in the social and cultural attitudes toward women in Indian society.
  • Until these attitudes change, it will be difficult to eradicate the dowry system.
  • Education and awareness are crucial in addressing the problem of dowry.
  • Women must be educated and empowered to stand up for their rights and refuse to accept the practice.
  • Families must be taught to value their daughters as much as their sons and to understand that marriage is a partnership between equals, not a transaction.

Laws against the Dowry System in India

Laws against Dowry System in India

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

In India, the dowry system has been outlawed under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961. The act was passed to prevent the practice of dowry, which was becoming a severe social issue in the country. The act defines dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly, at or before or after the marriage as consideration for the marriage.

The act criminalizes giving or taking dowry and imposes penalties, including up to five years in prison, a Rs. 15,000 fine, or both. It requires the groom and his family to report any dowry demand by the bride’s family to the authorities. The law also protects women from dowry-related harassment, allowing them to file complaints with the police or magistrate, who must investigate and take necessary action. In cases where a woman dies within seven years of marriage due to dowry-related cruelty or harassment, it’s considered a dowry death, and the offender can face a minimum seven-year prison term.

Causes of Dowry System

The dowry system in India persists due to a complex interplay of factors deeply embedded in societal norms and traditions. Stemming from the patriarchal structure of Indian society, where women are often seen as burdens and men as breadwinners, dowry is viewed as a form of compensation for marrying off daughters.

Causes of Dowry System
Customs and Traditions 1) The majority of dowry-related cases stem from adherence to traditional customs upheld by Indian society.
2) People often feel obligated to follow these customs, even if they find them uncomfortable.
Social Structure 1) Indian society is predominantly patriarchal, perpetuating the dowry system where women are seen as burdens and dowry as compensation.
2) Sons are considered superior and breadwinners, leading families to demand dowry for them.
Fear of Ill-Treatment Families may give dowry out of fear of ill-treatment of their daughters by in-laws, believing it ensures security and non-discrimination.
Societal Pressure Status is often measured by the amount spent on daughters’ marriages, leading to pressure to give substantial dowries.

Dowry System UPSC

In the context of the UPSC General Studies Paper 1, the dowry system is a significant topic falling under the salient features of Indian society, the diversity of India, and the role of women and women’s organizations. This system, deeply entrenched in Indian culture, reflects complex societal norms and practices. It underscores the patriarchal structure of Indian society, where women are often perceived as burdens on families.

Domestic Violence Act of 2005

Apart from the Dowry Prohibition Act, several other laws offer protection to women against the dowry system. The Domestic Violence Act 2005 safeguards women facing domestic violence, including dowry-related harassment, by enabling them to seek court protection and restraining orders against their husbands or in-laws.

The Indian Penal Code also provides a defence against the dowry system. Section 498A of the IPC addresses cruelty by husbands or their family members, making it a punishable offence to subject women to cruelty, including dowry harassment. Despite the existence of these laws, the dowry system persists in India due to its deep cultural roots, necessitating a collective effort from society to eliminate it. The government must take strict action against those demanding dowry or harassing women for it, while society should shift its focus from extravagant weddings to promoting simpler, more meaningful marriages.

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What is dowry system in India?

The dowry system is a practice where the bride's family gives gifts, money, or property to the groom's family before or after the wedding. This system is prevalent in India and is often seen as a social evil that contributes to the discrimination and exploitation of women.

Why is the dowry system prevalent in India?

The dowry system is prevalent in India due to several social and cultural factors, including the belief that men are superior to women, the expectation that a woman's family will provide financial support to her husband's family, and the desire for wealth and status in society.

Is the dowry system illegal in India?

Yes, the dowry system is illegal in India. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was enacted to prohibit the giving or taking of dowry. However, despite the law, the practice of dowry is still prevalent in many parts of the country.

What are the consequences of the dowry system in India?

The dowry system has several negative consequences, including discrimination and violence against women, financial burden on the bride's family, and perpetuation of gender inequality. Dowry-related crimes, such as harassment, domestic violence, and even dowry deaths, are not uncommon in India.

What measures have been taken to address the dowry system in India?

The Indian government has taken several measures to address the dowry system, including the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 and various awareness campaigns. NGOs and civil society groups have also been actively working to eradicate the practice of dowry and support victims of dowry-related violence. However, the practice of dowry is deeply rooted in Indian society, and it continues to be a persistent problem.

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