Long ago (I don’t know how long ago) I had argued that dowry is a contract between two families (effectively) and the government has no business regulating it, and that all “dowry harassment” cases need to be reclassified as just “harassment”. Now, thinking about property succession and the Hindu Succession Act, I realize why the law is in place. Please note that I’m just trying to explain here why the law is in place, and I’m not defending the law. I stick to my stand that an “anti-dowry” law makes no sense.
The “traditional view” of dowry is that daughters don’t need to wait for their parents’ death in order to inherit property – they get “their share” of the property as soon as they move out of the household – i.e. get married. And this “share of parents’ property” that daughters got at the time of their wedding came to be known as “dowry”. So essentially dowry demand/harassment/etc was basically some kind of a negotiation between a daughter and her acquired family, and her parents about how much of the latter’s property the daughter would get.
So each daughter in the family would get her share of the property as soon as she got married, and later when her parents passed on, wouldn’t demand a further share of the property from her brothers. And this system seemed to be in steady state for ages (again note that I’m not saying this system is ideal. just stating observations)
But then the Hindu Succession Act turned all this topsy-turvy. By giving daughters an equal share in her parents’ property, this old arrangement of daughters receiving their inheritance in advance got broken. Now, any “payments” received in advance were a bonus for the daughters for they could still stake claim to an equal share of their parents’ property from their brothers. Since the law had now granted this concession to the daughters, the sons too needed to be protected.
And thus they came up with the anti-Dowry law. The purpose of this law was to essentially protect a woman’s brothers from being cheated out of their “rightful share” of their parents’ property. Now, if their sisters got dowry, they could challenge that in court, since it was effectively a reduction in the pie from which their inheritance would get paid out following their parents’ death. The anti-Dowry law was thus essential for maintaining balance in the family.
It is another matter that the law is hardly used for this purpose.