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.
2 thoughts on “Dowry Revisited”
The thing is if the parents give their daughter out of their own will and the daughter uses it to essentially be independent or provide a ballast to her new household, then we have a positive effect of dowry. Traditionally, dowry besides wealth included servants, personal fetishes and the like which would enable the daughter to live at ease (with a sense of the home) in a new strange place.
However, the case is that the anti-dowry law is in response to the husband / husband’s family usurping the dowry for themselves (and harassing the girl and her family).
Also your logic is contradictory. If dowry is a contract between two families, it cannot be equal to a personal inheritance sharing between parents and the daughter (because the girl side is paying to the boy side – if it is a share of the property, why should it be paid to the boy side).
If it is the latter i.e. share of the property, than the family of the husband has no say on the dowry unless the wife allows it. So it cannot be a contract between two families.
I think you are mixing up causality here. The need for daughters getting a share of their parents’ inheritance is in response to encouragement of large proportion of families with only daughters and who are practicing family planning by not having any more kids (or they do not practice infanticide in the case of girls). Hence a law that makes inheritance irrelevant where your children are male or female.
Actually I guess, the funda he was trying to put was that ideally the dowry was only meant for the girl. And thus it was a sort of inheritance. Although, the concept got distorted (if you will) with the husband’s family forcibly negotiating and bullying the girl into handing it over for their own purposes and so it became a contract.