Women laws a sham, need a re-look
The Women and Child Development ministry’s latest proposal to overhaul the Dowry Prohibition Act fails to answer basic questions — failure of the law to prevent dowry even 50 years after its enforcement and its gender bias.
The ministry has proposed to make accepting dowry a bigger crime than giving it. It will be mandatory for the bride and groom to maintain a list of all gifts, including ’stridhan’ worth Rs 5,000 or more, and register it with the dowry-prohibition officer. Failure to comply could invite up to a year in jail.
Amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 also include reducing the jail term for those found guilty of giving dowry to one year from five years. The punishment for dowry-takers, however, will continue to be five years in jail.
The ministry believes that mandatory registration of gifts would help a woman seek compensation for the gifts given, if the marriage breaks down.
Enforcement of such a clause will not be easy given the condition that there is a huge marriage rush, especially for Hindus, on certain days of a year. Delhi has seen over 10,000 marriages on a single day. In such a scenario, if all couples land up in government offices for registration of the list of gifts received, there would be nothing less than a chaos.
The proposed provision says that the list has to be registered with prohibition officers. As per Delhi government’s website, the capital has only ten dowry prohibition officers. And, being prohibition officer under the dowry law is just one of the way responsibilities they have. If, every married couple, comes to their office for registration of the list of gifts alone, the officers will die of the work-load. Number of prohibition officers in other states is worse than Delhi.
The way-out could be technology by allowing couples to register the list of gifts online within a specific time-frame of marriage. The couple should code a unique number of registration which can be produced for settling of any dispute arising later.
That is not the only problem with the proposed changes.
The ministry also aims to expand the meaning of dowry including demand for property or valuable security before, during or after marriage, where the failure to meet such demand would lead to harassment, harm, injury or endanger the woman.
Its biggest danger that making the law more gender biased against men and increasing the possibility of its misuse by the family of the girl once there is a problem in the marriage. A way to minimize the misuse is asking a couple separately to fill a questionnaire on dowry related issues at the time of registration of the gifts received. The answers given can provide some input to the judge whether the claims of the girl are correct or not.
What concerns me is that the ministry’s expert committee had not proposed any dramatic changes to make Dowry Prohibition Act more effective and gender neutral. Some other women laws such as Domestic Violence Act also suffer from similar ailment.
There is a need to holistically review all women related laws in the perspective of young and vibrant India where “over-protection” to one gender can do more harm than good. I agree with most of the activists that women laws need bias in favour of the weaker sex but it should not be so much that it create marital problems and hampers holistic growth of a child from the marriage.
The government should consider setting up a commission to review all women related laws rather than just one.