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Court expands dowry net

Sept. 3: There’s bad news for dowry sharks: any demand for cash/kind from a newly-married woman is now “dowry” and persons making such demands are courting trouble.

Andhra Pradesh High Court yesterday virtually tied the hands of in-laws, saying they could be prosecuted under the Dowry Prohibition Act if they made demands for cash/kind on a woman after marriage on the basis of a pre-marriage pact.

The judgment — passed by a bench of Justices Bilal Nazki, G, Raghuram and K.C. Bhanu — overturns an earlier ruling that any payment or part-payment made after the ceremony on the basis of a pre-marriage pact would not be treated as dowry.

Women activists and lawyers welcomed the verdict. “Any judgment that helps to plug the loopholes in the dowry act are most welcome. Very often demands are couched in the garb of gifts — like what happened in the case of Nisha,” said Brinda Karat, All India Democratic Women’s Association general secretary.

Some months ago, Delhi girl Nisha Sharma had broken off her engagement on the eve of marriage after her would-be in-laws continued to pile fresh demands for dowry. At the time Nisha decided to call it quits, her room had been stacked with all kinds of expensive goods.

Karat said the order was commendable because many courts had begun to say that the dowry act was too “stringent”. “Many courts have even given retrogressive judgments to make it easier on those taking dowry.

“The demands continue right through — from pre-marriage days to the celebration of any occasion. It could be the birth of your first child, any festival. The judgment should include all of these,” she said.

Organisations dealing with dowry cases said tightening of the law was cause for cheer.

“We definitely welcome the Andhra Pradesh court verdict because it further tightens the dowry act.

“In our experience, we have found that people find ways of circumventing the law. There are several interpretations to what constitutes dowry,” said Mayuri of the Lawyer’s Collective.

“The line between dowry and presents remains blurred under the law. There are no restrictions either on the amount that can be spent on presents,” said Kirti Singh, a lawyer.

A book on dowry brought out by the All India Democratic Women’s Association said the custom was rampant in Andhra Pradesh, like in most other states. A survey of 200 women in Hyderabad slums showed that the practice has been prevalent among all castes/communities for over four decades.

“The dowry may be Rs 25,000 but the expenditure incurred will be Rs 1 lakh. We were told of expenditures swinging between Rs 50,000 and Rs 3 lakh,” the survey said.

Among the occasions the book listed for fresh demands were: a) financial problems in the husband’s family; b) if the second son had extracted more dowry; c) various festivals; d) the bride’s complexion. “Here the groom would threaten — your daughter is dark. I will leave her unless I get more money.”

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