The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC reads riot act on dowry
- Govt staff asked to disclose 'gifts'

New Delhi, May 3: When laws remain a "mirage", the country's highest court has to step in.

In a renewed effort to "eradicate" dowry, the Supreme Court has ruled that government employees should be made to declare if they had taken dowry and if so whether it had been "made over" to the wife as stated by the Dowry Prohibition Act.

It issued a set of 13 directives to the Centre and states and Union territories, ordering new rules to be framed to ensure that gold and other wedding "gifts" are deposited in the bride's name as "security" in her matrimonial home.

This would be in keeping with the spirit of the law as dowry has been given and taken indirectly in the name of gifts after laws to curb the evil were enacted. Gifts received three months before marriage should also be made over to the woman, the court added.

It also asked the Centre to enact a law to make registering a marriage mandatory along with a list of gifts, irrespective of caste, creed and religion.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justices G.P. Mathur and P.K. Balasubramanyan said the Maintenance of Lists of Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom Rules should be strictly enforced. "Mere assurances (by governments) are not enough as the act will remain a mirage," the bench said in a 12-page judgment delivered yesterday. The ruling was made available today.

The judges justified the order, saying the court has "a duty to step in" when "there is failure on the part of the executive to strictly implement a law like the one in question, enacted to tackle a social problem which has assumed menacing proportions".

Women's groups like the All-India Democratic Women's Association have held the view that the laws are adequate but there is no enforcement. For this reason alone the court's new set of directives runs the risk of meeting the same fate as the anti-dowry law.

Rules are not implemented even within the bureaucracy, as exemplified by the directive to government servants to not employ child labour in their homes. A government official said it has never been checked if the rule is being followed.

The judges were highlighting this flaw when they said "even after 43 years of the (dowry prohibition) act", the Centre and state governments have failed to implement it and pointed out that "cases of dowry harassment are splashed in newspapers almost every day".

"We find that it is necessary to step in and issue the directions," said Justice Balasubramanyan, who wrote the unanimous verdict for the bench. "Those government employees already in employment" should be compelled to divulge the information regarding dowry and gift articles and whether they are deposited in the names of their wives.

"The conscience of the society needs to be fully awakened to the evils of the dowry system so that demand of dowry itself should lead to loss of face in the society for those who demand it," the judges said.

The bench quoted the country's "first Prime Minister", Jawaharlal Nehru, to observe that "legislation cannot by itself normally solve deep-rooted social problems. One has to approach them in other ways, too", and called for awareness campaigns through newspapers, the visual media, lok adalats and radio broadcasts.

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