When Neha Pandey’s father asked his to-be son-in-law what he’d like for his wedding present, he wasn’t expecting the 31-year-old to indirectly ask for a two-wheeler that’s worth over a lakh.
“My father told him he couldn’t afford such an expensive vehicle, and I thought the matter ended there. But then, on the wedding day, I saw him give my in-laws Rs 60,000 in cash. He said he wanted to contribute to the amount for the bike, perhaps out of guilt,” says Pandey, who has now been happily married since 2014.
To the layperson, this gift might not seem odd, and will certainly not qualify as ‘dowry’. But matrimonial lawyer Vandana Tiwari insists that not all requests for such gifts are backed by innocent intensions.
Dowry in disguise
Tiwari says that while “according to the constitution, dowry is something you demand”, gifts don’t fall under this category “as long as they are not demanded”. And this exact loophole is what several families in India are taking advantage of now.
“Giving or even taking dowry is an offence under the Dowry Prohibition Act. But a groom can always let his in-laws know what he would like to receive as a present,” says the lawyer. In 2008, a Supreme Court judgment had ruled that if a woman is being harassed for gifts by her in-laws, they can be booked under ordinary laws, but not under the anti-dowry laws. The judgment was widely reported.
Marriage counsellor Kinjal Pandya reveals that dowry, in the traditional form of money, cars, jewellery or property, has become less prevalent in big cities in India. However, families have now devised several other ways of demanding dowry these days.
“I know someone who asked his wife to ask her parents to fund their child’s foreign education, under the pretence of not being able to afford it. In such a situation, his in-laws had no option but to agree as they wanted their grandchild to have the best, and they wanted their daughter to be happy,” says Pandya.
One mustn’t always assume that such incidents only take place in smaller centres in India. It was reported last year that the number of dowry deaths in the country actually increased between 2012 and 2014. Maneka Gandhi, the Union cabinet minister for Women & Child Development, had attested to the fact in the Lok Sabha last year.
To combat this situation, experts suggest drawing the line early on. “The requests can increase once someone finds out that you can afford those expensive demands. So, after the first request is fulfilled, people may follow them up with something bigger,” adds Pandya.
The good news
However, if a new study by an online marriage portal is anything to go by, all this might change soon. Shaadi.com recently conducted a survey to understand gender inequality in India. One of the most interesting findings of the study revealed that 71.2% of the total men polled feel that “dowry is the most prominent case of inequality” in India, and said that they vehemently stood against it. In another survey conducted last year by the same website, almost the same percentage of men — 72.1% — had said that “they would stand up against their parents if they demanded dowry” in any form.
Pandya reveals that the number of such incidents has reached an all-time low in Mumbai. Lawyer Umesh Chary confirms the same. “There are very few dowry-related cases in Mumbai these days. All the cases that I know of are from the interior (two-tier and three-tier cities, and rural areas) regions of the country,” says Chary.
Having said that, experts say that one must never fall for external pressures, when it comes to giving presents during weddings and even other functions that follow.
Karisma Kapoor dowry case
In February this year, it was reported that Karisma Kapoor had filed a dowry harassment case against her estranged husband, Sunjay Kapur, and her mother-in-law, Rani Surinder Kapur. Reportedly, the complaint, which was filed at Khar Police Station, said that Karisma faced mental harassment because of Sanjay and Rani. Karishma and Sanjay had moved a mutual consent divorce petition before the court in 2014. But recently, it was reported that they will go for an out-of-court settlement.