In case the validity of my marriage is in question, and there are demands from your spouse or spouse’s family for dowry, can I still complain to the authorities?

In a scenario where the validity of your marriage is still in question, you can still complain to the authorities if there are demands from your spouse or spouse’s family. A husband not only covers a person legally married to you but also someone who enters a marital relationship by feigning his status as a husband. If this person is cruel or coerces a person in any manner to give dowry, then the wife can complain against him to the authorities.

How is dowry different from gifts given during weddings, from one side to another?

The crucial difference between dowry and a wedding gift is that gifts are given out of one’s own free will, there is no coercion or pressure. The main condition for something to be seen as dowry is that it must be given as a condition for marriage. So any gift that is given, whether it’s property, money, or anything else of value, would be considered as dowry, if it’s given as a condition for marriage. Customary gifts exchanged in accordance with prevailing practice and custom are not considered dowry.

If a case for dowry harassment is made against all the members of the husband’s family, even though demand was made by just one person, then are they all liable?

It depends on who has made the demand for, and is harassing the bride for dowry. If the family members can prove that they were not involved in any kind of harassment and never demanded dowry, they shall not be held liable. Therefore, it depends on who is liable and how. In case the demand was made by one person, say the husband, or the father-in-law, then the other family members will not be prosecuted. However, the burden of proof for showing that demand was not made by the whole family, remains on the family which has been accused.

Can a case of dowry be filed after divorce?

No. Courts have ruled that since the law refers specifically to the husband and his relatives, and once you are divorced that person is no longer your husband, a case of dowry cannot be filed.

Can a complaint of dowry be filed before the marriage?

Yes. The law clearly states that dowry is something that can be given at, before, or any time after the marriage. Therefore, if someone has demanded you to pay dowry before the wedding, it is still a crime, and a complaint can be filed.

Are there any special punishments for death as a result of dowry demands?

There is a specific provision in the Indian Penal Code, S. 304B which deals with Dowry death. This section makes it easier to prove dowry death as against other death-related offences. This is because it shifts the burden of proof on an accused (normally the burden of proof is on the prosecution or the complainant). As long as the prosecutor proves the case, the court will deem that the person has accused committed the offence.

The burden of proof only shifts once the prosecution can show certain things. These are:

  • The death of the woman was caused by burns or injuries which are not like ordinary course burns and injuries.
  • The victim was a married woman and she died within 7 years of her marriage.
  • The victim suffered ‘cruelty or harassment’ because of demands for dowry. So there must be some connection between the death and demands for dowry.

Once all this is shown by the prosecutor, the court will deem that the accused has committed the offence. Now, the accused must prove that she or he did not commit the offence. The burden of proof shifts onto the accused. You can be punished with jail time of up to 7 years or more (including jail for life).