During its tours of all the States, the Committee was informed of only one case that was pending before the court in Kerala, in which the father had filed the complaint only because of the ill-treatment meted out to his daughter.
During the debate on the Dowry Prohibition Bill, one MP observed, “But I feel the whole problem will be solved—very easily and more quickly, not by legislation, but by rousing social conscience. As soon as our women get economic opportunities and economic freedom, as soon as avenues of employment and other opportunities are opened to them, as soon as they become independent of their families, possibly there would not be any occasion for this law to operate.”
The eradication of this evil by rousing social conscience is seemingly an attractive approach. The Committee’s findings, however, indicate that there is hardly any evidence of social conscience in the country today.
In Indore, at a fairly large meeting, the Committee was told of the case of a girl who was burnt in the legs and in the back by her in-laws as she had not brought an adequate dowry. The acceptance of this situation was indicative of society’s indifference to this social evil.
No one at the meeting mentioned the need to report the case to the police or even of socially boycotting the family. Many such cases were brought to our notice, but nowhere did we hear of any social censure being exercised.
An increase in economic freedom and job opportunities for women, to the extent that the practice of dowry becomes obsolete, under the existing economic conditions, will be a very long process. The educated youth is grossly insensitive to the evil and un-ashamedly contributes to its perpetuation.
In our opinion, therefore, a stringent enforcement of the policy and purpose of Act may serve to educate public opinion better. A very small but significant step could be taken by the government, by declaring the taking or giving of dowry to be against the Government Servants Conduct Rules. Such a lead was given earlier to prevent bigamous marriages and giving or taking of dowry should be similarly dealt with.
The major cause for the failure of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 is that an infringement of the provisions of the Act is not made a cognizable offence. That the offences under the Act should be made cognizable was in fact suggested during the debate in Lok Sabha.
But the offence was not made cognizable, as it was apprehended that this might result in the harassment of citizens by the police and lead also to undue invasion of the individual’s right of privacy.
In our opinion the policy of making the offence non- cognizable completely nullifies the purpose of the Act as it is unrealistic to think that the father of a girl who had paid the dowry (and who alone is in a position to adduce evidence of the fact that dowry was stipulated and given) would prefer a complaint against the interests of his daughter after her marriage.
We recommend, therefore, that the offences, under the Act, should be made cognizable. We are fortified in our conclusion by the recommendation of the Pushpaben Committee. To overcome the fears regarding harassment by the police and encroachment on the right of privacy; it is suggested that the enforcement of social laws like the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Child Marriage
Restraint Act should be entrusted to a separate administration with which social workers and enlightened members of the community should be associated.
In addition, two ancillary provisions should be incorporated in the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. It has been pointed out that one of the ‘major loopholes’ in the existing legislation is that anything is allowed in the name of gifts and presents.
Therefore, any gifts made to the bridegroom or his parents in excess of Rs. 500 or which can be so used as to reduce his own financial liability should be made punishable.
The practice of displaying the dowry by parents of the bride or the bridegroom, as discussed earlier, is prevalent in some parts of India. This naturally tends to perpetuate the practice as others follow suit. To curb this evil we recommend legislation on the lines of the West Pakistan Dowry (Prohibition of Display) Act, 1967 which penalises such display.
We suggest that an evaluation of the impact of the amended Dowry Prohibition Act should be made after five years. It will help in plugging loopholes which facilitate the evasion of this taw.
The next step should be to set a ceiling even on the gifts that may be made to the bride. This will help to improve the situation further because we have found that gifts given to the bride are often only a guise for dowry since generally she has little or no control over them.