Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Dowry Violence

Dowry is a practice in which the bride’s family is required to give money or gifts to the groom and his family. While the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act criminalized the institution of dowry, it is still widely practiced in India and other parts of South Asia.[1] These monetary demands can be prohibitively expensive for women’s families, and can escalate even after the wedding is over; their prevalence perpetuates the notion that a woman is an economic burden that her husband’s family must take on, and for which the woman’s family must give compensation.

In some cases, dowry-related harassment can escalate to physical violence or even death. However, death or injuries relating to dowry harassment are often disguised by the husband’s family under a variety of pretences; the husband’s family may attempt to conceal a dowry death by attributing it to a kitchen accident. For instance, ‘data for some urban areas of India indicate that one in four deaths of women age 15 to 24 is from “accidental burns,” a medical euphemism for dowry-related’ deaths.[2]

Know the Law

1961 Dowry Prohibition Act

This Act prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry as consideration for the marriage, where ‘dowry’ is defined as ‘any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given’ by ‘one party to a marriage to the other party … in connection with the marriage’. The penalty for demanding dowry is imprisonment of up to six months and a fine, while the penalty for giving or taking dowry is imprisonment of at least five years and a fine. [3]

Indian Penal Code

Section 304B of the IPC specifically addresses dowry-related violence. It defines ‘dowry death’ as a circumstance ‘where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage’; additionally, it must be ‘shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or har­assment by her husband’ or his relatives ‘in connection with any demand for dowry’. The punishment for this offence is imprisonment for a minimum of seven years; sentences up to life imprisonment may be issued.[4]

Section 498A of the IPC pertains to acts of cruelty by the husband or his relatives against his wife. ‘Cruelty’ is defined as any conduct that ‘is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life’, as well as ‘harassment … with a view to coercing her … to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security’, or ‘on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand’. The punishment for such an offence is up to three years of imprisonment and a fine.[5]

Keeping Count

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) keeps track of dowry deaths and dowry harassment under the categories of ‘dowry deaths’ (IPC Section 304B) and ‘cruelty by husbands or relatives’ (IPC Section 498A). It also tracks the number of incidents prosecuted under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act. Note that the category of ‘cruelty by husbands or relatives’ is not limited to dowry harassment, but also includes acts of abuse unrelated to dowry demands. Table 1 shows the number of reported cases under each relevant section of Indian law since 2009. Figures 1-3 graph the data for each law over the same time period. While reports of dowry deaths under IPC Section 304B have remained relatively steady over the past five years, the NCRB data show a clear and consistent increasing trend in the reports of dowry harassment under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act. Reported cases of ‘cruelty by husband or his relatives’ under IPC Section 498A also show a steady increasing trend.

Table 1: Reported Cases of Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives, NCRB[6]

Year  2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Reported cases of cruelty by husband or relatives (IPC Sec. 498A) 89546 94041 99135 106527 118866
Reported cases of dowry death (IPC Sec. 304) 8383 8391 8618 8233 8083
Reported cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 5650 5182 6619 9038 10709

Figure 1[7]


Dowry I

Figure 2[8]

Dowry II    

Figure 3[9]

Dowry III

Note that the data only covers cases that have been reported under each relevant law. The actual incidence of dowry death and harassment is difficult to estimate, as it is suspected that many cases go unreported.

[1] Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia, Avon Center for Women and Justice, 2011, p. 19,, accessed 12th November 2014.

[2] Bunch, C., Carrillo, R. & Shore, R., ‘Violence against women,’ from Women in the third world: An encyclopedia of contemporary issues, ed. Stromquist, N.P., Routledge, NY, 2013 ed., p. 62.

[3] Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Sec. 2-3,, accessed 12th November 2014. Sec. 2 defines ‘dowry’ and Secs. 3 and 4 establish the penalty.

[4] Indian Penal Code, Section 304b. See above note 2. Subsection (1) defines ‘dowry death’, and subsection (2) lists sentencing guidelines.

[5] Indian Penal Code, Section 498A(a-b),, accessed 12th November 2014.

[6] ‘Chapter 5: Crimes against Women’, Crime in India 2013, NCRB, p. 81,, accessed 26th September 2014.

[7] Figure 1 generated using data from Table 1.

[8] Figure 2 generated using data from Table 1.

[9] Figure 3 generated using data from Table 1.


This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014