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How prosperity fuels dowry demand in India


Syllabus: Indian Society/ Social Justice/Ethics


Source: BBC

 Context: A recent study has revealed that as prosperity and opportunities for men in India have improved, the demand for dowry has increased.

  • The researchers examined more than 74,000 marriages in India between 1930 and 1999 to examine the evolution of dowry over time.


Key findings of the study about Dowry in India:

  • Economic growth perpetuates and boosts the practice of dowry payments in India
  • As men gain better education and higher-quality jobs, dowry amounts increase.
  • Dowry payments decrease as more women receive education in an area.
  • Promoting women’s education and increasing their participation in the workforce can potentially help reduce the prevalence of dowry.
  • Families refusing to pay dowry may end up with lower-quality grooms for their daughters, creating a strong economic incentive for grooms to accept dowry.
  • No correlation with caste-based factors: The practice of dowry began around the same time for both high and low-caste groups, indicating that caste-based factors do not solely explain its rise.


Status of Marriages in India:

  • Most Indian marriages are still arranged, and nearly all women marry by their late twenties.
  • Some 90% of the marriages studied until 1999 involved dowry
  • Nearly all marriages in India are monogamous
  • Less than 1% end in divorce
  • Parents play an important role in choosing the bride/groom
  • Over 90% of couples live with the husband’s family after marriage
  • More than 85% of women marry someone from outside their own village
  • Over 78% of marriages are within the same district

(Source: India Human Development Survey, 2005; National Family Health Survey 2006; REDS, 1999)


What is the Dowry system in India? 

The dowry system in India refers to the bride’s family giving to the bridegroom, his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage.


Causes of the prevalence of the dowry system in India:

Patriarchal SocietyWomen are considered as economic burdens and need to be financially supported.
Economic FactorsDowry is seen as a way to provide financial security to the bride after marriage.
Social Pressure and StatusExpectations from the bride’s family to display their social and economic status.
Gender InequalityUnequal distribution of property and inheritance rights favouring male heirs.
Cultural and Traditional BeliefsDeep-rooted customs and traditions have perpetuated the practice of dowry.
Fear of Social StigmaConcerns about societal judgment and reputation if dowry is not provided.
Lack of Legal EnforcementInadequate implementation and enforcement of laws against dowry.
Lack of Education and AwarenessLimited awareness about gender equality and the negative impacts of dowry.
Desire for Material GainGreed for wealth and material possessions led to demands for dowry.
Peer and Family PressurePressure from extended family, relatives, and societal expectations.


Consequences of the prevalence of the dowry system in India:

  • Financial Burden on the Bride’s Family
  • Abuse: Women are subjected to physical, emotional, and mental abuse if dowry demands are not met.
  • Norms: Reinforcement of patriarchal norms, treating women as inferior and perpetuating gender-based discrimination.
  • Breakdown of Marriages: Dowry-related disputes and conflicts often lead to marital discord, separation, and even divorce.
  • Deaths: Cases of dowry deaths, suicides, and bride burning due to dowry disputes and harassment.
  • Financial dependence: Women’s lack of financial independence and control over their own resources, leads to dependency on their husbands.
  • Inequality: Preference for investing in dowry over girls’ education, limiting their opportunities for personal and professional growth.
  • Reinforcement of Harmful Stereotypes: Dowry perpetuates the notion that women are commodities to be bought, reinforcing harmful stereotypes in society.


Provisions to combat the prevalence of the dowry system in India:

Legal provisions: Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Prohibits the giving or taking of dowry); Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (Criminalizes cruelty against married women); Mandatory requirement to report dowry-related offences to the police or concerned authorities.
Institutional provisionsFamily Welfare Committees (Constitution of committees at district levels to review dowry complaints and provide assistance); Women Helpline Numbers; Sensitization of Law Enforcement Agencies
SC observationsIn Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan (1997): SC requested the Law Commission of India to take a “fresh look” to bring “more teeth” to the law against dowry. Recently, the Supreme Court has held that Dowry’s death can be presumed if the wife was harassed, mentally and physically close before her death in the marital home.
Government schemesBeti Bachao, Beti Padhao; Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana; Ujjawala Scheme; One Stop Centres (Sakhi); and National Service Scheme (NSS) Special Camping Programmes
NGOs/ CSOs initiative·        Shakti Vahini is a non-governmental organization working towards the prevention of dowry-related violence and trafficking of women.

·        Breakthrough is an organization that focuses on promoting gender equality and challenging social norms, including the dowry system.

·        Maitri is an NGO that works to empower women and prevent violence against them, including dowry-related issues.

·        Women’s Legal Initiative (WLI) is an NGO that focuses on legal empowerment and access to justice for women.


Ethical aspects of dowry in India:

  • Violation of human rights, gender inequality, and commodification of women.
  • Dowry is considered unethical as it treats women as commodities, subjecting them to financial transactions and devaluing their worth.
  • Dowry perpetuates gender discrimination, where women are seen as burdens and objects of transaction.
  • Dowry infringes upon the principles of equality, dignity, and autonomy.
  • The practice goes against the fundamental values of respect, fairness, and justic
  • Ethically, dowry is condemned as it promotes inequality, perpetuates harmful stereotypes, and undermines the inherent rights and dignity of women.



Educating daughters is a valuable gift that empowers them. Society needs to be aware of the seriousness of crimes related to dowry. Local communities should be engaged through women’s rights education programs. Misuse of dowry provisions should be addressed through laws and safeguards.


Mains Links:

  1. Although dowry was made illegal decades ago, harassment and deaths over dowry cut across class, financial, educational and religious barriers. Analyse the causative factors and suggest reforms to end this menace. (250 Words)
  2. Why is dowry so deeply entrenched in our society? Analyse ethically. (250 Words)