SC order right to deter dowry killings

The Supreme Court ruling denying men the right to inherit their dead wife’s property or stridhan in the event of her dying within seven years of marriage and under suspicious circumstances, is an important step to deter dowry killings. The apex court has said that in such situations, the woman’s children would inherit her property. If she died issueless, the property would be handed over to her parents. The ruling is aimed at denying the husband any financial incentive to killing his wife. Access to money, property, jewellery and other assets drives families to demand dowry at the time of the wedding. Often, the demands do not cease with the wedding but escalate through several years of the marriage, pushing many desperate women to take their lives. In several cases, the husband and his family murder her and seek to pass it off as an accidental death or a suicide. While elimination of the wife is partly to clear the way for the husband to re-marry and get  more dowry again, taking full control over the deceased wife’s inheritance or what she received as stridhan or dowry is an important motivation. It is to deny such husbands with access to the wife’s property that the apex court’s recent ruling is aimed.

The struggle to eliminate the problem of dowry and the myriad evils it has spaw-ned has not been easy. In 1961, the government enacted the first all-India law prohibiting the
giving and taking of dowry. Subsequently, provisions were added to the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code to punish dowry crimes and violence. The Domestic Violence Act was passed in 2005 to provide women with an additional layer of protection from dowry harassment and violence. However, dowry harassment and killings continue unabated; between 2012 and 2014, 24,771 dowry death cases were reported. These figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg as most dowry killings are not registered.

The ruling is a step in the right direction as it seeks to remove an important motivation for dowry killings. But its usefulness in practice remains to be seen. The giving and taking of dowry being illegal, how many families will come forward with lists of the dowry articles that were given to the woman? Would they have proof to lay claim to the dowry articles? While steps to halt dowry related violence are welcome, the government must focus more on eliminating the practice of dowry itself. Laws are in place. It is time to implement them.
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