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System of Dowry in India

Updated on February 6, 2014

Dowry is the money, valuables, goods, estate or property which the bride party gives to the groom's party in exchange of marriage. Dowry system in India has its own background, initially, dowry was an institute in which gifts and presents were given to the girl at the time of her marriage by her parents. The element of compulsion on the part of bride's parents was absent in it. But over the past two centuries, it has undergone changes in its meaning and has an element of compulsion. Today, dowry means the property demanded by the boy's people according to what they think as the value of the boy, from the bride's people. Accordingly, the bride's people as per the oral agreement, pays dowry either before marriage or at the time of marriage or after marriage is performed. Dowry, thus, has become the right of a groom and his parents.

Dowry variations correspond to social-cultural variations in terms of caste, class, family, religion, region, ethnicity and values. Among the lower casts where bride-price system is prevalent or where patriarchal system of family is weak, dowry has not become a social problem. On the contrary, the practice of dowry has become a status symbol especially for the upper castes, agricultural castes and the dominant castes. There are dowry packages among the upper, agricultural and dominant sections of Indian society.

The rapid social changes in terms of industrialization, urbanization, new avenues of education, new employment opportunities, higher standard of living, sanskritisation and so on have increased the incidence and the dimension and magnitude of dowry. Dowry amounts vary from thousands to crores of rupees. The items to be given and the entire arrangements to be made at the time of marriage are to be carried on in accordance with the wishes of bride-takers, the groom and his parents. Especially, the couple in urban areas demands only those items of dowry which are needed for their newly established household. Thus the dowry variations occur in relation to social structure, social change and changing cultural values.

Causes for the System of Dowry in India

The factors and forces responsible for the practice of dowry in India are: early marriages for girls, limited field of marriage, hypergamy, patriarchy, importance of education a false sense of prestige, materialistic attitude and economic prosperity.

Consequences of the of Dowry System

The consequences or demerits of dowry system include: female infanticide, late marriages for some girls, unsuitable matches for girls, lowering of women's status, breakdown of marriage, unhappy married life, tension between two families, increase in immorality, increase in mental diseases, suicide and impoverishment of middle class families by paying heavy dowries and a large number of dowry deaths.

Dowry deaths

The importance of dowry in India continues despite its having been out lawed in 1961 by the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 which was amended as the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 1986, and also despite considerable protest from women's groups in India. In 1986, three Indian girls in England reportedly killed themselves because of fear that mother would be unable to provide them dowries, of particular concern is the practice of parents demanding increased dowries of their daughter-in-law's family after marriage. such demands are sometimes accompanied with threats to kill the bride or they may lead her to commit suicide.

Every year dowry deaths are increasing. In 1990 there were 4,148 cases of burnt or suicide themselves by their in-laws because their families failed to supply the level of dowry promised at the time of marriage or subsequently demanded. in this context, the highest occurred in Uttar Pradesh (1,516), followed by Maharashtra (858), West Bengal (420) and Madhya Pradesh (397). These four states together account for 76.9% of the total cases in India.

Delhi police recorded 421 cases of bride-burning in 1980, 568 in 1981, 619 in 1982, 42 3 in 1987 and 441 in 1991. In 1986, there were reports of 30 brides being killed shortly after marriage and another 182 beaten, tortured or starved. in Andhra Pradesh, against 14 cases registered in 1983, there were 27 cases in 1984, 160 cases in 1985, and 171 cases in 1991. in Maharashtra, the number of dowry cases increased from 173 in 1985 to 368 in 1987 and 862 in 1991. in Bihar 311 dowry deaths occurred in 1991 as against 229 in 1987 and 113 in 1986.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      When i came to read about dowry then ifind that all theze thing would happen so i got surprise nice surprise. What will happen if these would happen in the next generation is this condition will continue in a situation so our world our india will not develop

    • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

      Emmanuel Kariuki 

      5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      This is very informative about the retrogressive dowry system. In most of Africa, it is the men who pay dowry to the girl's parents. You would think that this is better compared to the Indian situation. Far from it. Many parents of girls are driven by greed and demand too much, thereby impoverishing the new bridegroom. Others are unable to wait for the girls to mature and so trade them off in marriage to pocket the dowry. It seems to me that in both India and Africa, the girl stands to lose regardless of where the dowry is coming from especially when greed is the driving force. A little dowry to cement a the in-laws newfound relationship is a good thing. Shared!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      What an excellent and informative article. I'm thinking that the dowry system has a lot to do with thinking of girls as property and valued for their economic potential rather than their human potential-- very short sighted as an educated woman can be a much better investment over the long term. She will be a better wife, mother and citizen and will also be able to contribute more to the economy than if she is sold into marriage at an early age and sacrificed to the needs of her and the bride-groom's family. I think that dowries were common in the West and in ColonialAmerica, but were done away with in the late 19th century. Better to think of a young woman as a fellow human being than a cash cow.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      I thought the dowry system was something of the past, I'm quite sure that when this system was first used, it was a good way of helping young couples to get a good start to their married life.

      However, like most well meaning ideas, it has become corrupted, more about pride, money and power to the extreme. I cannot believe that parents can actually kill their own children to save face. This goes against nature.

      A well written article on a subject that needs to be brought out into the day light and eradicated.

      Thank you for sharing

    • profile image

      future IPS 

      6 years ago

      aleast in this new year the dowry system vl stop....... lets al join hands v vl try stop it

    • YogaKat profile image


      6 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      Thanks for making me AWARE of this abominable social issue.

    • Ruchi Urvashi profile image

      Ruchi Urvashi 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Good article. I was born in India and went overseas for studies at age of 17. I am female too.

      I think once women are educated,financially independent, love marriages are becoming more common. With love marriages rising in Indians, dowry is automatically getting removed from Indian culture. My in-laws and spouse are very nice to me and I never went through dowry procedure. So, yes, Indians are changing for better.

    • anupma profile image

      Dr Anupma Srivastava 

      7 years ago from India

      Yes Dilip, one of the most critical social problem of India. Really you have focused on every aspects of dowry. It is really very good hub. It is really very tragic, we are living in twenty first century and says it women century and talking about women empowerment, but still burn a girl for the sake of dowry.

      I also want this social problem must be eradicated from our Indian society. Through these type of articles we can spread our voice everywhere. And as we know knowledge is power. So it can be a silent but strong mean to help in eradicating social evils from society.I vote it up and interesting.

    • Nikkij504gurl profile image

      Nikki Wicked 

      7 years ago from Louisiana

      wow that is crazy. Things like this really make me thankful that I was born in America and at this time period. Can you believe that things are even worse for women in Muslim culture, afganistan and such?!! We really have come a long way since those days and its sad that other countries still practice laws such as these. People are not PROPERTY. and marriage shouldn't be bought or forced or arranged. its something done out of love and partnership and being equal with each other. I really hope things change, all these poor young women that have died over this, this could have been prevented.

    • feenix profile image


      7 years ago


      I do not intend to be flippant about this, but as physically beautiful as a great may Indian women are, the prospective grooms should be paying big money to get to married to them.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I wish the situation would change for the better, but the hopes are bleak.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      7 years ago from Germany

      OMG! I have not read about this thing before, only some reports about it in our telly. It is so horrible how the bride maltreated by the in-laws. It is so disgusting that some Indian parents give their daughters to a man and thus giving some dowry to the people who don´t deserve there child. It seems that they are still living in the middle ages. Thanks for sharing this article. Voted Up.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Yes! I looked it up on Wikepedia! Thanks for the new vocabulary word. ;)

    • dilipchandra12 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dilip Chandra 

      7 years ago from India

      Thanks for the comment Robin

      The term sanskritisation refers to a process whereby people of lower castes (Caste is a system in India, where the society was divided into four classes) collectively they to adopt upper caste practices and beliefs, as a preliminary step to acquire higher status.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      I appreciate the overview of how dowries are affecting people today. I can't imagine someone else choosing my husband, although since it is not a custom we practice here in America, it is hard to have an accurate understanding of the effect on young Indian women. I can only imagine that it would be incredibly difficult and disheartening in many situations.

      Thank you for the informative Hub; plus, I learned a new word, sanskritisation. :D

    • dilipchandra12 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dilip Chandra 

      7 years ago from India

      Dowry was an institute in which gifts and presents were given to the girl at the time of her marriage by her parents, but over the past two centuries its meaning itself has undergone changes and it has become an element of compulsion. Today groom's people demanding according to what they think as the value of the boy. It has become the right of a groom and his parents in India now a days. Now it became a custom i fact.

      By studies it was revealed that: A vast majority of the victims are from middle-class; Almost all the victims belonged to the age groups of 20-26 years; Most of the victims are from the households where the mothers-in-law are dominant and husbands uncompromising; Almost all victims suffered different forms of harassment and humiliations before losing their life in their in-laws families and; the offenders in all cases are brutal or authoritarian expressing their maladjustment and abnormality.

      Thanks for the comment Jason.

    • Jason R. Manning profile image

      Jason R. Manning 

      7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      These are the kinds of human events that deserve front and center attention from womens rights groups. Instead, the large so called US born activists groups are busy fighting to smear conservative female politicians. I am ashamed of what it means to be an activist group in America. If it isn't hip or deemed worthy of mainstream, then it gets no attention.

      Why do you believe Dowry marriages are still practiced and what can be done to limit their impact?


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