Stridhana: To Have and To Have Not
- 1. Introduction: Dowry and Property
- 2. StrIdhana according to the dharmazAstra-s
- 3. Property or strIdhana? The British rule
- 4. Hindu Succession Act of 1956
- 5. Conclusion
Dowry is an ancient element in almost all South Asian cultures but the problem of brides' homicides connected to dowry is a very recent phenomenon. It has been known as an epidemic disease only for the last eighteen-nineteen years, even though already A. S. Altekar in 1938 discussed the term and the custom of dowry.2 In India the terms "dowry death" and "dowry murder" first began to be used in 1977-78. Three years later, Parliament introduced the criminal provision S.304-B which penalizes perpetrators of dowry deaths. The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 introduced S.304-B in the Indian Penal Code which defines dowry deaths.3
Dowry should be regarded in the wider context of the problem of women's property. In fact, dowry has been, for centuries, the only property of Hindu women. Nowadays the term itself has at least two broad meanings: the gift (usually jewellery, household goods, fabrics, and so on) given to the bride before or during her marriage rituals; and the gift (usually in form of huge amount of money and household goods) demanded by the future husband, or more often the husband's family, in order to marry the woman or to keep her after the marriage. If these two kinds of property are intertwined and can hardly be separated -- how is it possible to make a sharp distintion between a free gift given by the bride's family as an anticipated share of inheritance, as a warranty inside the joint-family of her husband, as a fund for a new household unit, and a demand made by one or both spouses? -- the problematic issues around the concept of dowry arise from the latter understanding of the term. In fact, in the case of dowry as a gift demanded by the future husband and/or his family, dowry is compulsory and is considered by the bride-groom or his family as part of the marriage transaction.4
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