The loss of inheritance
Should we not think more before we usher in new clauses to the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, which will most likely be impossible to implement? According to a news report (IE, 19 January 2010), the government is planning to extend the provisions of the act by making "it mandatory for couples to notify the gifts exchanged during the wedding ceremony before the dowry prohibition officer". The rule is expected to come up before the Cabinet this month.
As usual, one cannot fault the intention to give the anti-dowry law some teeth. And the desire to extend its coverage is a clear admission that dowry remains a robust and flourishing custom. The new rules seek to address a loophole in the law which allows parents to give 'gifts' to daughters. However, good intentions do not necessarily make good policy. The new proposals are ridiculous and invasive, and attempt to govern people's lives even more without providing concomitant benefits. These rules merely spell further opportunity for graft.
The report states that "the list of gifts worth Rs. 5000 has to be notarised in the form of a sworn affidavit to be signed by a protection officer or a dowry prohibition officer and kept by both parties". There are several problems with this. First, it would serve no purpose to notarise a list of gifts worth Rs. 5000 or even a larger sum when everyone knows that dowry amounts and gifts can easily run into lakhs. Even housemaids and rural labourers pay higher dowries. And it is a laughable sum for those giving and receiving Honda City cars or refrigerators or sets of jewellery worth many times more than Rs.5000. And some delicious ambiguity in the law — do gifts above Rs. 5000 go scot-free? Or is it that gifts above Rs. 5000 have to be reported? Also, who will police whether everything has been listed or not?