The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976 lies on the back burner, gathering dust, forgotten and ignored. It rightly deserves to be forgotten and ignored.
Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Every society needs laws. Laws regulate the lives between people and people, between people and society and between people and the government. The objective of any legal system will be providing answers to everyday problems that arise. In the absence of laws, anarchy and chaos will reign supreme.
Laws to be effective, must work well on two levels. First, they must be clear, lucidly comprehensive, addressing issues intelligently. Second, they must be implemented in spirit. Some of the best laws fail because the implementation is lacking.
Laws need to be revisited with time. Societies change, circumstances change and the needs of people change along with. Laws need to fulfill the need of the society. If they do not-it’s not worth the piece of paper written on.
Giving of bride’s dowry is a common practice in many parts of the world, especially in South Asia, in countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. An unusual exception to the dowry custom in South Asia is found in Bhutan. The dowry system does not exist in Bhutan; inheritance is matrilineal, and daughters do not take their father’s name at birth or their husband’s name upon marriage. Rural land may be registered in a woman’s name.
The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976 is one such Act that desperately await the attention of lawmakers in Pakistan. It restricts the amount spent on dowry not to exceed rupees five thousand. The amount of cash and gifts given to the bridegroom likewise cannot exceed the same amount. The value of present to bride and bridegroom from guests may not exceed rupees one hundred. Government officials ie the President, the Prime Minister, Federal Minister, Chief Minister of State, Adviser, Governor, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, the Chairman or the Deputy Chairman of the Senate, Parliamentary Secretary, Member of the Senate, National Assembly or Provincial Assembly, Government servant or an official serving in any corporation, industry or establishment owned, controlled or managed by Government shall not receive any present in connection with his marriage or the marriage of his son or daughter except from his relations. Understandably, in order to ensure no ‘bribes’ or ‘expensive favors’ are given in form of ‘gifts.’
The Act further states that the total expenditure on all the wedding functions must not exceed rupees two thousand five hundred. The list of the dowry must be furnished with the Registrar. The violator may suffer an imprisonment up to six months or a fine of rupees ten thousand or both. The dowry, presents in excess of the amount allowed under the Act will be forfeited by the Federal Government.
The law lies on the back burner, gathering dust, forgotten and ignored. It rightly deserves to be forgotten and ignored. The law does not take the rising inflation into consideration; it does not take different income level strata into consideration thereby making allowance for different income group classes to spend different amounts as per their affordability. Interestingly, there is no provision in the law prohibiting the bridegroom’s family demanding a dowry.
If we look at The Dowry Prohibition Act of India 1961, anyone demanding dowry, may be imprisoned up till five years and fined up till fifteen thousand rupees or both. However, this law fails in most part as it is not implemented .Rahul Bedi states 8391 dowry death cases were reported across India, meaning a bride was burned every 90 minutes, according to statistics recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2010. (Published: Telegraph U.K Feb. 27, 2012)
The dire need of the day is for the lawmakers to revisit The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976.It needs a close scrutiny.
If any law fails to protect the rights of citizens and lays out clauses that are clearly out of touch with reality, they will fail at the implementation level. In our society demand for dowry is not an uncommon phenomenon. This needs to be stopped. In many cases, the parents and the family of the bride-to-be may just not be able to fulfill the demands made. Law governing against making demands need to be made part of the Act. In other cases, there is an excess of money spent on wedding function(s), gifts to families and the dowry given.
Those who are affluent must observe reasonable limitations not only in giving of a dowry but also of wedding presents so to avoid vulgar ostentatiousness. However, the amounts suggested in the Act are neither practical nor reasonable and certainly not in line with the inflation today. Instead of stating amounts to be spent, a formula based on a certain percentage of income of the head of the family calculated over a certain period of time may be a more practical option.
For those in tax paying bracket; spending can be determined in proportion to tax paid by the parent(s) and/or the marrying couples themselves. Not only the dowry list but also authentic verified receipts with latest tax challan should be submitted not to the Registrar but the local Union Council within ten days of the wedding date. If bride and bridegroom are living in different areas with different Union Councils, it will make practical sense to submit both at one of the two Union Council Offices. However, receipt by Union Council upon submission of list, must be presented for record of the Union Council where the other party resides.
Lawmakers in Pakistan need to scrutinize, evaluate, take a hard look at ground realities before forming a law. Legislation is the task of parliamentarians. Running of ministries is best left to relevant technocrats. Let not, words of Walter Bagehot ring true, “A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan.’She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter: @yasmeen_9.