Dowry (where the parents of the bride pay the parents of the groom), in India has a minimum sentence of 5 years even for non aggressive and non-coerced dowry. This is in comparison to other violent forms of extortion, which don't have a minimum punishment. Why is that?

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    So, dowry itself is illegal? Without engaging into any shenanigans and demands? I.e. if I give $ for my daughter's wedding (no not just paying for the ceremonies), the groom commits a crime punishable by 5 years in prison if they don't refuse it? Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 21:32

3 Answers 3


Dowry, in India, is a deeply cultural thing. The general gist of dowry is that the bride's family must provide sufficient dowry to the groom's parents. The problem is that it is also associated with a form of domestic violence called bride burning

"The husband's family believes they have not received enough money for their son at the time of the wedding, perhaps because they are of a higher caste or some such reason, and that's when the harassment starts."

Often, says Fernandes, the husband's family begin pressuring the wife's family right after the wedding.

"They start asking for cash, or gold, or consumer goods like washing machines or televisions. Whatever it is they believe is owed to them or was promised to them, luxury goods that they can get the bride's family to pay for."

The woman's mother-in-law is usually the perpetrator. She douses the woman with a flammable liquid and sets her on fire. This crime, as extreme as it sounds, is shockingly common in India

Bride-burning, as this type of crime is most commonly referred to, accounts for the death of at least one woman every hour in India, more than 8000 women a year.

It is a crime that has little prosecution (2015 numbers)

Of the 671 bride burnings she knew of in the area surrounding Bangalore last year, only about 50 cases had been formally registered by police last year. Nationally, convictions are secured in only about 15 per cent of cases that make it to court.

As a result, the punishments for any dowry offenses are likely higher as a deterrent to the underlying problem of bride burning.

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    Yes, but the Q did ask about non-violent dowry crimes. I do think you are on to something however. I wonder if it the intent behind the severity is not a bit like say currency forgery. On the surface, sending someone faking bills to jail for a loong time seems odd for a non-violent crime. But it is a crime that needs strict deterrence because it would cost society a lot if trust in currency was lost. Likewise, maybe the intent behind harsh sentences for non-violent dowry crime is to deter dowry coercion before it escalates to... your answer. Maybe someone more in the know can answer. Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 21:56
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    Gifts that were not demanded are not cosidered dowry, hence it is questionable if such a thing as a "non-coerced dowry" exists
    – Stančikas
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 6:37
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: To use a more American analogy, suppose someone goes into a shop and says "Gee, this is a really nice shop you have here. I hope nothing bad happens to it. By the way, my daughter is getting married, and I wonder if you'd like to donate $500 to help give her a nice wedding?" The first two statements by themselves might be perceived as a threat, but could also be innocent. The third statement, however, would suggest an intention to profit from the perception of a threat.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 19:15
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    Is that a characteristic of the applicable Indian definition of "dowry", @Stančikas? Because the general English definition of "dowry" does not include any form of coercion as a required component. In general (not necessarily in India specifically), a dowry may instead be a flat offer by the bride's family, or may be negotiated between the families. Indeed, it seems quite strange to me that the word would be applied to valuables coerced after the wedding, as opposed to as a condition for the marriage to happen at all. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 15:05
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    Ok, @Stančikas, but my first take on that is that the intended focus should be on "to the bride", not on "gifts". Because indeed, the usual meaning of "dowry" involves valuables conveyed by the bride's family to the groom's family. So it sounds like it's protecting the practice of giving wedding gifts, not defining "dowry" to require coercion. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 15:36

They are the same crime in a sense but of two different kinds - one that is a crime in the eyes of law as well as in the eyes of society; another that is a crime in the eyes of law but not the society.

Someone who commits a crime of first kind has repercussions in the form of punishment prescribed by the law as well as losing societal support forever.

Someone who commits a crime of the second kind doesn't lose societal support. Hence, to compensate (i.e. so that the sum total of negative consequences of commiting the crime stays the same), the punishment prescribed by the law is increased.

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    Can you explain what you refer to by "first kind" and "second kind"?
    – PMF
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 6:26
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    as stated in the first sentence - both are crimes in the eyes of law, but "first kind" in society as well, "second kind" what society accepts even though unlawful. Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 6:34
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    @alamar What makes you think these types of murder have increased due to this law or at all? I don't see that in the question or in this answer.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 10:37
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    @alamar apart from Eric Nolan's comment, yours sounds a lot like "if we decriminalize rape, women will suffer less crimes" or even "if we tell women that they must have sex with whoever asks them to, there will be less rape."
    – SJuan76
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 10:48
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    @alamar dowry was much worse than just a "transactional arrangement". It had effects as far reaching as female homicide (i.e. families used to kill their girl child as a foetus or infant because they didn't want to pay dowry for her marriage).
    – whoisit
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 10:24

There are always two punishments for an action that is seen as a crime:

  • The first comes from the law court and is served in the jail.
  • The second comes from the society, commonly through the loss of the social status but depending on the times one can also get hand severed.

These two systems are often approximately aligned, but there may be behavior that is unacceptable by one and tolerable, even honorable in extreme cases, by another. Some historical rudiments may still have traces in the society and be just horrible. We can hardly trace why they existed starting from, may have something to do with the life being much harder at that time.

From Wikipedia and other answers looks like the dowry related killings have low reporting, disclosure and conviction percentages. In general it is unclear what the groom, father of the bride and brothers of the bride are doing, why do not they come at least for revenge. This may indicate that the society for some reasons is somewhat more tolerant.

When the systems are not aligned, the side that sees the behavior as unacceptable, and seeks to exterminate it, may put much harsher punishment, to compensate the lack of support from another side. Both government and society can do this.

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    For a Western example of this, killing someone in a duel frequently carried a higher penalty than simple murder.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 0:13

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