Dowry (yautuka) Yautuka means gifts made at the time of marriage of a girl by her parents, other relations and even by strangers. Thus it is a gift normally voluntarily made by the relations and strangers to a girl at the time of her marriage so that she could use it at her pleasure in her husband's house for her own benefit and welfare. Yautuka is mentioned in the texts of Hindu Law as one of the sources of women's property (stri-dhana) over which a woman has absolute right of disposal without the consent of her husband.

Practice of giving yautuka developed in the Hindu society from time immemorial due to the fact that a female heir could not inherit property from her male relations with the male heirs. But in course of time yautuka turned into and developed first in the Hindu upper and middle class society as a burdensome system of realizing property either in cash or in kind or both by the bridegroom or his relations from the bride's parents and guardians as a consideration of the marriage. During the colonial rule no attempt was made to contain or discourage the growing dowry problem by legislation except passing the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937 by which a Hindu widow is entitled to inherit a share of her deceased husband's property equal to that of a son, and that also in limited life interest and not in absolute right. But after independence from the British colonial rule in India, Hindu Succession Act, 1957 has done away with the traditional Hindu succession system, and now sons and daughters of a deceased Hindu inherit equal share of paternal or maternal property. But in spite of such provision the curse of dowry system has not abated in India. So the Government of India was compelled to enact Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 making demand or acceptance of dowry either before or at the time of or after marriage as consideration of the marriage, as a punishable offence.

The curse of dowry system affected both the Muslim and Hindu society of Bangladesh so much so that it spread from the upper and middle class to the poorest of the poor. So, to contain this social problem in Bangladesh the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980 was enacted which is heavily influenced by the Indian Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.

In Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980, 'Dowry' is defined as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other party to the marriage, or by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person, at the time of marriage or at anytime before or after the marriage as consideration for the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (shariah) applies. The Act excludes any article valued not exceeding taka 500 presented at the time of marriage by any person other than a party to the marriage.

The Act makes giving or taking of dowry punishable by minimum one year's and maximum five year's imprisonment or with fine or with both. The Act provides for same punishment for demanding dowry as provided for giving or taking of dowry.

Where definition of dowry in section 2 of the Indian Act of 1961 excludes presents made at the time of marriage in cash, ornaments, clothes or other articles unless made as consideration of marriage by anyone, but definition of dowry in Bangladesh Act of 1980 excludes presents made by person other than the party to the marriage valued not exceeding five hundred taka. Similarly punishment for giving or taking or demanding dowry is upto six monthly imprisonment or five thousand rupees or both in the Indian Act of 1961 which is much less than the punishment provided in the Bangladesh Act of 1980.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980 having failed to prevent the curse of dowry, demand of which led to oppression to the bride including physical torture and even murder government was compelled to enact the Women and Children Oppression (Special Provisions) Act, 1995 providing for penalty for causing simple or grievous hurt as well as attempt to murder and murder of any woman or child over the demand of dowry. But the same having been found not sufficient to combat the menace, the Prevention of Oppression of Women and Children (Deterrent Punishment) Act, 2000 was enacted repealing the earlier one and the same was further amended in 2003. Section 11 of the said Act provides for death sentence for causing murder, imprisonment for life for attempting to murder, imprisonment from five to twelve years for grievous hurt and imprisonment of one to three years for simple hurt over the demand of dowry.

In spite of taking such stringent measures by the government to combat the menace of dowry system the same could not be contained, rather it is going on spreading eroding the economic fabric of its victims and also subjecting the innocent brides to suffer physical torture, at time leading to grievous hurt and murder over the unsuccessful demand of dowry. [Kazi Ebadul Hoque]