The country's dowry law looks set to be overhauled. The changes proposed by the women and child development ministry will make accepting dowry a bigger crime than giving it.
It will be mandatory for the bride and groom to maintain a list of all gifts, including 'stridhan' worth Rs. 5,000 or more, and register it with the dowry-prohibition officer. Failure to comply could invite upto a year in jail.
Amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 also include reducing the jail term for those found guilty of giving dowry to one year from five years.The punishment for dowry-takers, however, will continue to be five years in jail.
Registration of gifts would help a woman seek compensation for the gifts given, if the marriage breaks down, the ministry has said.
The definition of dowry is to be expanded to mean "any demand for property or valuable security before, during or after marriage, where the failure to meet such demand would lead to harassment, harm, injury or endanger the woman, or the property or valuable security given or agreed to be given under such threat".
The anti-dowry law is effective seven years from the date of marriage.
At present, dowry is described as property or gifts given either directly or indirectly at, before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage. There is not talk of threat, harassment or injury.
The proposed amendments, recommended by a ministry's expert group, also identify the people who can inherit a woman's property if she dies of unnatural causes within seven years of marriage.
Her children will be the first claimants followed by parents/ siblings and then the state. The husband will be entitled to the property with the children, provided he is not prima facie charged for her death.
The panel, which was set up in May after the earlier proposals were opposed by activists and women groups, submitted its report recently.
"We are going through the report and will move a cabinet note soon," said a ministry official on condition of anonymity.
The demand for changes in the dowry law has grown as has the menace.
Last year, India recorded 8,618 dowry deaths. The fact remains that many such incidents go unreported.