By Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: Implementation of an otherwise commendable proposed law, tabled in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly by a Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker, forbidding dowry, will be a big challenge for the provincial government.
Recommending a new piece of legislation and its approval by the parliament are admirable but its strict applicability always leaves much to be desired. Pakistan has a surfeit of laws but their implementation raises serious questions.
Even in the instant case, The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (restriction) Act, 1976 exists on the statute book but it has never been heard that it was ever enforced and its violators punished. This law extends to whole of Pakistan while the KP law, when passed, will be applicable only in the province.
Moved by Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker Rashida Riffat, the bill provides for a complete ban on giving and taking of dowry; gifts given to the couple should not cost more than Rs10,000; the “valima” ceremony cost should not be more than Rs75,000; only beverages be served at “nikah” and “baraat” ceremonies; legal action against anyone involved in pressuring the bride’s family into giving dowry be taken; and three-month jail term and Rs200,000 fine for anyone involved in giving or taking dowry be imposed.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which leads the KP coalition, has announced to support this bill and plans to get it unanimously passed from the provincial assembly.
The curse of dowry has destroyed many families of girls because of never ending demands by mothers and fathers of boys. Hefty amounts of cash, houses and cars are also demanded apart from other expensive items. The federal and provincial governments have always been a silent spectator to this despicable exploitation. There are no signs of any decline in this practice and rather it is increasing day by day without any check or balance from the government.
More appalling is the greed of even educated families, which also demand heavy dowry. The curse has led to repulsive show of ostentation and extravagant spending by the filthy rich, leaving poor and middle class families, which demonstrate desperation to follow them, in a lurch.
The 1976 act says whoever contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of this law or the rules made thereunder, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to Rs10,000, or with both, and the dowry, bridal gifts or presents given or accepted in contravention of the provisions of this act shall be forfeited to the federal government to be utilized for the marriage of poor girls in such a way as may be prescribed by rules made under this law.
If both the parents of a party to the marriage contravene or fail to comply with any provision or the rules, action shall be taken only against the father. If such parent is a female, she shall be punishable with fine only.
A punishable offence will be tried only by a family court. No family court shall take cognizance of an offence except upon a complaint in writing made by, or under the authority of, the Deputy Commissioner within nine months from the date of “nikah”, and if “rukhsati” takes place sometime after nikah, from the date of such rukhsati.
India’s Prohibition of Dowry Act 1961 provides severe punishment compared to Pakistan’s law. It says if any person gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than Rs15,000 or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more.
However, the law is lenient in another sense. It says it shall not apply to or in relation to presents which are given at the time of a marriage to the bride (without any demand having been made in that behalf). Such presents have to be entered in a list maintained in accordance with rules made under this law. Where such presents are made by or on behalf of the bride or any person related to the bride, they are of a customary nature and the value thereof is not excessive having regard to the financial status of the person by whom, or on whose behalf, they are given.