By Vaibhav Dixit, RMLNLU, Lucknow
Editor’s Note: The paper is on the topic of Streedhan. Streedhan is the property that a woman obtains at the time of her marriage, it differs from Dowry in the way that it is the voluntary gifts given to a woman before or after her marriage and has no element of coercion. The Courts have also made this distinction clear. Women have an absolute right over their Streedhan. The case of Pratibha Rani v. Suraj Kumar Case is also discussed.
One of the most widespread social evil that has plagued our modern society is the ‘dowry system’. This evil has already taken the lives of many girls while many continue to suffer because of it like slow poison throughout their lives. Even though we have to a great extent succeeded in creating awareness, the country in which we live has wide ethnic, linguistic, cultural diversities. As such in our society people may not pay heed to the calls of any particular organization when it comes to the eradication of social evils. It is, therefore, important that the task to remove these evils is carried forward at the individual level in a big way.
However, there is one more aspect which we need to understand and that involves the right to avail ‘Streedhan’. We should be careful that even if dowry is denied, the bride does not lose her right to ‘Streedhan’ and in places where she has received the ‘Streedhan, her husband does not absorb it as his own money. There is a basic difference between ‘Streedhan’ and ‘dowry’ It is pertinent to mention here that under the pretext of a dowry-less marriage, patriarchal parents often deprive their girl children of equal rights to the property.
The parents should give the daughter’s share of property in her name voluntarily to ensure financial security for an independent life, once she leaves her parental home for good. In many well-off families, dowry has become a tool to deprive daughters of their rightful share with a car, some gold, and some furniture while the lion’s share including land, houses, and bank balances etc. are kept exclusively for the benefit of sons.
CONSTITUENTS OF STREEDHAN
The word ‘’Streedhan’ has been derived from the words ‘Stri’ meaning a woman and the word ‘dhana’ means property. Therefore on combining these two words, we get ‘property of woman’ her ‘Streedhan’. This is a concept, which came down all the centuries from the Hindu Smritis but has today, engulfed all forms of marriages in all visible castes and regions.
According to the age-old Smritis and all old schools of Hindu law such as Dayabhaga, Mitakshara etc. the following was Streedhan in the hands of a woman whether she is a maiden, married woman or widow.
- Gifts made to a woman before the nuptial fire.
- Gifts made to a woman at the bridal procession
- Gifts made in token of love by father-in-law, mother-in-law
- Gifts made by father, mother and brother
This cannot be said to be a complete list so gifts made after marriage by a woman’s husband’s relations or parent’s relations and gifts from sons and relations got added to the list as so did many more as can be seen here. The question as to if a particular kind of property acquired by a woman was Streedhan or not also depended upon the source from which the property was acquired, the marital status of the woman at the time of acquisition whether she acquired it during her maidenhood, subsistence of marriage or widowhood. Gifts and bequests from a woman’s relations during maidenhood, subsistence of marriage or widowhood is all to be construed as her Streedhan.
Gifts and bequests from strangers during maidenhood, subsistence of marriage or widowhood is also Streedhan. In effecting Partition if as an absolute gift or interest in a share is given to a woman whether during her maidenhood, marriage or widowhood the same amounts to her Streedhan. Property inherited by a woman becomes her Streedhan or property acquired by a woman by mechanical arts or by her own exertions during maidenhood, subsistence of marriage and during widowhood is Streedhan.
Property obtained by a woman by compromise or family arrangement where there is no presumption of her taking only a life interest becomes her Streedhan. Property obtained by a woman by adverse possession during maidenhood, subsistence of marriage and during widowhood is Streedhan. Property purchased with Streedhan is a woman’s Streedhan. Gifts made to the husband during and after marriage are not Streedhan. In case of a dispute over who were the gifts made to, more often than not woman is given a priority over the husband.
For a married woman Streedhan falls under two heads:
- The saudayika(gifts of love and affection) – gifts received by a woman from relations on both sides (parents and in-laws).
- The non-saudayika– all other types of Streedhan such as gifts from stranger, property acquired by self-exertion or the mechanical arts.
DOWRY VERSUS STREEDHAN
In a country like India, where stringent laws have even failed to completely uproot the menace of dowry from society, ‘Streedhan’ becomes a necessity of every woman. It is the right of women to claim their wealth any time and use it in whichever way. Streedhan, as the name suggests, is the wealth and other belongings of the woman which she has brought from her parents’ house before, during or after marriage.
However, it is a common misbelieve prevailing in the society regarding this age-old ritual where parents offer their daughter her share during the marriage. Streedhan is very often misinterpreted as dowry even when the law of the land has an entirely different definition for it. The domestic law perceives dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed by the bride’s side to the family of the bridegroom before, during or after marriage, by exploiting or threatening the girl or her family while Streedhan is a voluntary gift given by members of the bridal side to the bride as a stepping stone to establishing her own property. There are strict Streedhan laws and the grooms’ side may face stringent action under Section 405 & 406 of the Indian Penal Code if they deny returning wealth when claimed.
The Judiciary has tried to make references of two distinguished case-laws, in order to put light on the Streedhan laws and laws against Dowry in the country.
- Bhai Sher Jang Singh vs Smt. Virinder Kaur, while hearing the case, Punjab & Haryana High Court had ruled that the groom’s side is bound to return back all the items including property, ornaments, money and other belongings offered by the bride’s side at the time of marriage if claimed. In the case of denial, the groom’s family is tending to get strict punishment.
The court found that Bhai Sher Jang Singh and his family have committed an offense under Section 406 of IPC by committing criminal breach of trust of the ornaments and other articles owned by Virinder Kaur which were her Streedhan and were entrusted to her husband for safe custody and which he has dishonestly misappropriated.
- Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar
While hearing the case, the Supreme Court observed that the complainant (Pratibha Rani) had suffered by their in-laws when she was harassed and denied her Streedhan by his husband’s family. The Apex Court observed that the case portrays the plight of an estranged married woman. She even suffered large during the legal process, the court observed.
Pratibha Rani was married to Suraj Kumar on February 4, 1972. Rani’s family had given Rs 60,000, gold ornaments, and other valuable items to Kumar’s family on their demand. But soon after Rani entered her marital home she was started being tortured by her in-laws for dowry. She was forcefully kicked out of her in-law’s house with her two minor children and was denied money and other essentials for survival.
She had lodged two complaints against her husband and in-laws under section125 Criminal Penal Code and breach of trust. The lower court gave judgment in her favor but she got a seatback from Punjab & Haryana High Court which was later on given in her favor by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
LEGAL STATUS OF STREEDHAN
- Application u/s. 405 of IPC
The S. 405 of IPC reads as follows:
“Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged, or of any legal contract, express or implied, which he has made touching the discharge of such trust, or willfully suffers any other person so to do, commits ‘criminal breach of trust.
The offence under Section 405 can be said to have committed only when all of its essential ingredients are found to have been satisfied. As in the case of criminal misappropriation, even a temporary misappropriation could be sufficient to warrant a conviction under this section. Even if the accused intended to restore the property in the future, at the time misappropriation, it is a criminal breach of trust.
In Rashmi Kumar vs. Mahesh Kumar Bhada the Supreme Court held that when the wife entrusts her Streedhan property with the dominion over that property to her husband or any other member of the family and the husband or such other member of the family dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or willfully suffers and other person to do so, he commits criminal breach of trust.
- Application under allied laws
A woman’s right to her Streedhan is protected under law. S. 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 R/w S. 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 make a female Hindu an absolute owner of such property. In the case of Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India explained the concept of ‘Streedhan’ and its legal position under the Indian Laws. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that:
“a Hindu married woman is the absolute owner of her Streedhan property and can deal with it in any manner she likes and, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws they would be deemed to be trustees and bound to return the same if and when demanded by her”.
It is, therefore, manifest that the position of Streedhan of a Hindu married woman’s property during covertures is absolutely clear and unambiguous; she is the absolute owner of such property and can deal with it in any manner she likes-she may spend the whole of it or give it away at her own pleasure by gift or will without any reference to her husband.
Ordinarily, the husband has no right or interest in it with the sole exception that in times of extreme distress, as in famine, illness or the like, the husband can utilize it but he is morally bound to restore it or its value when he is able to do so. This right is purely personal to the husband and the property so received by him in marriage cannot be proceeded against even in execution of a decree for debt, such being the nature and character of Streedhan of a woman. If her husband or any other member of his family who is in possession of such property, dishonestly misappropriates or refuse to return the same, they may be liable to punishment for the offence of criminal breach of trust under S. 405 & 406 IPC.
S. 12 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides for women right to her Streedhan in cases where she is a victim of domestic violence. The provisions of this law can be easily invoked for the recovery of Streedhan. Under the residence orders: Prov. (8) the magistrate may direct the respondent to return to the possession of the aggrieved person her Streedhan or any other property or valuable security to which she is entitled.
Again u/s 18(ii) of the Domestic Violence Act the law says that a woman is entitled to receive the possession of the Streedhan, jewelry, clothes, and other necessary items. The term ‘economic abuse’ has also been provided under the Act. It includes deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the woman is entitled under al the existing customary laws whether payable at the concern of the court or in any other manner. These resources are however not limited to the household necessities of the aggrieved person.
- Application u/s. 498A of IPC invalid
For recovering the Streedhan, if a woman invokes S.498-A, it would be deemed as miss-use of that section until the ingredients laid down in that provision are not satisfied. This is the reason why Courts are continuously warning the estranged wife not to invoke S.498- A. Section 498-A is a sacrosanct provision to protect the wife to lead a normal life in the matrimonial home in the new and often foreign and sometimes hostile atmosphere.
If wife’s ‘Streedhan’ is usurped by the in-laws, then section 406 I.P.C can be used easily. S.498-A is meant to protect the wives from physical and mental harassment for any reason including the reason of dowry demand. It does not say, that refusal of returning Streedhan by the husband or his relatives give scope to a wife to invoke S.498-A. Even civil lawsuit for recovery of Streedhan can also be used by the wife to recover Streedhan.
If invoking Section 406 is utilized to recover Streedhan and further it is used only to protect the wives, who are facing physical and/or mental harassment, then genuine victims will get protection. It should be noted that for recovery of Streedhan there are other provisions in the law, which are equally effective and may not spoil the relationship of husband and wife beyond repair.
RIGHTS OF A WOMAN OVER HER STREEDHAN
The bride has got an absolute, exclusive dominion over all her Streedhan, received during the marriage. This includes both movable and immovable property, while she has the power to sell, alienate or give it away as she pleases both during her lifetime and thereafter. Her husband and in-law’s family members have no rights over a woman’s Streedhan. We need to understand that the marriage expenses and dowry are not Streedhan as held in Ashok Laxman Kale vs Ujwala Ashok Kale.
It is usually practical and preferable that any girl especially educated girls of today maintain a list of their Streedhan has also become capable of looking after their own Streedhan in terms of its security such as opening a bank locker in their single names for the purposes of storing jewelry and instruments of money, property etc. or keeping it under their lock and key.
Some of the precautionary steps in keeping the check on the Streedhan could involve:
- The woman should make a list of all the gifts and properties received before, during and after marriage from her family, husband’s family, friends, and other acquaintances.
- The woman should keep evidence for all the gifts received such as wedding pictures. Also, ensure that the gifts and their bills are in her name and preserve these bills.
- The woman should have witnesses – statements of witnesses will be important evidence – for gifts of movables (including jewelry) at the time of marriage.
- The woman should maintain a separate account in her name for her salary.
- The woman should get involved in the family financial decision-making and keep a record of bank accounts and the investments made out of her Streedhan.
- The woman should ensure that the title to the property given to her and those bought from her Streedhan are clear and that the investments made from these assets are in her name.
- The woman should open a bank locker in her name for storing jewelry and instruments of money, property and so on.
- It is advisable for the woman’s parents to gift her income-generating property, rather than expensive consumer items. It becomes often difficult to give full detail accounts for the consumer items.
STREEDHAN AND TAXATION LAWS
Streedhan that has been given by a woman’s close relatives, to a certain amount, at the time of marriage, are not attracted by Wealth Tax. The ‘Streedhan’ must be without any consideration in return thereof. It should be written and signed by both parties meaning thereby that the person giving it and the person receiving it in the presence of witnesses. However, Streedhan (gift) from persons other than relatives are liable for income tax at the hand of the bride and bridegroom.
The High Court of New Delhi in a very important case of Ashoke Chadha v. IOT, has held that ‘Streedhan’ in the form of jewelry given over a span of 25 years cannot be said to be an unexplained investment u/s. 69A of Income Tax Act, 1961. It is a very normal feature in India, for women to receive jewelry in form of gifts on various occasions during childbirth and marriage and as such a large amount of jewelry cannot be held to be abnormal. 
PRATIBHA RANI V. SURAJ KUMAR CASE: A SOCIOLOGICAL IMPLICATION
There was the complainant Mrs. Pratibha Rani who filed a case against her husband and her in-laws in the Court of CJM of Ludhiana. She had been married according to all Hindu customs and that during the time of her marriage her husband’s family had demanded dowry from her parents as consideration for the marriage. This demanded was accepted and a dowry worth Rs. 60,000/- was given in the form of jewelry.
However, even after this, the accused would mistreat the complainant and eventually deserted her. Later on when complainant demanded the articles given, as a part of her ‘Streedhan’ the accused refused to return it to her by declaring it to be her dowry. The lower court and also the Punjab & Haryana High Court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the case did not attract the s.405 of IPC as the handling over the articles to the husband did not amount to entrustment under the law.
This reasoning was given by the High Court by referring to the case of Vinod Kumar Sethi v. State of Punjab.
The position of ‘Streedhan’ among the Hindus was questioned while the other issues that were dealt with in the case related to the rights of a husband over the ‘Streedhan’.
There was also another question that was discussed in this case. It was regarding the legal partnership being created between husband and wife due to the joint holding of the ‘Streedhan’ property.
As such whether the refusal to return the ‘Streedhan’ property by a husband on demand from his wife would amount to Criminal Breach of Trust u/s. 405?
- Held The Accused husband in the instant case may be summoned and put on trial in accordance with the Criminal law as under s.405 of IPC.
It was held by the majority that the position of Streedhan among the Hindus is very clear and unambiguous. In cases of ‘Streedhan’, the woman is to be treated as the absolute owner of her property. This property is for her use and satisfaction and further, it was also added that such a property can be gifted or willed away without the consent of the husband.
The Apex Court further explained that mere joint holding by a husband of the ‘Streedhan’ property did not constitute any legal partnership or co-ownership between the husband and his wife. The court opined that a wife can file a civil suit under the S. 14 of Hindu Succession Act and under S. 27 of the Hindu Marriage Act if the husband declines to return the ‘Streedhan’ property of his wife.
As such the second issue was also answered that the husband has virtually no right over the property. The utmost use he can make of property is only in time of great distress or calamity in family involving someone’s health. Again this so-called concession given to the husband over the property of her wife is his personal and therefore no one else in the family of the husband can make use of the property.
It has also been established by the courts that the ‘Streedhan’ property of a woman will not be used to pay off debts taken by the husband and that this property cannot be proceeded against in an execution of a husband.
As such keeping in view, the above-mentioned reasoning the Supreme Court opined that the refusal to return ‘Streedhan’ property would amount to the criminal breach of trust. The court had accepted that civil law provides a remedy but the criminal law gives a co-extensive remedy to the aggrieved party. According to the majority judgment, a pure and simple entrustment of the ‘Streedhan’ to the husband without creating any right in the husband excepting the safekeeping of the items of “Streedhan’ does not give him the right to use it to the detriment of the wife.
This minority judgment was given by the J. Vardarajan. He was of the opinion that under the present scheme of laws there is no separate agreement and also there is an absence of the concept of specific entrustment. Therefore it becomes difficult to draw a clear demarcation whether the property has been given to the husband for simple entrustment of custody or it is for dominion. As such it would be unwise to attract the stringent penal provision when at the same time there are sufficient civil provisions to deal with such cases.
Also, he opined that if a case of such nature is filed under a civil forum, there is still a scope left for settlement between the parties. However, the application of such strict criminal provision would even end that scope and would the smallest unit of society, the relationship of Husband-Wife, would be destroyed.
- Critical Appraisal
At present, the Pratibha Rani case is the only landmark judgment in regard to ‘Streedhan’ laws that describe the applicability of s. 405 of IPC, in very detail and composure. As such it would be quite possible that various women related social organizations must be very pleased with this kind of case-law as now they can keep the villainous husbands at bay and our socially secure to the extent of their ‘Streedhan’ is concerned.
However, we need to also look at the minority judgment because it has showcased an aspect of society which would be really affected and such damages have already started to happen as we see two and half decades down the line after this judgment.
Often we have witnessed false cases wherein the brides claim money under the garb of ‘Streedhan’. Besides this, the very fear which the learned minority judge apprehended is often showing its face. The civil suit when filed in such cases leaves scope for reconciliation but in a criminal suit all such hopes are dashed and the family breaks up. Also, there is a question of jointness and co-ownership. The issue is that when a woman brings her ‘Streedhan’ property in her husband’s family and entrusts the property to her husband would that entrustment not be presumed to be covered under presumption of jointness of custody and thereby indicating at possession of their individual properties to the spouses together, i.e. by both of them together.
Thus the very essential ingredient of the offence of S.405 would, therefore, be lacking on account of jointness of custody and possession of the property. Accordingly, as long as the bond of the matrimony exists or there is a possibility of its revival, the offence under S. 405 should not be entertained to maintain happiness in the family. If there is a charge in such circumstances, the encouragement will have a damaging effect. Thus as earlier said the chances of reconciliation between the parties will totally end.
Civil suit can be compromised but a criminal suit is difficult to compromise as the criminal cases have a sense of stigma on the party which may be impossible to overcome in even in long years. To quote Dr Ramesh L. Bhuntani, the question remains that through this case and law the woman might regain back her ‘Streedhan’ but will a bride be able to regain back her lost husband.
- Majority It was held by the majority that the position of Streedhan among the Hindus is very clear and unambiguous. In cases of ‘Streedhan’, the woman is to be treated as the absolute owner of her property. This property is for her use and satisfaction and further, it was also added that such a property can be gifted or willed away without the consent of the husband.
Formatted on March 21st, 2019.
 http://iitbiimb498a.wordpress.com/streedhan-proceedings-legal-evidence-required/ 11.12.2012, 4:04 pm.
 1979 Cri. L J 493.
 AIR 1985 SC 628.
 This case has been followed in following case also, Raginiben G. Tank v. Gunvantlal K. Tank & Ors. [2003 (3) G.L.R. 2027],
 (1997) 2 SCC 397
 1985 (2) SCC 370
 Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam  Cri LJ 892.
 AIR 2007 (NOC) 1093 (Bom)
 ITA 274/2011, delivered on 5 July 2011.
 AIR 1982 P&H 377 (FB).
Criminal Breach of Trust by Husbands-Anti Dowry Case Re-viewed, (1986) 50 CTR 145.