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Dowry, Dower, and Bride Price: Difference Explained!

by Devanshi Agarwal
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Marriage-related customs and traditions have long played a significant role in the complex web of human traditions. These practices reflect not just the core of union but also the dynamics of power, economics, and gender roles. They are frequently firmly embedded in the social and cultural fabric of societies. Three such practices have drawn the most attention among these traditions, sometimes for their cultural significance and other times for their moral and legal ramifications. These include dowry, dower, and the fascinating relationship between the two, and what I’m attempting to propose in this article is if the term ‘Bride-Price’ be said to be resembling the two. 

Dowry and the Ineffectiveness of the Law 

Dowry, which has historically been connected to Hindu law, has changed significantly through time. It has changed from being a representation of the love and support of the family to one that is divisive and complicated by societal expectations, financial obligations, and gender imbalances. In light of our investigation into the disappearance of dowry under Hindu law, it is necessary to further analyze the Dowry Prohibition Act and its success in putting a stop to this practice. The Indian government passed the Dowry Prohibition Act on May 1, 1961, with the goal of outlawing the giving or receiving of dowries. According to the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry is any property, products, or cash given to a marriage by either party, by either party’s parents, or by anyone else in connection with the union. Nevertheless, dowry and violence associated with it continue to be practiced to varied degrees in several Indian communities and social classes. 

In India, 21 women die every day due to dowry-related violence. The cultural practice of dowry perpetuates the oppression, torture, and murder of countless women.[1]

Dower and Bride- Price 

On the other hand, the notion of dower is still common in Islamic law. It is a monetary gift that the bride’s future husband gives her to protect her financial security. Dower or Dowry for that matter plays a significant role in matrimonial customs, but it also raises concerns about how closely it resembles the idea of “bride price.” Even though they all include financial exchanges or marriage-related clauses, these practices serve various ends and have various ramifications. The dower protects the bride’s financial interests, the bride price pays the bride’s family, and the dowry is a gift from the bride’s family to the groom’s family. Understanding the various customs and traditions regarding marriage arrangements across cultures requires being able to distinguish between these differences. 

This financial arrangement might be viewed as a way for the bride’s family to make up for any financial losses they could suffer because of giving up their daughter. It is important to note that this custom varies considerably among groups in India, with some rigorously adhering to the Islamic law’s dower rules, the Prohibiting Clauses of Dowry, and others including parts of bride-price negotiations. 

What Is A Dowry? Bride Price vs. Dowry Explained Via Some Relevant Articles And Books

1.     The Ineffectiveness of Dowry Prohibition Laws of India- by Tara S. Kaushik in Santa Carla Journal of International Law

The dowry system’s cultural and historical background is discussed, along with the legislation that has been passed to try to outlaw it. This behavior has drawn criticism for being misogynistic and violent towards women. The article also covers the difficulties in executing dowry prohibition legislation, including the shame attached to reporting dowry abuse and the reluctance of law enforcement to cooperate. The stigma attached to reporting dowry abuse is one of the major obstacles to implementing legislation banning the practice. Many dowry abuse victims are hesitant to come forward because they worry about being held accountable or facing reprisals from their future in-laws. Additionally, law enforcement officials are often reluctant to investigate dowry abuse cases, and even when they do investigate, they often fail to prosecute the perpetrators.

2.     An Alternative term for ‘Bride-Price’ by E. E. Evans- Pritchard  

The term “bride price,” which refers to the riches given by a man or his relatives to the family or clan of his wife before and after marriage, has recently been the subject of extensive discussion in this magazine. Several prominent Africanists and anthropologists participated in this conversation and a variety of words were suggested.  There are very good arguments against keeping the term out of ethnological literature because, at best, it emphasizes only one of the wealth’s functions—an economic one—to the exclusion of other significant social functions, and because, at worst, it leads the general public to believe that “price” used in this context is synonymous with “purchase” in common English. 

3.   Bride Price and Dowry: A Theoretical Framework  

She contends that while both practices dowry and Bride Price, might be thought of as “marriage payments,” there are differences in the parties involved, the recipients, and the reasoning behind each. According to Vörklager, the bride price might be seen as payment to the bride’s family for the loss of their daughter’s labor and reproductive ability. She adds that the bride price can be viewed as a way for the groom’s family to transfer wealth to the bride’s family, which can serve to improve the bond between the two families. According to Vörklager, the dowry might be viewed as a means of guaranteeing the bride’s financial future in her new marriage. She adds that the bride’s social standing and desirability to the groom’s family might be communicated through the dowry. 

Concluding Note: Dowry and Bride Price Are Not The Same

While dowry is no longer used in Hindu law, the concept of dower remains prevalent in Muslim law, and the ineffectiveness of the Dowry Prohibition Act is very much apparent. It’s interesting to note that the dower or dowry can also be compared to the concept of “bride price,” where money is given in return for the bride. This poses important questions regarding the continuous applicability and moral implications of these traditions, offering more justifications for a critical assessment and potential restriction of such practices. 


Bhardwaj, N. (2020) ‘India’s Dowry Laws Are Ineffective, Easily Exploited and Women Are Paying the Price’, The Swaddle, 10 December. Available at: https://theswaddle.com/indias-dowry-laws-are-ineffective-easily-exploited-and-women-are-paying-the-price/

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