You are on page 1of 1

In many traditional societies, the initiation of a marriage is accompanied by

some transfer of goods or services. When these transfers are made from
brides and their families to grooms and their families, they are broadly
classified as dowries. The nature of marriage transactions in India has been
theoretically linked to the inheritance system. For example, dowry is
interpreted as the pre-mortem inheritance of the bride, passed to her at the
time of her marriage. Hindu custom historically prohibited women from
inheriting land, particularly when there were male heirs. This principal is a
part of the Mitakshara tradition of Hindu law, which prevails throughout India
except in the states of Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Northern parts of Orissa.1
In India, social norms make it extremely rare for women to receive real
(immovable) property. Dowry is subsequently viewed as a pre-mortem
inheritance of a female progeny and consists only of movable property
However, for this view to work dowry must be the general form of marriage
payment and it must represent wealth that stays under the control of the
bride. Neither of these prerequisites is completely met throughout India.
First, other forms of marriage transactions and marriages involving no
payment are statistically preponderant in India (Agarwal, 1995). Second, in
many instances, a large part of a woman's dowry does not remain under her
control (Miller, 1980). Moreover, dowry does not represent a fixed share of a
particular divisible estate; it differs in value and timing from the male
inheritance. Dowry for women is linked to marriage, without a marriage there
is no dowry, while inheritance for men is not. Most importantly, dowry
continues to be given in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in spite
of their gender-neutral inheritance laws.2Therefore, when considering dowry
as a marriage payment, the question remains "What do the bride's parents
pay for in the marriage market?"