Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Cole, et al. v. Dixon Supreme Court of Liberia (1938)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

This case established that a wife’s dower is not an asset of her husband’s estate. After Mr. Dixon died intestate, his widow claimed that she held title to real property that had been conveyed to her as a deed of gift from her husband. The executor, appointed by the county, argued that the property was an asset of the estate because the right of dower accrues only after the death of the husband. The court disagreed, holding that “[the] inchoate right of dower is so vested in the wife as against the husband immediately on the marriage that no conveyance or act of the husband can deprive her of it,” including any creditors’ claims against the husband.

Meera Dhungana v. Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and Others Supreme Court of Nepal (2006)

Gender discrimination, International law

A petition on behalf of the Forum for Women, Law and Development in Nepal called for revision of a law prohibiting dowries. The law imposed a much stricter sentence on the bride’s family than the grooms, making it inconsistent with the equal rights provisions in Article 11 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal and international human rights standards. The Court’s decision to revise the law, which cited earlier rulings based on Article 11, shows a continued dedication to transforming the Nepalese legal code in the interest of gender rights and equality.

Rama Panta Kharel and Others v. Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and Others Supreme Court of Nepal (2008)

Gender discrimination

A petition to replace the existing limitations on dowry size in the Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007) with a prohibition of all dowries based on the mandate for gender equality in Article 11 of the Constitution and international conventions such as CEDAW was quashed on grounds that there was not sufficient proof that allowing limited dowries was discriminatory. However, in recognition of the social harm caused by large dowries including impoverishment, competitiveness, and negative views of women, the Court directed that current laws limiting dowries be enforced more effectively and that sensitization on the harmful aspects of dowries be implemented. This ruling demarcates the limits of petitioning for gender equality against traditional and constitutional law while still showing the willingness of the Court to promote women’s rights through means outside the Constitution.

State of Rajasthan v. Jaggu Ram Supreme Court of India (2008)

Dowry-related violence

A new bride was threatened by her in-laws if her family did not provide a greater dowry. When local villagers protested these threats, the husband’s family killed his new bride by burning her with kerosene. The main issue of the case was to determine how the elements of dowry-death should be proven at trial under amended Indian Penal Code. The trial court acquitted the defendant of dowry-death in taking a narrow statutory view. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a death shall be called dowry-death when a woman dies from burns or bodily injury that would not occur under normal circumstances within seven years of marriage. The Court added it should be in consideration that soon before her death the woman was subject to harassment by her husband or any relative of his or in connection with any demand for dowry. Shifting this burden to the husband’s family and broadening the scope of dowry death provides prosecutors with more powerful tools to convict for dowry-death and is meant to curb the recent rise in dowry-related violence.

Sunita Jain v. Pawan Kumar Jain Supreme Court of India (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Dowry-related violence

Immediately after a woman’s marriage, her husband and his parents harassed her for having an insufficient dowry. She was attacked on two occasions and prevented from seeing her two children. A few years later the husband filed for divorce and the woman filed a police report against her husband and his family for mental torture and dowry demands. The High Court initially allowed the case to continue and then quashed the proceedings and filed a petition against the woman claiming abuse of court. The woman appealed on the question of whether a criminal court can review its prior decisions. The Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s petition stating that the court was wrong to quash the woman’s proceedings when the High Court initially found that there was a prima facie case against the husband and family. Under the Indian Penal Code, a court does not have the power to alter its prior judgment.

Noorjahan v. State Rep. by D.S.P. Supreme Court of India (2008)

Dowry-related violence

Shortly after a couple wed, the husband and his relatives began treating the wife poorly and demanded dowry from her. The husband and his brother later strangled her with rope and his sisters held the wife’s arms. This led to her death. All of the accused were convicted and sentenced under Sections 302 and 498(a) of the Indian Penal Code. The aunt of the husband was also convicted and sentenced under 498(a) for alleged dowry-related cruelty, which can lead to a sentence of up to three years imprisonment. The aunt appealed her conviction, claiming that if she had been cruel it bore no relation to dowry. The High Court upheld the conviction, yet the Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of Section 498(a) was to combat dowry-related death and cruelty. Because there was no evidence that the aunt had ever made a demand for dowry, rendering her conviction under Section 498 improper.