The ancient marriage rites in the Vedic period are associated with Kanyadan. It is laid down in Dharamshastara that the meritorious act of Kanyadan is not complete till the bridegroom was given a dakshina. So when a bride is given over to the bridegroom, he has to be given something in cash or kind which constitute varadakshina. Thus Kanyadan became associated with varadakshina i.e. the cash or gifts in kind by the parents or guardian of the bride to the bridegroom. The varadakshina was offered out of affection and did not constitute any kind of compulsion or consideration for the marriage. It was a voluntary practice without any coercive overtones. In the course of time, the voluntary element in dowry has disappeared and the coercive element has crept in. it has taken deep roots not only in the marriage ceremony but also post-marital relationship. What was originally intended to be a taken dakshina for the bridegroom has now gone out of proportions and has assumed the nomenclature 'dowry'.
The social reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have striven hard for the abolition of various social evils including the evil of dowry system. Long before India gained independence, the then provincial Government of Sind passed an enactment known as "Sind Deti Leti Act, 1939" with a view to deal effectively with the evils of dowry system but the enactment had neither any impact nor could create the desired effect. During the last few decades the evils of dowry system has taken an acute form in almost all parts of the country and in almost all the sections of society. In a bid to eradicate this evil from the society, the State Governments of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh enacted "The Bihar Dowry Restraint Act, 1950" and "The Andhra Pradesh Dowry Prohibition Act, 1958" for the respective States, but both these enactments failed to achieve the objectives for which they were enacted.
The evil of dowry system was assuming enormous proportions and the minds of right thinking persons both outside and inside the State Legislatures and the Parliament were shattered. The matter was raised in the Parliament in very first session of the Lok Sabha. Many proposals for restraining dowry were placed in the Parliament in the form of Private Members Bills. During the course of discussions on a non-official Bill in the Lok Sabha in 1953, the then Minister of Law gave an assurance to the House that a bill on the subject would be prepared in consultation with the State Governments. In pursuance of the assurance, a Bill was subsequently submitted for consideration of the Cabinet. The Cabinet then decided that the proposal might be held in abeyance till the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act. After the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act in 1956, the Government felt that a separate legislation to prohibit dowry was not a matter of urgency. As the problem continued to increase the issue was against and again agitated in the Parliament as well as in State Legislatures. On account of pressure both at political and social levels, the Government finally decided to process the legislation. On 24th April, 1959 the dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. After some discussion, the Bill was referred to a Joint Committee of both the Houses of Parliament. The Joint Committee presented its report with some amendments in the Bill. Both the Houses of Parliament did not agree with the amendments as reported by the Joint Committee and ultimately the Bill was considered at the Joint Sittings of both the Houses of Parliament held on 6th and 9th May,1961.
ACT 28 OF 1961
The Dowry Prohibition Bill was passed in the Joint Sittings of both the Houses of Parliament and it became an Act - The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961) and it received the assent of the President on 20th May, 1961.
LIST OF AMENDING ACTS1. The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1984.
2. The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986.