On Dowry Death and the Vi­o­lent Days that Pre­cedes it

Libertatem Magazine - - Contents - Jane Maria Tomy

Facts

A wo­man had com­mit­ted sui­cide in her mat­ri­mo­nial home within seven years of mar­riage. There were no im­me­di­ate quar­rels with her hus­band or in-laws that could have been said as a pre­cip­i­tat­ing fac­tor for the sui­cide. Nev­er­the­less, the tes­ti­mo­ni­als of the brother, mother and the neigh­bor of the wo­man was hint­ing at mat­ri­mo­nial cru­elty meted out to her for over a long pe­riod. The tes­ti­mo­ni­als states that she was beaten up by her in-laws. Two Days pre­ced­ing her death, when her brother met her on the Rak­sha­band­han, the hus­band, Ashok Ku­mar had de­manded Rs. 5,000, a color TV and clothes. On ac­count of all these facts, the State was al­leg­ing that Ashok Ku­mar is guilty un­der Sec­tion 498A and Sec­tion 304B.

Is­sue

Can the con­vic­tion of a man in a case of dowry death be set aside merely on the ground that no ha­rass­ment had oc­curred right be­fore the in­ci­dent?

Judg­ment

The court held against Ashok Ku­mar in this mat­ter. The court, first of all, re­ferred to the facts of the case and held that there was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that the wife was ha­rassed for dowry from the tes­ti­mo­ni­als of the rel­a­tives and the neigh­bours of the de­ceased. The court noted that –

“Merely be­cause the post­mortem re­port noted that the de­ceased was strong and well built would not be­lie the de­po­si­tion of the mother of the de­ceased that she was not given food be­cause the same was oc­ca­sional and not that the de­ceased was never given food. Fur­ther non-men­tion­ing of burn in­juries in the post­mortem re­port also does not show that the de­ceased was not meted out such a cru­elty.”

There­after, the court looked into the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Sec­tion 304B IPC and turned to the le­gal ques­tion above. Can the con­vic­tion of a man in a case of dowry death be set aside merely on the ground that no ha­rass­ment had oc­curred right be­fore the in­ci­dent? Sec­tion 304B deals with Dowry death and it de­fines it as fol­lows :“Where the death of a wo­man is caused by any burns or bod­ily in­jury or oc­curs oth­er­wise than un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances within seven years of her mar­riage and it is shown that soon be­fore her death she was sub­jected to cru­elty or har¬ass­ment by her hus­band or any rel­a­tive of her hus­band for, or in con­nec­tion with, any de­mand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such hus­band or rel­a­tive shall be deemed to have caused her death.”

Here, the lan­guage of the Sec­tion stip­u­lates that the hus­band or in-laws must sub­ject the wo­man to cru­elty ‘soon be­fore’ her death. But, what is the ex­act time re­quired for it to be­come ‘soon be­fore’?

The court re­ferred to the land­mark judg­ments in this re­gard. In Kans Raj Vs. State of Pun­jab and Oth­ers “The term “soon be­fore” is not syn­ony­mous with the term “im­me­di­ately be­fore” and is op­po­site of the ex­pres­sion “soon af­ter” as used and un­der­stood in Sec­tion 114, Il­lus­tra­tion (a) of the Ev­i­dence Act. These words would im­ply that the in­ter­val should not be too long be­fore the time of mak­ing the state­ment and the death. It con­tem­plates the rea­son­able time which, as ear­lier no­ticed, has to be un­der­stood and de­ter­mined un­der the pe­cu­liar cir­cum­stances of each case. In re­la­tion to dowry deaths, the cir­cum­stances sow­ing the ex­is­tence of cru­elty or ha­rass­ment to the de­ceased are not re­stricted to a par­tic­u­lar in­stance but nor­mally re­fer to a course of con­duct. Such con­duct may be spread over a pe­riod of time.”

Fur­ther, the court also noted that, by virtue of Sec­tion 113-B of Ev­i­dence Act, one can take pre­sump­tion of dowry death if any rea­son­able con­nec­tion can be shown with the death and the ha­rass­ment. It is not re­quired to show an im­me­di­ate spark of vi­o­lence on the day of the death of the wife. The court re­ferred to the case of Bansi Lal v. State of Haryana to rely on this point.

There­fore, the court held that it is not nec­es­sary to prove the ex­is­tence of an im­me­di­ate vi­o­lence to hold the ap­pel­lant re­spon­si­ble for the dowry death. The court held in these words that - “Sec­tion 304B IPC does not con­tem­plate that the ha­rass­ment should be within min­utes or hours or few days of the time since death but a rea­son­able pe­riod prior to the death when de­ceased is sub­jected to cru­elty is suf­fi­cient to show the live link...”

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