Important Case Laws on Dowry Death - Section 304B, IPC
The demand for dowry can be seen almost everywhere. Though India is developing and we already have entered into a modern society, the practise of dowry demand is still prevailing. The provision related to dowry death is given under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code. In this article, you are going to read the case laws that are related to dowry death. Along with that, the recent judgements related to dowry death are also covered.

Essential Ingredients or Elements of Dowry Death – Section 304B, IPC

The Supreme Court has outlined the essential elements of dowry death (section 304B, IPC) in the case of Kamesh Panjiyar vs State of Bihar, 2005 as:

(i) The death of a woman should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under a normal circumstance.
(ii) Such a death should have occurred within seven years of her marriage.
(iii) She must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
(iv) Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with the demand of dowry.
(v) It must be shown that such cruelty or harassment has been suffered by the woman soon before her death.

Bare Act PDFs

Facts of the case.

In this case, the deceased, Jaikali Devi and the appellant got married in 1988. At the time of marriage, Rs 40000 was paid as dowry. During her second Bidai (Durgaman), the groom’s side demanded a she-buffalo. The demand was not fulfilled. The deceased had complained about the ill-treatment and torture by her husband and other members of his family several times.

On 28 November 1989, her brother, Sudhir Kumar Mahto, heard some rumours in the village with respect to the murder of the deceased (her sister). After that, he, his father, brother and uncle, went to the appellant’s village. The body of her sister (deceased) was lying in the verandah, and there was some blood coming out of her mouth. Also, there were several marks of violence on her neck.

Judgement of the case.

During the trial of the Sessions Court, it was observed that it was not the case of natural death. And, the court recorded the conviction under section 304B of IPC, and the punishment for ten years of imprisonment was granted to her husband. He then appealed to the High Court.

The High Court upheld the conviction. However, it reduced the sentence to seven years. He then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the collected reading of section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act and Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code ascertains that there must be some material or proof to show that soon before the victim’s death, she has suffered cruelty or harassment.

Also, the court stated that in the cases of dowry death, the presumption is that direct evidence is not necessarily required. Also, nothing was brought by the defence on record to explain the injuries on the neck of the deceased. And, hence the conviction of the husband under section 304B was justified.

Bare Act PDFs

Dowry Demand

This case talks about what is dowry demand. In Bachni Devi vs State of Haryana, 2011, the Supreme Court stated that any demand of any property or valuable security which is in any way connected with marriage constitutes dowry demand.

Facts of the Case.

Kanta Devi, the deceased, was married to the accused in May 1990. After two months of marriage, the deceased’s mother-in-law (accused 1) went to her father’s house and demanded a motorcycle as her son (accused 2) wanted to start a house milk vending business. But as the father of the deceased was poor, he indicated his inability to fulfil the demand.

Thereafter, the husband and mother-in-law of the deceased started harassing her badly and told her father that if he does not give a motorcycle, they will not allow Kanta Devi to live in the matrimonial house.

The husband of the deceased took her to her father’s house five days before the Rakshabandhan, left her there and returned to his house on the same day.

The deceased told her father about the harassment and ill-treatment done by her husband and her mother-in-law. But two days before Rakshabandhan, Kanta was taken from her parent’s house by her husband, asserting that his brother’s engagement has to be performed. The statement made by her husband was utterly false.

After about eight days (on 12 August 1990), the father of the deceased was informed by other villagers that Kanta was dead. When her father went to the house of accused 1 and 2 along with some other persons, he saw the dead body of the Kanta lying in the room. And, as Kanta’s death appeared to have taken place in unnatural circumstances, the father of the deceased filed a case.

Judgement of the case.

The Trial Court held her mother-in-law and husband guilty of committing an offence under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code. They were given punishment for seven years of rigorous imprisonment. When the appeal was made to High Court, it agreed to the Trial Court, and the appeal was rejected.

The appeal was then made to the Supreme Court. The apex court held that demand for any property or valuable security having nexus with marriage constitutes dowry demand. The cause or reason for such demand is immaterial. It observed that the deceased was harassed by the accused after her father denied fulfilling the demand. Hence, harassment driving the deceased to commit suicide is dowry death.

Accordingly, the appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court, and the time of two months was given to accused 1 to surrender for going through the imprisonment conferred to her.

Meaning of “soon before death” With Respect to Dowry Death

In Rajinder Singh vs State of Punjab, 2015, the court has explained the term “soon before death”. The court, in this case, observed that time delays might vary in cases. But what is necessary is that the demand for the dowry should be continuing cause for the death of the married woman.

Facts of the case.

Salwinder Kaur, the deceased, was married to the appellant Rajinder Singh in 1990. Within four months of her marriage, she consumed Aluminium Phosphide, a pesticide, and she died.
The deceased’s father stated in the court that her husband had demanded money for the construction of the house. And at that time, he was unable to give the amount. However, he had given a she-buffalo to his daughter to be taken to her in-law’s house. Thereafter, about 7-8 months later, her daughter was ill-treated again. He promised his son-in-law, the accused, that he would pay the amount after harvesting the crop.

Judgement of the case.

Karnail Singh (father of the deceased) stated to the counsel that no complaint was made by his daughter (the deceased) within one year of the marriage. After examining the pieces of evidence, the Trial Court convicted the appellant (deceased’s husband) under section 304B and punished him with seven years of rigorous imprisonment.

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana also upheld the conviction. The court observed that:

“days or months are not what is to be seen. What must be borne in mind is that the word ‘soon’ does not mean ‘immediate’.

And hence, the appeal was rejected.

“Soon before death” Cannot Mean “immediately before”

In Satbir Singh & another vs State of Haryana, the Supreme Court observed that the phrase ‘soon before death’ cannot mean ‘immediately before’. The Bench further observed that a close and live link between the dowry death and cruelty or harassment by the husband and his relatives must exist.

The above observations were made while the Bench was rejecting the appeal filed by the accused convicted for the offence under section 304B challenging the judgement passed on 6 November 2008 (Satbir Singh & another vs State of Haryana).

Legality of Dowry Demand with Regards to Invalid Marriage

In Reema Aggarwal vs Anupam, 2004, the legality of dowry demand in respect of invalid marriage was dealt with. In this, the court held that the concept of dowry is linked with marriage and the provisions for dowry death applies to married persons only. It also observed that when the validity of a marriage is in itself illegal and under legal scrutiny, the dowry demand in an invalid marriage would be legally non-recognizable.

Example of How Not to Write Judgement in Dowry Death Cases

The High Court of Patna in State of Bihar vs Nasruddin Mian stated that the Supreme Court has focused on the same thing repeatedly, that is, dispassionate examination of evidence must be done by the courts and judges. And that, while passing the judgement, the courts and judges should not be driven by the horror of the crime or the character of the person.

The following statement by the High Court of Patna was made while the Bench was dealing with the appeal that was filed challenging the order of the conviction and sentence passed on 26th and 29th March 2019. The Trial Court had passed a sentence whereby the husband and the sister-in-law of the deceased wife were punished for the offence of dowry death.

The High Court of Patna thus observed that since after the charge was changed, there was no charge under section 306 of IPC, and there was no opportunity for the Trial Court to record such findings in respect of section 306 of IPC. As the prosecution has completely failed to establish the motive beyond doubt that it was a case of murder, the High Court of Patna further contemplated that legally acceptable evidence was not there, and the Trial Court has convicted the appellants under section 302 of IPC only on the ‘moral ground’ as the wife had died in her matrimonial home.

Consequently, the judgement and sentence dated 26th and 29th March 2019 were set aside. And the appellants were proposed to be released.

Subhashini Parihar
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