Dowry Death -Meaning,Legal Provisions,Essentials & Case Laws

Meaning:

Dowry death means death of a Married woman in relation to dowry by her husband or relatives of his husband including his family members.

Dowry Death – Section- 304-B IPC

The provision of Dowry Death was added in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in 1986 vide Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 43 of 1986.

 The provisions are –

  1. 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 the woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such a death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Explanation: For the purpose of this Section, dowry shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

  1. Whoever Commits Such Dowry Death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than Seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

  • The offence Under this Section is Cognizable, Non-bailable, Non-compoundable & Triable by Court of Session.

Need of this Section

An important features of crime that lead to dowry death are that they are invariably committed within the safe precincts of home and the culprits are mostly in close Relations, mother in law and sister in law’s living under the same roof. The phenomenon is a by-product of the exploitation of newly married women by husband’s and their relations in direct connivance with each other. The family ties are so strong that the truth never comes out and there would be no eye witness to testify against the guilty in a court of law.

The circumstances are hostile to an early or easy discovery of the truth. As a result guilty men were seldom brought to book and punished.

To curb the practice of dowry deaths, bride burning etc. Section 304-B was inserted in the Penal Code in 1986.

Simultaneously with a view to plug the escape routes for the accused in existing laws, Section 113-B was inserted in Indian Evidence Act by the same amendment act of 1986 which provided that it is upon the accused to prove that he has not committed the dowry death (a shift from the general rule of evidence where prosecution is required to prove the guilt of the accused and the latter is held to be innocent until his guilt is proved).

Shanti VS. State of Haryana AIR 1991 S.C

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has observed that Section 304B which was Inserted vide amendment in 1986 was essentially to combat the increasing menace of dowry death.

The Court also explains the ingredients of Section 304B.

Justice B.K Jayachandra Reddy said: A careful Analysis of section 304B shows that this section has the following essentials:

  1. The death of a woman Should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances (not normal death).
  2. Such death of women should have occurred within Seven years of her marriage.
  3. She must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
  4. Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with demand for Dowry.

Essential Ingredients of this Section

In Kans Raj vs. State of Punjab AIR 2000 S.C, The Court held that:

In order To seek conviction under section 304B, Indian Penal Code against a person for the offence of dowry death, the prosecution is obliged to prove that:

  • The death of a woman was caused by burns or bodily injury or had occurred otherwise then under normal circumstances.
  • Such death should have occurred within Seven years of her marriage.
  • The deceased was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or by any relative of her husband.
  • Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with the demand for dowry.
  • To such cruelty or harassment the deceased should have been subjected soon before her death.

Not Retrospective

Lakhjit Singh vs. State of Punjab 1994 S.C

Section 304-B is not retrospective in nature. So offence committed prior to coming into force of section 304-B does not attract the section. 

Demand for Dowry

The main component of section 304-B is that the death of the woman should not only be under the circumstances specified in the section, but should also be the consequence of demands for dowry. Only then this provision will apply.

What is DOWRY?

According to the explanation to section 304-B, the term dowry shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the dowry prohibition act 1961. The dowry prohibition act 1961 defines dowry as follows:

Any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:

  1. By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
  2. By the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahar in the case of persons to whom the Muslim personal law (shariat) applies.

Satvir singh VS. State of Punjab AIR 2001 S.C

“Some Customary payments in connection with birth of a child or other ceremonies are prevalent in different societies. Such payments are not enveloped within the ambit of Dowry”. Hence, the dowry mentioned in section 304-B should be any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given in connection with the marriage.”

State of Himachal Pradesh VS. Nikku Ram 1995 S.C

The Supreme Court Interestingly starts of the Judgement with the words “Dowry, Dowry and Dowry”. The Supreme Court goes on to explain why they have mentioned the words ‘dowry’ thrice. This is because demand for dowry is made on 3 ocassions:

-Before marriage

– at the time of marriage

-after the marriage

Greed become limitless, the demands become insatiable in many cases followed by torture on the girl leading to either suicide in some cases or murder in some.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has explained in this case that though the definition of dowry is stated as “any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given….”,

Demands made after marriage could also be a part of the consideration because an implied agreement has to be read to give property or valuable securities, even if asked after the marriage, is a part of the consideration for the marriage.

 When the dowry prohibition act was enacted, the legislature was well aware of the fact that demands for dowry are made and indeed very often even after the marriage has been solemnized, and this demand is founded on the factum of marriage alone. Such demands therefore would also be in our mind as consideration for marriage.

What is Cruelty?

The word cruelty has not been defined in the section, but Section 498-A IPC explains as to what amounts to cruelty.

The main purpose behind section 498-A was to punish a husband and his relatives who harass or torture the wife to coerce her or her relatives to satisfy unlawful demands of Dowry.

It is important to note that cruelty under 498-A is not just restricted to dowry. Any wilful conduct which may cause grave injury to life,limb or health, whether mental or physical of women, can be termed as cruelty.

Shanti VS. State of Haryana AIR 1991 S.C

The Supreme Court held that section 304-B and 498-A are not mutually exclusive. Section 498A Explain cruelty to mean-

  • Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health, whether mental or physical, of the women; or
  • Harassing the women where such harassment is with a view to coerce her, or any person related to her, to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
  • The Explanation of cruelty as given in section 498-A can be relied on for the purpose of section 304-B as well.

Bhola Ram VS. State of Punjab 2013 S.C

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that, In a case of a dowry death, every member of the family may not be fully and equally guilty. The degree of involvement may differ as an associate, as a silent witness or as a conniving witness and so on.

The Court also held that, A dowry death will not ipso facto suck the husband with all his relatives into the net of section 304-B of the IPC. Persons staying together, does not lead to any positive conclusion that each one of them was actively involved in demanding additional dowry from the deceased and also behaving in a cruel or humiliating manner towards her resulting in consuming poison to end her life.

The court held that, in the absence of the prosecution proving the ingredients of section 304-B IPC, the initial burden cast on it has not been discharged. The presumption under section 113-B of Indian Evidence Act cannot be attracted. Thereby appeal allowed and conviction under section 304-B, 498-A set aside.

Rajinder Singh vs. State of Punjab AIR 2015 S.C

The primary ingredients to attract the offence under section 304-B is that the death of a woman must be a Dowry death. It is obvious that section 304-B is a stringent provision meant to combat a social evil of alarming proportions.


Also Read:

Introduction to IPC

Culpable Homicide & Murder – Complete Analysis

Theft & Extortion

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