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Punishment for Dowry Death in India (Section 304B of IPC)

“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 harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death1’, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Explanation:-

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For the purposes of this sub-section, “dowry” shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).

(2) Whoever commits 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 essential ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC are:

1. The death of a woman should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances

2. Such death 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 and

5. Such cruelty or harassment is shown to have been meted out to the woman soon before her death.

The offence of dowry death has been inserted in the IPC as Section 304-B by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986. Section 304- B has been inserted with a view to curb the growing atrocities against women, where thousands of young women were done to death due to failure to pay up the dowry demanded.

The amendment Act of 1986 has also made several consequential amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act, in order to make the prosecution of offenders in cases of dowry death more effective.

Dowry is generally, that which the wife gives the husband on account of marriage, and is a sort of donation made with a view to their future maintenance and support.

As per Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, ‘dowry’ means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly, (a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or (b) 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 mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

Explanation 1:—

For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that any presents made at the time of a marriage to either party to the marriage in the form of cash, ornaments, clothes or other articles, shall not be deemed to be dowry within the meaning of this section, unless they are made as consideration for the marriage of the said parties.

Explanation 2:—

The expression ‘valuable security’ has the same meaning in Section 30 of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 113-B of Evidence Act, 1872, which was inserted by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 states regarding presumption as to the dowry death thus, “when the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.

Explanation:—

For, the purposes of this section, “dowry death” shall have the same meaning as in Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.

This presumption will arise only when the prosecution has established the basic element of demand for dowry. The initial burden lies on the prosecution to prove the ingredients of Section 304-B, including the fact that soon before her death, she had been subjected by the accused persons to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry.

If the prosecution succeeds in discharging this initial burden, then positively the provisions of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act came into play and can be pressed into service for drawing the presumption against the accused person that he has caused dowry death.

The husband and husband’s relatives shall be presumed to have caused a ‘dowry death’ and shall be liable for the offence unless it is proved otherwise. That is to say, the burden of proof shifts from the prosecution to the accused, unlike other offences where the accused is presumed to be innocent, unless it is proved otherwise.

Section 304-B does not explain the term cruelty. However Section 498-A, which was inserted by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986, explains as to what amounts to ‘cruelty’ thus: “whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation:

For the purposes of the section “cruelty” means:

a) Any willful 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 woman; or

b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet an 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 purposes of Section 304-B as well.

Section 304-B used the words that it should be shown that ‘soon before’ her death, the woman has subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband. The expression ‘soon before’ would normally imply that the interval should not be much between the concerned cruelty or harassment and the death in question.

The expression ‘soon before’ is not synonymous with the term ‘immediately before’. It normally implies that cruelty should not be remote in time to become stale enough not to disturb mental equilibrium of the woman concerned. It should neither be too late nor too stale before the date of death of the victim.

There must be existence of a proximate and live-link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death. The determination of the period which can come within the term ‘soon before’ is left to be determined by the courts depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

In Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam [2004 Cr.LJ 892 (SC)], it was observed that if the validity of marriage itself is under legal scrutiny, the demand of dowry in respect of an invalid marriage would be legally not recognizable. Even then the purpose for which Section 498-A and 304-B of IPC and Section 113-B of the Evidence Act were introduced cannot be lost right of.

The obvious objective of enacting above sections was to prevent harassment to a woman who enters into a marital relationship with a person and later on becomes a victim of the greed for money. The argument that since there was no valid marriage the question of dowry does not arise is not acceptable. The Court further observed that the legislative intent is quite clear from the fact that it is not only the husband but also his relations who are covered by Section 498-A of IPC.

In Imtiyaz Khan v. State of Jharkhand [2004 Cr.LJ 2560 (Jhar.)], it was observed that opinion regarding marriage between parties could not be formed merely by living together and having illicit relationship. It did not constitute marriage. It was possible that victim was compelling accused for marriage and for that reason she was burnt, hence, it could be a case of culpable homicide and doctor stating name of accused in post-mortem report in the column of ‘husband’ was immaterial.

It would be appropriate to construe the expression ‘husband’ to cover a person who enters into marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerce her in any manner or for any of the purposes ennumerated in the relevant provisions – Sections 304-B and 498-A of IPC whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself for the limited purposes of Section 304-B and 498-A of the Code.

In Public Prosecutor, High Court of A.P. v. Tota Basava Punnaiah and others [1989 Cr.LJ 2330 (A.P.)], it was observed that even the deceased died on account of the hanging within three years after her marriage, still the death comes within the scope of Section 304- B, IPC, if it is shown that she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with any demand of dowry.

In Kodam Gangaram v. State of A.P. [1999 Cr.LJ 2181 (A.P.)], it was observed that clear statement of deceased that she was forced to commit suicide due to harassment of dowry demand by husband, and her statements are fully corroborated by other evidences, it can well be presumed that it was only harassment which resulted in death, conviction under Section 304-B and 498-A IPC is proper and fully justified.

In Arbind Kumar Ambasta v. State [II (2002) DMC 246 (DB) (Jhar)], it was observed that the period of marriage being vital, in this particular case, for punishment under Section 304-B, IPC and there being dispute, in the present case, relating to period of marriage, specific period having not established, the accused were entitled to benefit of doubt.

In Rajayyan v. State of Kerala [AIR 1998 SC 1211], it was observed that death “otherwise than in normal circumstances” would mean that the death was not in the usual course but apparently under suspicious circumstances if it was not caused by burn or bodily injury. Death of a woman by suicide occurring within 7 years of marriage cannot be described as occurring in normal circumstances.

In Karts Raj v. State of Punjab [2000 Cr.LJ 2993], it was observed that the in-laws of the deceased woman could not be roped in just only because they were close relatives. The overt-acts which are attributed to them would require to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

In Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana [AIR 1998 SC 958], it was held that under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 that an agreement for dowry is not always necessary. There was in this case demand for a TV set and a Scooter. The demand was related with marriage. If fell within the meaning of the word dowry under Section 304-B.

In Paniben v. State of Gujarat [MR 1992 SC 1817], it was observed that nothing could be more barbarous, nothing could be more heinous than this sort of crime. The root cause for killing young bride or daughter-in-law is avarice and greed. All tender feelings which alone make the humanity noble disappear from the heart.

Kindness which is the hallmark of human culture is buried. Sympathy to the fairer sex, the minimum sympathy is not even shown. The sealing which is taken out from its original soil and planted in another soil to grow and bear fruits is crushed Sympathy is what is pleaded at our hands.

We are clearly on the opinion that it would be travesty of justice if sympathy is shown when such cruel act is committed. It is rather strange that the mother-in-law who herself is a woman should resort to killing another woman. It is hard to fathom as to why even the ‘mother’ in her did not make her feel.

It is tragic that deep recourse should envelope her reason and drown her finer feelings. The language of deterrence must speak in that it may be a conscious reminder to the society. Undue sympathy would be harmful to the cause of justice. It may even undermine the confidence in the efficacy of law.

The punishment for causing dowry death is imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life. In Dev Prasad v. State of U.P. [2002 Cr.LJ 4291], it was observed that while an ordinary murder can be punished by a death sentence under Section 302 IPC, a dowry death, which is a much worse offence has a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

An ordinary murder is committed in a fit of rage or for property, but a dowry death is not just an ordinary crime, it is a social crime. It outrages the modern conscience and makes the whole of society revert to feudal barbarism. Hence, Court recommended to Parliament to amend the law and provide for death sentence in dowry death cases.

The offence is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable and triable by Court of Session.

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