Dowry – Demand of money for construction of a house can be treated as a dowry demand.
Any money or property or valuable security demanded by any of the persons mentioned in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, at or before or at any time after the marriage which is reasonably connected to the death of a married woman, would necessarily be in connection with or in relation to the marriage unless, the facts of a given case clearly and unequivocally point otherwise.
Any rigid meaning would tend to bring to naught, the real object of the provision. Therefore, a push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society.
The Latin maxim “Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat” i.e, a liberal construction should be put up on written instruments, so as to uphold them, if possible, and carry into effect, the intention of the parties, sums it up. Interpretation of a provision of law that will defeat the very intention of the legislature must be shunned in favour of an interpretation that will promote the object sought to be achieved through the legislation meant to uproot a social evil like dowry demand. In this context the word “Dowry” ought to be ascribed an expansive meaning so as to encompass any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature. When dealing with cases under Section 304-B IPC, a provision legislated to act as a deterrent in the society and curb the heinous crime of dowry demands, the shift in the approach of the courts ought to be from strict to liberal, from constricted to dilated.
Penal Code, 1860 – Ss. 304B & 306.
The most fundamental constituent for attracting the provisions of Section 304-B IPC is that the death of the woman must be a dowry death. The ingredients for making out an offence under Section 304-B have been reiterated in several rulings of this Court. Four pre-requisites for convicting an accused for the offence punishable under Section 304- B are as follows:
(i) that the death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occurred otherwise than under normal circumstance;
(ii) that such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage;
(iii) that the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death; and
(iv) that such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – Section 2 – Definition of ‘dowry’.
Section 2 of the Dowry Act has been split into six distinct parts for a better understanding of the said provision, which are as follows:
A perusal of Section 2 shows that this definition can be broken into six distinct parts:
(1) Dowry must first consist of any property or valuable security— the word “any” is a word of width and would, therefore, include within it property and valuable security of any kind whatsoever.
(2) Such property or security can be given or even agreed to be given. The actual giving of such property or security is, therefore, not necessary.
(3) Such property or security can be given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly.
(4) Such giving or agreeing to give can again be not only by one party to a marriage to the other but also by the parents of either party or by any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person. It will be noticed that this clause again widens the reach of the Act insofar as those guilty of committing the offence of giving or receiving dowry is concerned.
(5) Such giving or agreeing to give can be at any time. It can be at, before, or at any time after the marriage. Thus, it can be many years after a marriage is solemnised.
(6) Such giving or receiving must be in connection with the marriage of the parties. Obviously, the expression “in connection with” would in the context of the social evil sought to be tackled by the Dowry Prohibition Act mean “in relation with” or “relating to”.”
Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The words “soon before” appear in Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, 1872 and also in Section 304- B IPC. For the presumptions contemplated under these sections to spring into action, it is necessary to show that the cruelty or harassment was caused soon before the death. The interpretation of the words “soon before” is, therefore, important. The question is how “soon before”? This would obviously depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. Therefore, “soon before” is a relative term. In matters of emotions we cannot have fixed formulae. The time-lag may differ from case to case. This must be kept in mind while examining each case of dowry death.
‘Soon before’ is a relative term which is required to be considered under specific circumstances of each case and no 15 For short ‘the Evidence Act’ straitjacket formula can be laid down by fixing any time-limit. This expression is pregnant with the idea of proximity test. 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. In relation to dowry deaths, the circumstances showing 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. If the cruelty or harassment or demand for dowry is shown to have persisted, it shall be deemed to be ‘soon before death’ if any other intervening circumstance showing the nonexistence of such treatment is not brought on record, before such alleged treatment and the date of death.
Thus, there must be a nexus between the demand of dowry, cruelty or harassment, based upon such demand and the date of death. The test of proximity will have to be applied. But, it is not a rigid test. It depends on the facts and circumstances of each case and calls for a pragmatic and sensitive approach of the court within the confines of law. 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”. Time-lags may differ from case to case. All that is necessary is that the demand for dowry should not be stale but should be the continuing cause for the death of the married woman under Section 304-B.
The prosecution must at first establish the existence of the necessary ingredients for constituting an offence under Section 304-B IPC. Once these ingredients are satisfied, the rebuttable presumption of causality, provided under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act operates against the accused.
Facts of the Case
The trial Court has correctly interpreted the demand for money raised by the respondents on the deceased for construction of a house as falling within the definition of the word “dowry”. The submission made by learned counsel for the respondents that the deceased was also a party to such a demand as she had on her own asked her mother and maternal uncle to contribute to the construction of the house, must be understood in the correct perspective. It cannot be lost sight of that the respondents had been constantly tormenting the deceased and asking her to approach her family members for money to build a house and it was only on their persistence and insistence that she was compelled to ask them to contribute some amount for constructing a house. The Court must be sensitive to the social milieu from which the parties hail. The fact that the marriage of the deceased and the respondent No.1 was conducted in a community marriage organization where some couples would have tied the knot goes to show that the parties were financially not so well off. This position is also borne out from the deposition of P.W.-1 who had stated that he used to bear the expenses of the couple. Before the marriage of the deceased also, P.W.-1 had stated that he used to bear her expenses and that of her mother and brother [his sister and nephew] as her father had abandoned them. In this background, the High Court fell in an error in drawing an inference that since the deceased had herself joined her husband and father-in-law, respondents herein and asked her mother or uncle to contribute money to construct a house, such demand cannot be treated as a “dowry demand”. On the contrary, the evidence brought on record shows that the deceased was pressurized to make such a request for money to her mother and uncle. It was not a case of complicity but a case of sheer helplessness faced by the deceased in such adverse circumstances.
Taking into account the evidence brought on record by the prosecution, particularly, the testimony of P.W.-1, this Court has no hesitation in holding that the analysis of the trial Court was correct and the respondents deserved to be convicted under Sections 304-B and 498-A IPC. However, we do not propose to disturb the findings returned by the High Court that has acquitted the respondents for the offence of abetment to commit suicide under Section 306 IPC, as the prosecution could not bring any conclusive evidence on record to satisfactorily demonstrate that it was due to the abetment on the part of the respondents that the deceased had committed suicide by immolating herself. Accordingly, the judgment of conviction and sentence passed by the trial Court in respect of both the respondents under Section 304-B and Section 498-A IPC, is restored. However, the sentence imposed on them by the trial Court of RI for life is reduced to RI for seven years, which is the minimum sentence prescribed for an offence under Section 304-B IPC.
Case Law Reference
- Gurmeet Singh v. State of Punjab, (2021) 6 SCC 108
- Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, (2021) 6 SCC 1
- Rajinder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2015) 6 SCC 477
- Sher Singh @ Partapa v. State of Haryana, (2015) 3 SCC 724
- Raminder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2014) 12 SCC 582
- Dinesh v. State of Haryana, (2014) 12 SCC 532
- Surinder Singh v. State of Haryana, (2014) 4 SCC 129
- Kulwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (2013) 4 SCC 177
- Vipin Jaiswal v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (2013) 3 SCC 684
- Bachni Devi v. State of Haryana, (2011) 4 SCC 427
- Appasaheb v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721
- Saro Rana v. State of Jharkhand, 2005 Crl.L.J. 65
- K. Prema S. Rao v. Yadla Srinivasa Rao, (2003) 1 SCC 217
- Kans Raj v. State of Punjab, (2000) 5 SCC 207
Case Number : Criminal Appeal No. 190 of 2012; January 11, 2022
Hon’ble Ms. Justice Hima Kohli pronounced the judgment of the Bench comprising Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Mr. Justice A.S. Bopanna and Her Ladyship.
For Appellant(s) Mr. Pashupathi Nath Razdan, AOR For Respondent(s) Mr. Anish Kumar Gupta, AOR Ms. Archana Preeti Gupta, Adv. Mr. Avdhesh Kumar Singh, Adv. Mr. Rajendra Kumar Singh, Adv. Ms. Rita Gupta, Adv.
Case Link : https://pdf.caselaw.in/sc/2022/01/1194/