Dowry death 304B
- 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 death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
Explanation. 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.
Ingredients of the Section
This section was inserted in the Penal Code by an amendment in 1986. Sub-section (1) of this section defines dowry death.
Essential ingredients are
- Death must be caused by burns or bodily injury or it must occur otherwise than in normal circumstances;
- Death must occur within seven years of marriage; and
- It must be shown that soon before her death the woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
- Such cruelty or harassment must be for or in connection with any demand for dowry.
- Here the dowry shall have the meaning as assigned to it under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
Definition of ‘dowry’. —In this Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly—
- by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
- by the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person,
- Meaning of Husband
Husband means a person who enters into a marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband and subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerces her in any manner or for any purpose enumerated in the relevant provision that is 304B and 498A.
- Relative of Husband :
The word “Relative of the husband in section 304B of IPC, 1860 would, mean such persons, who are related by blood, marriage or adoption. The brother of the aunt of the husband is not a relative.
Soon before death
‘Soon before is a relative term and it would depend upon the circumstances of each case and no strait jacket formula can be laid down as to what would constitute a period of soon before the occurrence. It would be hazardous to indicate any fixed period and that brings in the importance of a proximity test both for the proof of an offence of dowry death as well as for raising a presumption under section 113-B of the Evidence Act.
The expression “soon before her death” used in substantive section 304-B of Indian Penal Code and Section 113-B of the Evidence Act is present with the idea of proximity test. No definite period has been indicated and the expression “soon before” is not defined. It would normally imply that the interval should not be much between the concerned cruelty or harassment and the death in question. There must be existence of a proximate and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death. If alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence.
In Raja Lal Singh v. State of Jharkhand 2011,’ that the expression soon before death occurring in Section 304-B, I.P.C. is an elastic term. It can refer to a period either immediately before death of deceased or within a few days or few weeks before death. What is relevant is there should be a perceptible nexus between death of deceased and dowry related harassment or cruelty inflicted on the woman concerned.
In the present case death of deceased occurred about 7 months after marriage. Husband of deceased, his brother and his wife were charged for the offence. Accused husband and his brother were living on separate floors.
Harassment for dowry was 10 to 15 days before death. Incident took place in room of her husband. It was held that even if death was by way of suicide, Section 304-B, I.P.C. would be attracted and husband would be liable for conviction under Section 304-B, but accused’s brother and his wife were entitled to benefit of doubt.
Dowry death and Cruelty-Reversal order. –
In Anil Kumar Gupta v. State of UP.‘ the appellant husband of deceased alongwith his family members was charged for dowry death and cruelty. Deceased died because of poisoning. There was no evidence to prove any demand for dowry. Letters written by deceased to appellant husband showed cordial relations between them. Deceased was in-fact admitted to hospital by appellant himself. It was held that conviction of appellant only because he and deceased were together on fateful night, and by presuming that accused being an employee of medicinal company had special knowledge of poisons and he administered poison was improper. Further no finding was recorded by appellate Court that trial court’s finding was perverse. Therefore reversal of order of acquittal by appellate court was held improper.
In Ananda Bapu Punde v. Balasaheb Anna Koli 2017, a message was received by Ananda, father of Poonam (deceased) that she was missing since previous night, whereafter, he along with the family members reached the house of respondent (accused). Next day, the dead body of Poonam was found in a well. This led to filing of FIR by Ananda, alleging dowry demand and cruelty against the husband (respondent) and mother-in-law of Poonam, death having been caused within seven years of marriage.
There were no any marks of physical injury found on the body of victim (Poonam). Thus, the theory that she was done to death and her body was thrown into well was not accepted by courts below. Prosecution completely failed to prove the case against husband and his mother. The trial Court held that it was a case of drowning as there were no injury marks on the body of the deceased. The High Court also affirmed the trial Court’s view.
Principles relating to section 304B IPC, 1860 and 113B Evidence Act summarised by Supreme Court
- To attract the provisions of section 304B, IPC, 1860, the main ingredient of the offence to be established is that soon before the death of the deceased, she was subjected to cruelty and harassment in connection with the demand of dowry.
- The death of the deceased woman was caused by any burn or bodily injury or some other circumstance which was not normal.
- Such death occurs within seven years from the date of her marriage.
- That the victim was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
- Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with demand of dowry. her death.
- It should be established that such cruelty and harassment was made soon before
- The expression (soon before) is a relative term and it would depend upon circumstances of each case and no straightjacket formula can be laid down as to what would constitute a period of soon before the occurrence.
- It would be hazardous to indicate any fixed period and that brings in the importance of a proximity test both for the proof of an offence of dowry death as well as for raising a presumption under section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872.
- Therefore, 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. There must be existence of a proximate or life link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death. In other words, it should not be remote I a point of time and thereby make it a stale one.
- However, the expression “soon before” should not be given a narrow meaning which would otherwise defeat the very purpose of the provisions of the Act and should not lead to absurd results.
- Section 304B is an exception to the cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence that la suspect in the Indian Law is entitled to the protection of Article 20 of the Constitution, as well as, a presumption of innocence in his favour. The concept of deeming fiction is hardly applicable to criminal jurisprudence but in contradistinction to this aspect of criminal law, the legislature applied the concept of deeming fiction to the provisions of section 304B.
- Such deeming fiction resulting in a presumption is, however, a rebuttable presumption and the husband and his relatives, can, by leading their defence prove that the ingredients of section 304B were not satisfied.
- The specific significance to be attached is to the time of the alleged cruelty and harassment to which the victim was subjected to, the time of her death and whether the alleged demand of dowry was in connection with the marriage. Once the said ingredients were satisfied, it will be called dowry death and by deemed fiction of law, the husband or the relatives will be deemed to have committed that offence.
Was held in the case of Kashmir Kaur v State of Punjab.