The concept of the Dowry Death is very common in India and many women have already become a victim of this menace. Before delving into the laws about dowry death and their loopholes, it is pertinent to understand the true meaning of dowry. Customarily, a bride’s family offered the dowry to a worthy groom to make the match. The word dowry literally means “payment,” but can also denote a property that the bride herself brings into the pious institution of marriage. The meaning of dowry has been explained under section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition act where it clearly states that it is the practice of giving property or valuable security to either party to the marriage. The practice which started to establish harmonious relations between families has become an atrocious practice that corrupts our society at every stage. The true foundations of trust, mutual respect and love have now been shattered now such pristine relations of marriage start with a heavy burden on the bride’s family by increasing their financial responsibility. Dilapidating
WHY IS DOWRY PRACTICED
This menace has been plaguing our society since time immemorial and there is a plethora of reasons why this practice is still prevalent.
- SOCIAL STATUS– This practice majorly exposes the social status of a family and the bride’s family in order to boast about their status accepts the exceptional demands made by the groom’s family. It ends up becoming a predicament in the form of financial constraints.
- GREED- This is another major cause of taking dowry. People have become so avaricious that they see this pious practice of marriage as a way of becoming rich. They have become so materialistic that they put their covetous interests before the pristine beliefs attached to this sacrosanct institution.
- LACK OF EDUCATION– It is commonly seen that this practice is prevalent among the illiterate class because they lack education and are unaware of the repercussions of giving way to such a menace.
These are the causes which it is still plaguing our society to such a great extent. These inappropriate demands of dowry and their unfulfillment lead to the ever-increasing cases of dowry deaths. There are several landmark judgements that dealt with this issue. Satbir Singh v State of Haryana is a very instrumental judgement to understand the true essence of all the laws made to curb this menace.
FACTS OF THE CASE (SATBIR SINGH V. STATE OF HARYANA)
The facts of the concerned case are that on 01.07.1994 the accused (appellant 01) married the deceased. On 31.07.1995 at around 4’o clock the father along with his son on receiving the news about his deceased daughter reached the hospital where they found that their daughter has died due to burn injuries. There were several reports of cruelty and atrocities committed on her by her in-laws. She even reported some cruel incidents to her brother on Raksha Bandhan. On 11-12-1997, the trial court condemned the accused under sections 304B and 306 of the Penal Code. They then appealed to the high court of Punjab and Haryana where their appeals were dismissed on 06-11-2008. The complainants then filed pleas by special leave against the judgment dated 06-11-1995 of the Punjab and Haryana High Court where the High court dismissed their appeals.
Contentions on the behalf of the Appellants
- The likelihood of the accidental fire has not been completely ruled out.
- The failure of the prosecution to show that there were dowry demands.
- Even if there was a possibility that there were demands for dowry, still the proximate relationship between death and demand has not been established.
Contentions on the behalf of the Respondents
All the essentials of dowry death have been fulfilled like the death of the person within 1 year of marriage and the brutal acts by the appellants on the deceased for dowry. Moreover, there is the absence of any material fact to question the judgement of the trial and the high court.
MAJOR ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT
The court held that basically, only two questions arise before this court.
- Is convicting the accused on the charge under Section 304B, IPC justified?
- Is convicting the accused on the charge under Section 306, IPC justified?
The Court made reference to its decision in Major Singh v. the State of Punjab (2015), wherein five essentials have to be fulfilled to sustain the conviction of dowry death: –
- “The death of a woman must be caused by bodily injury or burns or otherwise than under a ‘normal circumstance’
- such demise should have happened within 7 years of marriage
- she must become a victim of cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband
- such cruelty or harassment must be in connection with the demand for dowry
- such cruelty or harassment must be inflicted upon the woman soon before her death.”
SOON BEFORE DEATH MEANING
The Court relied on the case of Kans Raj v. the State of Punjab (2000), where it was held that in the case of dowry death, “the circumstances which show cruelty or harassment to the late are not limited to a specific occurrence but ordinarily refer to a sequence of demeanour, which may be spread over some time. The demand for dowry or the cruelty based on such demand should not be too remote in time.” The Court thus held that “the establishment of a proximate and live link between the cruelty and the consequential death of the victim is crucial.”
RELEVANCE OF 113B OF INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT,1872
The Court referred to the case of Bansi Lal v. the State of Haryana (2011) where it was held that “once all the ingredients of Section 304B are proved, the presumption under Section 113B shall be mandatorily applicable to the case.” Therefore, the court observed that once all the ingredients of the impugned section are proved, the court should make a presumption in mind that the person has caused dowry death but it should also give proper chance to the accused to rebut.
The Hon’ble Court rejected the claims made by the accusers and held that—
The first ingredient is fulfilled because they were married in the year 1994 and the tragedy befalls in 1995 which shows that this tragic event took place within one year of the marriage.
The second ingredient of offence also stands proved as the death was due to burn injuries within 7 years of marriage which is evident from the fact that the doctors found the smell of kerosene oil on the body of the dead who agonized 85% injuries.
There were also reports of cruelty by the deceased and she came back to her matrimonial house within one month of her marriage. Just one week before death, she also apprised her brother on Teej about her miserable condition and on 31-07-1995, she died due to burn injuries. Therefore, the Court held that these circumstances constitute enough proof that there is a close connection between the demands of dowry and the consequential death of the deceased.
The Court held that “the deduction arrived at by the courts that the late had committed suicide is based on assumptions as there is no evidence to prove the same. The Court held that Section 306 I.P.C. cannot be applied as the fact of commission of suicide has not been proved by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt.” Therefore, the court held that they were convicted for offence under section 304B of IPC but not for 306 of IPC.
As per the data equipped by the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2019, 7115 dowry death cases were listed. It is very ill-fated that even today, the cases of dowry deaths are blooming. It’s very disheartening that despite a preventive law being in place, society by and large still performs this menace with impunity. The real responsibility is on society to end this menace. Society requires to strongly advocate its perils. They should also take the lesson that in the case at hand, the Supreme Court has once again played its role as a “Sentinel on the qui vive.”
Author(s) Name: Gazal Sharma (UILS Punjab University Chandigarh)
Same meaning as in section 30 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
Satbir Singh v State of Haryana, (2021) 6 SCC 1
Major Singh v. the State of Punjab, 2015 (5) SCC 201
Kans Raj v. the State of Punjab , 2000(2) RCR (Crl.) 695
Bansi Lal v. the State of Haryana , 1993 (1) FAC 117