This article is written by Anshika Agrawal @ LEXCLIQ, a student of LLB 2nd year on topic Dowry Death.
The offence of dowry death has been inserted in the Indian Penal Code as Section 304-B by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986. Section 304-B has been inserted with a view to curb the growing attrocities 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.
Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code provides that:
“Where the death of a women 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.
Also whoever commits the offence of 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 essentials ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC are-
(a) The death of a women should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances.
(b) Such death should have occured within seven years of her marriage
(c) She must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband
(d) Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with demand for dowry and
(e) Such cruelty or harassment is shown to have been meted out to the woman soon before her death.
Dowry death shall have the same meaning in IPC as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961).
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.
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 above section, unless they are made as consideration for the marriage of the said parties.
Also 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 a 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.
For, the purpose of this section, “dowry death” shall have the same meaning as in Section 304-B of IPC.
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 the 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 his 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.
Certain cases related to Dowry Death are as follows-
In Public Prosecutor, High Court of A.P. V. Tota Basava Punnaiah and others, it was observed that even the deceased died on account of the hanging within 3 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 in connection with any demand of dowry.
In Arbind Kumar Ambasta V. State, it was held 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 Kodam Gangaram V. State of 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 Pawan Kumar V. State of Haryana, 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.
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.