Telangana HC | For invoking S. 304-B IPC, harassment or cruelty caused to a woman should have happened “soon before her death”

Telangana High Court: K. Lakshman, J.,  while addressing an issue, observed that,

there should be a perceptible nexus between the death of a woman and the dowry-related harassment or cruelty inflicted on her.

Deceased and accused 1 were married, wherein at the time of marriage parents of the deceased gave 15 tolas of gold, furniture and clothes.

Harassment

After 5 months of the marriage, appellants-accused started harassing the deceased physically and mentally by demanding additional dowry and motorcycle.

Accused had also threatened to perform a second marriage if the demands were not fulfilled.

Deceased parents informed the accused that they cannot fulfill the said demand and asked not to harass the deceased.

But the accused warned the parents and maternal uncles of the deceased that they would perform the marriage of accused 1 with another girl if they fail to accede to their demand.

Suicide

On the intervening night of 25/26-06-2003 parents of the deceased were informed that the deceased committed suicide hanging.

The mother of the deceased reported the event with instances of harassment that her daughter was subjected to the police.

Police registered a case under Section 304-B of Penal Code, 1860 and trial court framed the charge against the appellants and accused 4 under Section 304-B IPC.

Being aggrieved with the said conviction and imposition, the present appeal was filed.

Decision

Dowry death

Court observed that the post-mortem examination found the cause of the death of the deceased to be due to hanging.

Ingredients required for offence under Section 304-B IPC:

  • within 7 years of the marriage, there must happen the death of a woman (the wife)
  • the death must be caused by any burns or bodily injury, or the death must occur otherwise than under normal circumstances
  • it must be established that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment
  • the cruelty or harassment may be by her husband or any relative of her husband; and
  • the cruelty or harassment by the husband or relative of the husband must be for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry.

Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides for presumption as to dowry death. When the question is whether the dowry death, namely, the death contemplated under Section 304-B of IPC has been committed by a person, if it is shown that soon before her death, the woman was subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment, for in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall “presume” that such person had caused the dowry death.

It is, no doubt, a rebuttable presumption and it is open to the husband and his relatives to show the absence of the ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC.

Court observed that it is relevant to note that it is not enough that harassment or cruelty was caused to the woman with a demand for dowry at some time if Section 304-B of IPC is to be invoked but it should have happened “soon before her death”.

Bench held that the prosecution had proved the guilt of the accused’s and established the above-stated 5 ingredients of Section 304-B IPC.

To bring home charge under Section 304-B of IPC, the prosecution is required to establish that the death of the woman has been caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and soon before her death, the woman is subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relative.

In the present matter, the fact that the incident had occurred 17 years ago and accused 1 got remarried and has to look after his children including the child born through the deceased and his old aged parents, hence Court took a lenient view with regard to the reduction of punishment.

Accordingly, the present criminal appeal was allowed.[Surender Singh v. State of A.P., 2020 SCC OnLine TS 874, decided on 06-07-2020]

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