Explained| Cruelty and Dowry Death: Can conviction under Section 304-B IPC sustain without any charges under Section 498A IPC?

Supreme Court: In a case relating to dowry death, where it was argued by the accused that without any charges under Section 498A, IPC a conviction under Section 304-B, IPC cannot be sustained, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJI and Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has rejected the contention and has explained,

“Although cruelty is a common thread existing in both the offences, however the ingredients of each offence are distinct and must be proved separately by the prosecution. If a case is made out, there can be a conviction under both the sections.”

Provisions in question

Section 304-B. Dowry death.—(1) 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 purpose 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.

Section 498-A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” means—

(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

Background

The deceased got married to the accused in November, 2004 and gave birth to child in 2006. The death of the deceased occurred in 2008 after she consumed poison in her matrimonial home.

Both, the trial court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, convicted the husband under Section 304-B for dowry death.

The counsel appearing on behalf of the accused-appellant argued that “the Courts below have, as a matter of routine, applied the presumption u/s 113B of Evidence Act in the instant case wherein even the basic and essential ingredient of Section 304-B, IPC are not satisfied.”

It was submitted that just because the death of the deceased occurred within seven years of marriage, by no stretch of imagination can it be said that the deceased soon before her death was subjected to cruelty in connection with the demand of dowry.

“The fact that the deceased was happy with the appellant is clearly evident as she lived with him and bore his child, and never mentioned any harassment or cruelty being meted out by the appellant. Furthermore, the gifts received by the appellant-husband were voluntarily given by the complainant and his family.”

It was also argued that without any charges under Section 498A, IPC a conviction under Section 304-B, IPC cannot be sustained.

Analysis

Section 304-B(1), IPC defines ‘dowry death’ of a woman. It provides that ‘dowry death’ is where death of a woman is caused by burning or bodily injuries or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances, within seven years of 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, in connection with demand for dowry.

Considering the aforementioned said law, the Court noted that since,

  • the marriage between the deceased and the accused-appellant took place on 23.11.2004, and
  • the death of the deceased occurred in 2008 after she consumed poison in her matrimonial home,

therefore, the first two ingredients as to death under otherwise than ‘normal circumstances’ within seven years of marriage stand satisfied.

Coming to the next ingredient necessary for establishing the existence of dowry demand i.e. “soon before her death”, the Court noticed that,

  • the deceased had expressed her unhappiness due to the constant harassment and dowry demands, to her father.
  • The father also stated as to how the families attempted to mediate the dispute themselves and on multiple occasions the father of deceased gave certain gifts to the accused and his family to ameliorate the situation.
  • Further, the mother of the deceased had informed the father 15-20 days prior to the incident about the continuing harassment of the deceased on account of dowry.
  • Finally, on 08.08.2008, the father-in-law of the deceased informed this witness about the consumption of poison by the deceased.

It is also important to note that both the Trial Court and the High Court found the above evidence of the father of the deceased to be reliable and consistent despite a thorough cross-examination. No evidence was produced by the appellant to disregard the aforesaid testimony.

On the defence of the accused is that his family and family of the deceased shared a cordial relationship, and in fact, the appellant had helped the mother of deceased in getting treatment of cancer, the Trial Court, after a thorough examination of the evidences- both oral and documentary, concluded that the accused-appellant, who was working as a technician in a hospital, has forged the hospital records to prove the existence of cordial relationship between the families of the deceased and the accused.

It was hence concluded that necessary ingredients under Section 304-B, IPC stood satisfied.

Explaining the difference between offences under Section 498-A and Section 304-B, IPC, the Court note of the judgment in Kamesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar, (2005) 2 SCC 388, wherein it was held,

“… Sections 304- B and 498-A IPC cannot be held to be mutually inclusive. These provisions deal with two distinct offences. It is true that cruelty is a common essential to both the sections and that has to be proved. The Explanation to Section 498-A gives the meaning of “cruelty”. In Section 304-B there is no such explanation about the meaning of “cruelty”. But having regard to the common background to these offences it has to be taken that the meaning of “cruelty” or “harassment” is the same as prescribed in the Explanation to Section 498-A under which “cruelty” by itself amounts to an offence. Under Section 304-B it is “dowry death” that is punishable and such death should have occurred within seven years of marriage. No such period is mentioned in Section 498-A. If the case is established, there can be a conviction under both the sections.”

[Gurmeet Singh v. State of Punjab, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 403, decided on 28.05.2021]


Judgement by: CJI NV Ramana

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

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