Dowry Death| Wife goes missing from matrimonial home; body found a week later: Circumstances unerringly point to husband’s guilt despite slipshod investigation, holds SC

Supreme Court: Despite a slipshod investigation in a case, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hima Kohli*, JJ has upheld the conviction of a man guilty of killing his wife within a few months of the marriage on her failing to satisfy the demands of dowry. The deceased Fulwa Devi had gone missing from her matrimonial home and her body was found on the bank of river Barakar after a week.

What does the law state?

For convicting the accused for an offence punishable under Section 304B IPC, the following pre-requisites must be met:

  1. that the death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occured otherwise than under normal circumstance;
  2. that such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage;
  3. that the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death; and
  4. that such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.

Section 304B IPC read in conjunction with Section 113B of the Evidence Act shows that once the prosecution has been able to demonstrate that a woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry, soon before her death, the Court shall proceed on a presumption that the persons who have subjected her to cruelty or harassment in connection with the demand for dowry, have caused a dowry death within the meaning of Section 304B IPC. The said presumption is, however, rebuttable and can be dispelled on the accused being able to demonstrate through cogent evidence that all the ingredients of Section 304B IPC have not been satisfied.

Facts, circumstances and investigation – Analysed

  • The Investigating Officer recorded the statements of the witnesses, prepared the inquest report of Fulwa Devi, testified about the two places of occurrence namely, the matrimonial home of the deceased at village Karni and the spot at the bank of river Barakar where the dead body was found, but failed to record the statements of any of the residents of the village that comprised of only twenty-five houses including the statement of the neighbours of the accused;
  • He also did not make any concerted effort to trace the dead body of the deceased. It was only on persistent efforts made by the father, brother and brother-in-law of the deceased, that the dead body was ultimately located after almost a week from the date Fulwa Devi had gone missing from her matrimonial home by which time, the body had got decomposed to a large extent.
  • failure to explain the circumstances under which the deceased had vanished from her matrimonial home.
  • failure to establish an illicit relationship between the deceased and her brother–in-law or that she was living with him and not residing at her matrimonial home.
  • The plea raised on behalf of the accused that the body recovered from the banks of Barakar river was unidentifiable, was also found devoid of merits when the father of the deceased testified that he could recognize the dead body as that of Fulwa Devi, from a part of the face that had remained intact and from the clothes that were found on the body.

Two Hypothesis of the crime – Analysed

No eye witness has been produced who could testify as to how the body of the deceased was found on the banks of river Barakar. Hence, the Court observed the following two hypothesis:

  1. the deceased was done away with within the four walls of her matrimonial home, her dead body was smuggled out and dumped into the river.
  2. the deceased was alive when she was taken to the river-side under some pretext and pushed in, leading to her death by drowning.

If the first assumption is taken to be correct, then surely, some villager would have seen the accused persons carrying the dead body to the river where it was finally dumped. However, the prosecution had not produced any villager who was a witness to the body of the deceased being taken out of the matrimonial home and carried to the river. Therefore, this version would have to be discarded in favour of the second one which is that the deceased was alive, when she was accompanied to the river and then she was forcibly pushed in and could not emerge alive from the watery grave. The latter assumption also gains strength from the post mortem report which records that there were no signs of any ante mortem injury on the body. If the deceased was killed in the house, then the body would certainly have revealed some signs of struggle.

Conclusion

Recovery of the body from the banks of the river clearly indicates that Fulwa Devi had died under abnormal circumstances that could only be explained by her husband and in-laws, as she was residing at her matrimonial home when she suddenly disappeared and no plausible explanation was offered for her disappearance.

Hence, despite the shoddy investigation conducted by the prosecution, the Court was of the view that the circumstances set out in Section 304B of the IPC have been established in the light of the abovementioned facts.

“The circumstances put together, unerringly point to his guilt in extinguishing the life of his wife within a few months of the marriage on her failing to satisfy the demands of dowry.”

Hence, the appellant who is presently on bail, was directed to surrender before the Trial Court/Superintendent of Jail within four weeks to undergo the remaining period of his sentence.

The Court however acquitted Fulwa Devi’s mother-in-law as, from the evidence on record only certain omnibus allegations have been made against her with respect to dowry demands, however, the prosecution was not able to indicate any specific allegations, nor point to any specific evidence or testimony against her. She was, hence, directed to be released forthwith, if not required to be detained in any other case.

[Parvati Devi v. State of Bihar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1285, decided on 17.12.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Hima Kohli

One comment

  • Sec 113B is deeming prOvisIon and assuch rest on pre-conditions.
    To invoke that provision in a given situation it is vital to evaluate the nexus between susppicion and proof

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