Orissa High Court: In a criminal appeal against Session Judge’s order, whereby the accused was found guilty of offences under Section 498-A read with Section 304-B of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’), S.K. Sahoo, J. allowed the appeal partially. The Court set aside the conviction under Section 304-B of the Penal Code, 1860 and affirmed the conviction under Section 498-A of the IPC.
In the matter at hand, a First Information Report (‘FIR’) was lodged by the convict’s father-in-law on 27-09-1997 against the convict for offences under Sections 498-A/304-B/302 of the IPC and Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, stating that the convict and his deceased daughter were living separately from other family members since four months prior to the lodging of FIR on account of a domestic quarrel. It was stated that his daughter died on 27-09-1997. He also stated that he was informed that his deceased daughter was tortured. The father-in-law also claimed that since the demand for gold chain was not fulfilled, the family members including the convict were subjecting the deceased to torture and in connection with such torture, a meeting was convened in the gram panchayat.
The Trial Court came to hold that the death of the deceased had occurred otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage, on basis of the documentary evidence. Thus, the Trial Court found the convict guilty under Sections 498-A/304-B of the IPC while acquitting him under Section 302 of the IPC.
Analysis and Decision
(i) That the death of the deceased took place within seven years of marriage;
(ii) that the death was otherwise than under normal circumstance;
(iii) that soon before the death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment;
(iv) that such cruelty or harassment was in connection with demand for dowry.
Further, the Court explained that the statutory presumption as to ‘dowry death’ as provided under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, 1872 would get activated only upon the proof of the fact that the deceased woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry by her husband or her in-laws and that too in the reasonable contiguity of death.
On basis of the following ingredients and their application to the present case, the Court found that one of the ingredients that the death of the deceased occurred within seven years of marriage is satisfied in the present case. The Court perused the Doctor’s evidence which indicated that he noticed multiple crescentic marks, multiple abrasions on the nape, contusion, multiple abrasions on the left thigh and the injuries were ante-mortem in nature. Therefore, the Court agreed with the trial Court’s conclusion that the death of the deceased was otherwise than under normal circumstances. On perusal of the letters written after the panchayat meeting, the Court found that there was no mention regarding demand of gold chain by the convict and deceased being tortured, however, the Court found that the convict had requested amount of Rs.15,000/- for his service and that he would repay the same. The Court stated that it is aptly said that “men may tell lies, but circumstances do not,” human agency may be faulty in expressing picturisation of actual incident, but the circumstances cannot fail. Therefore, on the basis of the letter, the Court established that it showed a cordial relationship between the convict and the deceased and her in-laws.
Regarding the question of demand for the amount of Rs. 15,000 in order to secure a job with a promise to return the same, whether falling within the definition of ‘dowry’, the Court referred to Appasaheb v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721, the Supreme Court held that “a demand for money on account of some financial stringency or for meeting some urgent domestic expenses or for purchasing manure cannot be termed as a demand for dowry as the said word is normally understood.”
Therefore, the Court held that in the case in hand, the request for arranging money for getting a job was not there at the time of marriage and the convict also assured him to repay such amount as soon as possible. Thus, the request for money by the convict to arrange a job for himself cannot come within the definition of ‘dowry’ as per section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
The Court said that there was lack of clinching evidence regarding demand of a gold necklace from the side of bridegroom and that the deceased was tortured by the convict. The Court explained that the term ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B of the IPC is a relative term and it is not synonymous with ‘immediately before’. Further, the Court said that there must be a proximate link in existence between the facts of cruelty in connection with the demand of dowry and the death, if the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence. The Court stated that “demand for dowry should be the continuing cause for the death of the married women. Cruelty can be mental or it can be physical. Every instance of cruelty and related harassment has a different impact on the mind of a woman.”
Thus, in view of the lack of cliniching evidence regarding the same, the Court viewed that even though the prosecution had proved that the deceased died within seven years of marriage and that her death was otherwise than under normal circumstances, since all the ingredients of offence under Section 304-B were not satisfied, hence, the conviction for such offence was not sustainable in the eye of law and is hereby set aside.
The Court said that the concept of cruelty and its effect varies from individual to individual and also depends upon the social and economic status to which such person belongs. It need not be physical always. The Court stated that even mental torture or abnormal behaviour may amount to cruelty and harassment in a given case. The Court viewed that, from the oral as well as documentary evidence, the overt act committed by the convict to the deceased particularly in view of the contents of the letter would squarely clearly come within the explanation (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” enumerated under Section 498-A of the IPC. Therefore, the Court held that the sentence passed under Section 498-A of the IPC was justified.
[Bhanu Charan Pradhan v. State of Odisha, 2023 SCC OnLine Ori 6430, Decided on: 02-11-2023]
Judgment Pronounced by: Justice S.K. Sahoo