Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Dealing with yet another case of suicide as result of dowry demands, the Court examined and interpreted the various provisions enacted to eradicate dowry, namely Sections 498A and 304B of IPC. The Court observed that an elaborate legislation such as the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 did little to curb the social menace of dowry hence the Legislature by several amendments included provisions like Sections 498A and 304B in the Penal Code. Finally the Court observed that it would not be appropriate to lessen the husband’s onus to that of preponderance of probability as that would annihilate the deemed guilt expressed in Section 304B of IPC, and such interpretation would defeat the intentions and purposes of Parliament.

The Court further observed that there is no doubt that if same word is used in the Section and in its different segments, then they should be attributed the same meaning unless a contrary situation is stated in the provision, but the opposite happens when different words of close proximity occur in the same Section, then in such circumstances it should be presumed that the intention of the Legislature was to enumerate different situations with different ramifications. Further interpreting the words ‘prove’, ‘shown’ and ‘presume’ used in the abovementioned Sections, the Court stated that the word ‘shown’ in Section 304B of the IPC connotes ‘prove’, in other words, it is for the prosecution to prove that a ‘dowry death’ has occurred. The Court further observed that the Parliament intended by using the word ‘deemed’ intended that only preponderance of evidence would be insufficient to discharge the husband or his family members of their guilt. Further interpreting ‘shown’ as in Section 304B of IPC the Court stated that the proper manner of interpreting it is that ‘shown’ has to be read up to mean ‘prove’ and the word ‘deemed’ has to be read down to mean ‘presumed’.

The present case arose after the appellant had been convicted after his wife had committed suicide as a result of cruelty that was meted out to her to bring in dowry. Ankur Mittal and Rao Ranjit represented the appellant and the respondent respectively. Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, 2015 SCC OnLine SC 23, decided on 09.01.2015