Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dinesh Pathak, J., addressed a matter of dowry death and upheld the lower court’s decision.

Factual Matrix

An FIR was filed by the informant (PW-1) with regard to the dowry death of his daughter who was allegedly killed by her in-laws.

Accused was married to the informant’s daughter and at the time of marriage, he had received Rs 1 lakh cash as well as goods worth Rs 1 lakh. That apart, he had given one golden chain and golden ring to the groom, but in-laws of his daughter were not satisfied with the dowry.

Due to non-fulfilment of dowry demand, in-laws of the informant’s daughter attempted several times to kill her and later kicked her out of their house. She was subjected to cruelty and later in June, 2015 the police informed her about the death of the daughter.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court noted that the present matter pertained to the dowry death of the lady who had been allegedly hanged by her in-laws.

Bench stated that the case is of circumstantial evidence. Trial Court concluded that demand for dowry was the root cause and drew the victim to take a drastic step of ending her life.

Section 304-B IPC and Section 113-B of Evidence Act are decisive provisions to ascertain the unnatural death as dowry death.

Conjoint reading of Section 304-B IPC and presumptive provision of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, one of the essential ingredients, amongst others, is that the woman must have been soon before her death subjected to cruelty and harassment for or in connection with demand of dowry. On the proof of essentials as mentioned in the aforesaid sections, it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.

“…it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.”

Supreme Court expounded the legal presumption qua dowry death in Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, (2015) 3 SCC 724.

It was expressed in the present matter that in case of dowry death initial burden lies upon the prosecution to prove the ingredients of Section 304-B IPC by a preponderance of probability.

In the matter in hand, prosecution witnesses of fact i.e. PWs-1, 2 and 3 were consistent in their depositions qua cruel attitude of husband and his family member in connection with demand of dowry.

Main ingredients of dowry death are harassment and cruelty for the demand of dowry.

Main Question:

Whether the victim had died otherwise than under normal circumstances and it was shown that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty and harassment by her husband or his relatives for, or in connection with, any demand of dowry.

Matter in hand relates to dowry death of victim, which is obviously a case of death other than under normal circumstances.

Bench noted that it may be a matter of dispute as to whether she had been forcibly hanged to death or hanged herself to death but there was no doubt that she had ended her life under extreme pressure created by her on laws.

After careful consideration of evidences of prosecution witnesses and defence witnesses, Trial Court has taken a pragmatic view that involvement of parents of husband (i.e. appellant herein) is not made out on the facts and circumstances of the present case, who were living separately from their son but the involvement of husband cannot be ruled out.

Adding to the above analysis, it was stated that from the evidence on record it is proved that appellant was living with his wife, therefore, his claim for acquittal on the ground of acquittal of his relatives (i.e. parents) was not sustainable and being cohabitant with his wife, his complicity in the commission of a crime could easily be inferred.

High Court concluded that there was persistent demand of dowry made by the accused from the victim who was subjected to cruelty and harassment and ultimately she had ended her life in suspicious circumstances wherein injury inflicted on her forehead suggested some violence soon before her death.

Prosecution successfully discharged its duty and it is obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.

Hence, the present appeal was dismissed and the decision of the lower court was upheld. [Deepak v. State of U.P., Jail Appeal No. 18 of 2019, decided on 3-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for Appellant:- Ashok Kumar Yadav, Rakesh Dube

Counsel for Respondent :- A.G.A.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

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

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case relating to dowry death, the bench of NV Ramana*, CJ and Aniruddha Bose, J has said that judges need to be extra careful while conducting criminal trials relating to Section 304-B, IPC. The Court went on to summarise the law under Section 304­B, IPC read with Section 113­B, Evidence Act and the guidelines to be followed by the Courts while conducting trials in such cases.

The Court noticed that, often, Trial Courts record the statement of an accused under Section 313, CrPC in a very casual and cursory manner, without specifically questioning the accused as to his defense.

“It ought to be noted that the examination of an accused under Section 313, CrPC cannot be treated as a mere procedural formality, as it is based on the fundamental principle of fairness.”

Hence, the Court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. A duty is also cast on the counsel of the accused to prepare his defense, since the inception of the trial, with due caution, keeping in consideration the peculiarities of Section 304¬B, IPC read with Section 113-B, Evidence Act.

Dowry deaths – Facts and Figures

A study titled “Global study on Homicide: Gender-related killing of women and girls”, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, highlighted that in 2018 female dowry deaths account for 40 to 50 percent of all female homicides recorded annually in India. The dismal truth is that from the period 1999 to 2016, these figures have remained constant.

The latest data furnished by the National Crime Records Bureau indicates that in 2019 itself, 7115 cases were registered under Section 304-B, IPC alone.

Law on dowry death – The trajectory

Section 304¬B, IPC is one among many legislative initiatives undertaken by Parliament to remedy a long-standing social evil of dowry death. The pestiferous nature of dowry harassment, wherein married women   are   being   subjected   to   cruelty   because   of   covetous demands by husband and his relatives has not gone unnoticed. The Parliament enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 as a first step to eradicate this social evil. Further, as the measures were   found   to   be   insufficient,   the   Criminal   Law   (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983) was passed wherein Chapter XX-A was introduced in the IPC, containing Section 498¬A.

The need for a stringent law to curb dowry deaths was suo motu taken up by the Law Commission in its 91st Law Commission Report. The Law Commission recognized that the IPC, as it existed at that relevant time, was insufficient to tackle the issue of dowry deaths due to the nature and modus of the crime.

The Parliament, then, introduced amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act, as well as the IPC by enacting Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 (Act 43 of 1986). By way of this amendment, Section 304-B, IPC was specifically introduced in the IPC, as a stringent provision to curb the menace of dowry death in India.

Margaret Alva, who presented the Amendment Bill before Rajya Sabha observed:

“You have never really heard of a girl being burnt while cooking in her mother’s  house or her husband’s  house. It is always in the mother-in-law’s house that she catches fire and is burnt in the kitchen. Therefore, getting evidence immediately becomes a great bit problem. Therefore, we have brought in a couple of amendments which give certain presumptions where the burden of proof shifts to the husband and to his people to show that it was not a dowry death or that it was not deliberately done.”

Dowry Death and Criminal Trial – Law Summarised

  1. Section 304¬B, IPC must be interpreted keeping in mind the legislative intent to curb the social evil of bride burning and dowry demand.
  2. The prosecution must at first establish the existence of the necessary ingredients for constituting an offence under Section 304-B, IPC. Once these ingredients are satisfied, the rebuttable presumption of causality, provided under Section 113¬B, Evidence Act operates against the accused.
  3. The phrase “soon before” as appearing in Section 304¬B, IPC cannot be construed to mean ‘immediately before’. The prosecution must establish existence of “proximate and live link” between the dowry death and cruelty or harassment for dowry demand by the husband or his relatives.
  4. Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorizing death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The reason for such non categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental.
  5. Due to the precarious nature of Section 304-B, IPC read with 113¬B, Evidence Act, Judges, prosecution and defence should be careful during conduction of trial.
  6. It is a matter of grave concern that, often, Trial Courts record the statement under Section 313, CrPC in a very casual and cursory manner, without specifically questioning the accused as to his defense. It ought to be noted that the examination of an accused under Section 313, CrPC cannot be treated as a mere procedural formality, as it based on the fundamental principle of fairness. This aforesaid provision incorporates the valuable principle of natural justice “audi alteram partem” as it enables the accused to offer an explanation for the incriminatory material appearing against him. Therefore, it imposes an obligation on the court to question the accused fairly, with care and caution.
  7. The Court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. A duty is also cast on the counsel of the accused to prepare his defense since the inception of the Trial with due caution, keeping   in consideration the peculiarities of Section 304-B, IPC read with Section 113¬B, Evidence Act.
  8. Section 232, CrPC provides that, “If, after taking the evidence for the prosecution, examining   the accused and hearing the prosecution and the defence on the point, the Judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, the Judge shall record an order of acquittal”. Such discretion must be utilized by the Trial Courts as an obligation of best efforts.
  9. Once the Trial Court decides that the accused is not eligible to be acquitted as per the provisions of Section 232, CrPC, it must move on and fix hearings specifically for ‘defence evidence’, calling upon the accused to present his defense as per the procedure provided under Section 233, CrPC, which is also an invaluable right provided to the accused.
  10. In the same breath, Trial Courts need to balance other important considerations such as the right to a speedy trial.
  11. The presiding Judge should follow the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court while sentencing and imposing appropriate punishment.
  12. Undoubtedly, the menace of dowry death is increasing day by day, however, sometimes family members of the husband are roped in, even though they have no active role in commission of the offence and are residing at distant places. In these cases, the Court need to be cautious in its approach.

[Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 404, decided on 28.05.2021]


Judgment by: Chief Justice of India NV Ramana 

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where a woman died of burn injuries one year into her marriage, the bench of NV Ramana*, CJ and Aniruddha Bose, J has held that Courts should use their discretion to determine if the period between the cruelty or harassment and the death of the victim   would come within the term “soon before” as the factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case.

“When the legislature used the words, “soon before” they did not mean “immediately before”. Rather, they left its determination in the hands of the courts.”

Background

A woman got married to a man in July, 1994. As fate would have it, she died exactly after year after receiving burn injuries, allegedly after she set herself ablaze due to being subjected to cruelty and dowry demand at the hands of her husband and in-laws. The appellants were convicted by the Trial Court in December, 1997 for the offences under Sections 304¬B and 306, IPC and were sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years for the offence punishable under Section 304-B, IPC and to undergo rigorous imprisonment for five years for the offence punishable under Section 306, IPC.

In November, 2008, the Punjab and Haryana High Court also  upheld the order of the Trial Court and dismissed the appeal filed by the appellants.

Analysis

Was the offence under Section 304-B IPC made out?

“Soon before” – Interpretation

When the legislature used the words, “soon before” they did not mean “immediately before”. Rather, they left its determination in the hands of the courts. The factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. Even the spectrum of cruelty is quite varied, as it can range from physical, verbal or even emotional. This list is certainly not exhaustive. Therefore, Courts should use their discretion to determine if the period between the cruelty or harassment and the death of the victim   would come within the term “soon before”.

“What is pivotal to the above determination, is the establishment of a “proximate and live link” between the cruelty and the consequential death of the victim.”

When the prosecution shows that ‘soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry’, a presumption of causation arises against the accused under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act. Thereafter, the accused has to rebut this statutory presumption.

Further, Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorizing death as homicidal   or suicidal or accidental, as was done earlier. The reason for such non categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental. However, the Section 304-B, IPC endeavors to also address those situations wherein murders or suicide are masqueraded as accidents.

“Therefore, if all the other ingredients of Section 304¬B IPC are fulfilled, any death whether caused by burns or by bodily injury or occurring otherwise than under normal circumstances shall, as per the legislative mandate, be called a “dowry death” and the woman’s husband or his relative “shall be deemed to have caused her death” unless proved otherwise.”

Chain of circumstances  – Where did it lead?

  • The deceased and accused were married on 01.07.1994, and the death of the lady occurred on 31.07.1995.
  • According to the evidence of the doctor, the entire body of the deceased was doused with kerosene oil. Therefore, the possibility of an accident was ruled out.
  • The Deceased had disclosed to her brother, within a month after her marriage that the accused, husband and mother-in-law, used to physically harass her on the account of bringing insufficient dowry. Furthermore, the accused persons had made a specific demand of a scooter. Pursuant to this disclosure, she was brought back to her paternal house.
  • Only a month prior to her death, the deceased had returned to her matrimonial house. However, the accused still used to harass the deceased for dowry. The aforesaid fact was revealed by the deceased to her father, when she had come to visit him.
  • Just a week before the death, on the occasion of Teej festival, another brother of the deceased had visited her while she was in her matrimonial home. The deceased had reiterated her plight to her
  • On 31.07.1995, the father of the deceased was informed by some villagers that his daughter has been admitted in the hospital. Upon reaching, the father discovered that the deceased succumbed to burn injuries.

“The aforesaid chain of circumstances proves that there existed a live and proximate link between the instances of demand of dowry and the death of the deceased.”

The court noticed that since the ingredients of Section 304¬B, IPC stoodsatisfied, the presumption under 113¬B, Evidence Act operated against the appellants, who are deemed to have caused the offence specified under Section 304-B of IPC. The burden therefore shifted on the accused to rebut the aforesaid presumption, who in turn, failed to make out a case for acquittal.

Was the offence under Section 306 IPC made out?

A bare reading of the provision indicates that for the offence under Section 306, IPC the prosecution needs to first establish that a suicide has been committed. Secondly, the prosecution must also prove that the person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide, has played an active role in the same.

With respect to this latter requirement, Section 113¬A, Evidence Act creates a presumption against the husband and/or his relative with respect to the abetment of suicide of a married woman, under certain conditions. Not going into the other conditions, a perusal of the provision indicates that such presumption shall be attracted only if the factum of suicide has been established by the prosecution first.

However, in the present case, the conclusion reached by the Courts below was based on assumptions, as there is no evidence on record to support the same.

The reasoning of the Trial Court in this regard was:

“Further, there is no direct evidence having been adduced by the prosecution the (sic) any of the accused caused death by sprinkling kerosene on the body of the deceased, the only possibility is that Meena Kumari put an end to her life by sprinkling kerosene on her body.”

Hence, since there was insufficient evidence to prove the factum of suicide beyond reasonable doubt, the presumption under Section 113-A, Evidence Act, is not of much help for the prosecution. The essential ingredient of deceased committing suicide has not been proved by the prosecution by adducing sufficient evidence.

“In the present case, the prosecution has failed to establish that the death occurred due to suicide. Therefore, we are of the opinion that the finding of the Courts below convicting the appellants under Section 306, IPC merits interference by this Court.”

Conclusion

Conviction under Section 304-B IPC was upheld and conviction and sentence under Section 306, IPC was set aside.

[Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 404, decided on 28.05.2021]


Judgment by: Chief Justice of India NV Ramana

Know Thy Judge| Justice N.V. Ramana

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Navin Sinha and Krishan Murari, JJ has held that there cannot be any rigid standard or yardstick for acceptance or rejection of a dying declaration and whether or not it will be admissible in evidence will depend upon the fact of each case.

The Court was hearing a case dating back to 1991 where a married woman succumbed to 95% burn injuries. The case became complicated as there was no eye-witness account and the prosecution had based it’s case of circumstantial evidence involving the dying declaration of the deceased. The husband and the sister-in-law of the deceased were acquitted as the dying declaration did not inspire confidence.  “It vacillated between blaming the husband and the sister¬in-law, coupled with the absence of any certificate by the Doctor that the deceased was in a fit state of mind when she made the dying declaration.”

Explaining the law relating to admissibility of dying declaration under Section 32 of the Evidence Act, 1872, the Court held that it alone can also form the basis for conviction if it has been made voluntarily and inspires confidence.  However,

“If there are contradictions, variations, creating doubts about its truthfulness, affecting its veracity and credibility or if the dying declaration is suspect, or the accused is able to create a doubt not only with regard to the dying declaration but also with regard to the nature and manner of death, the benefit of doubt shall have to be given to the accused. Therefore, much shall depend on the facts of a case.”

Applying this principle the Court took note of the following facts at hand:

  • The statement of the deceased was based on hearsay evidence that the deceased was set on fire by her husband. There was no reference to sister-in-law in this statement and neither had she said anything about dowry demand.
  • The next statement of the deceased blamed the sister-in-law. This statement was not signed by anybody and the Doctor who recorded the statement has not been examined. Merely because his signature has been identified by the record clerk of the hospital cannot establish the correctness of its contents.
  • The third statement of the deceased was recorded by the Assistant Sub­Inspector blaming sister-in-law alone without any allegation against the husband, and on the contrary states that she was brought to the hospital by her husband. “It again does not disclose any dowry demand.”
  • Assistant Sub­Inspector who recorded the dying declaration does not state that the deceased was in a fit state of mind to make the statement. He states that the Doctor had certified fitness of mind of the deceased, when the dying declaration itself contains no such statement. In cross examination he acknowledges that the fitness of the deceased was certified by a resident junior doctor separately but whose signature and endorsement is not available on the dying declaration. The record clerk of the hospital also made a statement that the Doctor had not signed in his presence and that at times doctors would come and put their signatures in the record room.

In such facts and circumstances, considering that the statements of the deceased have vacillated, the Court noticed that there is no evidence about the fitness of mind of the deceased to make the dying declaration including the presence of the Doctor, the veracity and truthfulness of the dying declaration remains suspect. Hence,

“it would not be safe to simply reject the probable defence of suicide, to reverse the acquittal and convict the respondents.”

[Naresh Kumar v. Kalawati, CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 35 OF 2013, decided on 25.03.2021]


*Judgment by Justice Navin Sinha

Know Thy Judge| Justice Navin Sinha

Appearances before the Court by

For appellant: Advocate Rajendra Singhvi

For respondents: Senior Advocate Ramesh Gupta

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Subramonium Prasad, J., expressed that:

“Courts must not close its eyes to the fact that it is the victim who knocks the doors of the Court and seeks justice must not left high and dry with the feeling that the accused have escaped due to the perfunctory/faulty/defective investigation.”

Instant petition as directed against the decision of Additional Sessions Judge that discharged the respondent 4 and 5 for the offences under Sections 306/34 of the Penal Code, 1860.

Petitioners are the parents of the deceased who was married to respondent 3. The deceased was found hanging by the neck from the ceiling fan in her matrimonial house within two and a half years of her marriage.

Statements before the SDM

Petitioner 1 i.e. the mother of the deceased stated that the deceased was not happy in her marriage and her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were responsible for the suicide. Though the deceased’s father said that he did not have any grievances or any complaints against any persons and that no one was responsible for the death of the deceased.

No FIR was registered against respondent 4 and 5.

After about 10 months of the death of the deceased, an FIR was registered under Sections 306/34 IPC.

Additional Sessions Judge found that the statements of parents before the SDM did not bear any stamp and that they were also not signed by the petitioners. Prima Facie no material was found to proceed against the accused persons for charges under Sections 306/34 IPC, hence the accused were discharged.

Though the Additional Sessions Judge found investigational lapses that required due probe and further directed for a copy of the order to be sent to the Screening Committee for appropriate action.

The above-said order has been challenged in the present petition.

Analysis, Law and Decision

“…charge-sheet in the instant case bleeds of wounds inflicted by the Police.”

No explanation on why FIR was registered after 10 months of the death

Bench noted that the investigation was oriented in order to give a closure report. And filing of FIR after ten months of the incident was contrary to law.

Petitioner 1 stated that the respondent 4 and 5 demanded dowry, hence there was no reason, whatsoever, not to lodge an FIR for an offence under Section 304B IPC.

It was also stated that IO told the petitioners to give statements as per his will and suggestions and threatened her. Petitioner 1’s letter to the Commissioner of police revealed that IO was forcing the parents of the deceased to enter into a compromise with the respondents.

To construe an offence under Section 304 B i.e. dowry death, the death of the women could have been 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 in connection with, any demand for dowry.

 Ingredients for constituting Section 304 B were made out but surprisingly no FIR was registered.

In the instant matter, the death occurred within 7 years of marriage and allegations of dowry death were also present against the respondent 4 and 5. Deceased died by committing suicide.

Bench expressed that unfortunately neither the Magistrate nor the ASJ orders a further investigation after commenting on glaring loopholes with the investigation.

Sufficient material on record was placed stating that the deceased was subjected to cruelty/harassment with the demand of dowry by respondent 4 and 5 and hence presumption under Section 113(b) of the Indian Evidence Act will apply.

Defective Investigation

 It is well settled that where there has been negligence on the part of the investigating agencies or omissions either negligently or with a design to favour the accused, then it becomes the obligation of the Court to ensure that proper investigation is carried out.

Supreme Court’s decision in Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya v. State of Gujarat, (2019) 17 SCC 1, Vinay Tyagi v. Irshad Ali, (2013) 5 SCC 762 were relied upon by the Court.

In the present matter, investigation was conducted in an extremely shoddy manner. 

High Court elaborating more on the present matter stated that the ASJ while passing the impugned judgment on noticing the glaring inconsistencies should have ordered for further investigation.

Hence, impugned Judgment was set aside. High Court directed police to conduct an investigation on the basis of petitioners’ statements and the same to be conducted by a different investigation officer. [Saroj Bhola v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1497, decided on 05-04-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioners: Chanan Parwani, Advocate

For the Respondents: Kusum Dhalla, APP for the State and respondent 2

Charanjeet Singh, Advocate for respondents 3 to 6

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where withing a couple of days of the alleged dowry death of a doctor in Agra, a suicide note was leaked to the newspapers of the city, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ has said that selective disclosures to the media affect the rights of the accused in some cases and the rights of victims families in others.

“The media does have a legitimate stake in fair reporting. But events such as what has happened in this case show how the selective divulging of information, including the disclosure of material which may eventually form a crucial part of the evidentiary record at the criminal trial, can be used to derail the administration of criminal justice.”

Background

The deceased, a doctor by profession, married the accused, also a doctor, in 2014. Over Rs.1.50 crores were spent by the deceased’s father for conducting the marriage. It was alleged that even thereafter, deceased’s husband, his parents, brother-in-law and sister-in-law misbehaved with the deceased on account of dowry. Deceased’s father alleges to have paid money on several occasions by cheque to her in-laws. Also, she was severely assaulted in 2017. In the meantime, the deceased suffered miscarriages on two occasions and ultimately, adopted a daughter. The FIR states,

“… dowry greedy people killed Dipti in [xxx] for non-receipt of dowry and non-fulfilment of the demands, and admitted Dipti in their hospital itself in the almost dead condition, in order to save themselves, but she was not allowed any treatment with the intention of killing her. In order to save the life of Dipti, the applicant took her away to the Sarvodaya hospital Faridabad for treatment, at the earlies.” (sic)

While the Sessions Judge denied anticipatory bail on 21 August 2020, the single judge of Allahabad High Court held that

(a) the FIR prima facie appears to be engineered to implicate the applicants;

(b) there is no corelation in between the various allegations leveled in the FIR; and

(c) the allegations “are general in nature” with no specific role being assigned to the accused.

Analysis

On FIR being “engineered” to implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family

Finding the judgment of the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad unsustainable, the Court held that the FIR contained a recital of allegations bearing on the role of the accused in demanding dowry, of the prior incidents of assault and the payment of moneys by cheque to the in-laws of the deceased. It aslo referred to the telephone calls which were received both from the father-in-law of the deceased on the morning of 3 August 2020 and from the deceased on two occasions on the same day- a few hours before her body was found.

“The grant of anticipatory bail in such a serious offence would operate to obstruct the investigation. The FIR by a father who has suffered the death of his daughter in these circumstances cannot be regarded as “engineered” to falsely implicate the spouse of the deceased and his family.”

On publicity of the alleged suicide by media

“This is not fair to the accused because it pulls the rug below the presumption of innocence. It is not fair to the victims of crime, if they have survived the crime, and where they have not, to their families.”

The investigating officer has a duty to investigate when information about the commission of a cognizable offence is brought to their attention. Unfortunately, this role is being compromised by the manner in which selective leaks take place in the public realm. Neither the victims nor their families have a platform to answer the publication of lurid details about their lives and circumstances.

“The daughter of the appellant had died in mysterious circumstances. The family had completed the last rites. To expect that they should be scouring the pages of the print and electronic media before reporting the crime is a mockery of the human condition.”

Further, the apprehension of the appellant that the deceased’s husband and his family have a prominent social status in Agra and may have used their position in society to thwart a proper investigation cannot be regarded to be unjustified.

On transfer of investigation to CBI

“The investigation by the UP Police in the present case leaves much to be desired.”

The Court said that it would be a travesty if it were to ignore the glaring deficiencies in the investigation conducted so far. Further,

“The status of the accused as propertied and wealthy persons of influence in Agra and the conduct of the investigation thus far diminishes this Court’s faith in directing a further investigation by the same authorities. The cause of justice would not be served if the Court were to confine the scope of its examination to the wisdom of granting anticipatory bail and ignore the possibility of a trial being concluded on the basis of a deficient investigation at best or a biased one at worst.”

Hence, it is necessary to entrust a further investigation of the case to the CBI in exercise of the powers of this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution.

Directions

(i) The order passed by the Single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad allowing the applications for anticipatory bail by the respondents-accused set aside and the bail granted to them stands cancelled; and

(ii) The CBI is directed to conduct a further investigation in the matter.

[Dr. Naresh Kumar Mangla v. Anita Agarwal,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 1031, decided on 17.12.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of NV Ramana* and Surya Kant, JJ has acquitted a man convicted under Section 498­A read with Section 34 IPC for the death of his brother’s wife after it was found that the case against him was not proved beyond doubt.

Allegedly, after several instances of abuse at her matrimonial home, the deceased went to live with her parents. On the fateful day, her husband came to visit her and took her for a walk but came back alone and hurriedly packed his belongings to leave. When confronted about the whereabouts of the deceased, he said   that the deceased was attending the call of nature and would be back soon. He left thereafter. When the deceased did not return after an hour, the complainant started searching for her and she was   ultimately found dead, near a canal with strangulation marks on her neck.

Deceased’s husband, Brother-in-law (the appellant herein) and Father-in-law were convicted under Section 498-A read with Section 34 IPC.

In the present appeal, the deceased’s brother-in-law contended that the prosecution story comprises of vague allegations, unsubstantiated by evidence and that the entire family has been roped in this case. Thus, the conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained.

The prosecution had alleged that the appellant in the present case, had, along with his brother and father, demanded dowry of Rs. 10,000 from the family of the deceased at the time of the vidai ceremony and had continued to harass her for the non-payment of the same.

On perusal of the testimonies of the witnesses, the Court noticed that deceased’s father had named the appellant-accused in the same breath along with other accused persons and their family members accusing them of troubling the deceased for demand of dowry of Rs. 10,000/-.

However, apart from the vague allegations, no specific instance of hostile attitude or persistent demands of dowry have been pointed out by any of the witnesses. All other independent witnesses have turned hostile and have not supported the prosecution story. Also, the paternal uncle of the deceased and a witness named in the FIR, has not supported the prosecution story.

The Court, hence, concluded that on consideration of the oral testimonies of the witnesses, the ingredients of Section 498-A IPC have not been proved against the appellant by the prosecution at the standard of beyond reasonable doubt and, hence, acquitted the appellant.

The Court also discharged the bail bonds of the appellant who is out on bail since September, 2010.

[Nimay Sah v. State of Jharkhand, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 982, 02.12.2020]


*Justice NV Ramana has penned this judgment. Read more about him here

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: J.J., Munir, J., addressed a matter wherein the father of the minor children has been facing trial for criminal charges and has instituted the petition seeking custody of his minor children.

The instant petition was instituted for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two minor children.

Minors’ Custody

It was stated that respondent 4 and respondent 5 be directed to produce the two minor-children detenues before the Court and minors be given into the father’s custody who has instituted the instant petition.

Digvijay Singh, counsel for the petitioners and Pankaj Kumar Tyagi, counsel appearing on behalf of respondent 4 and Sri Jhamman Ram, Additional Government Advocate appearing on behalf of the State.

Analysis and Decision

The issue of minor’s custody in the present matter came into light after the unnatural death of their mother, regarding which Awadesh Gautam (husband) and four others of his family were reported to the police by the respondent 4 charging them with murder and destruction of evidence.

It was alleged that the minors were taken forcibly by respondent 4 when the husband of the deceased was sent to jail.

Bench on perusal of the above stated observed that the question regarding maintainability of a habeas corpus writ petition to decide issues regarding custody of children or guardianship between a parent snd some other kindred, or between two parents, both of whom are natural guardians, all of this has been fairly well-settled. The stated issue came up for consideration before the Supreme Court in Syed Saleemuddin v. Dr Rukhsana, (2001) 5 SCC 247 wherein it was held that:

“…in an application seeking a writ of Habeas Corpus for custody of minor children the principal consideration for the Court is to ascertain whether the custody of the children can be said to be unlawful or illegal and whether the welfare of the children requires that present custody should be changed and the children should be left in care and custody of somebody else. The principle is well settled that in a matter of custody of a child the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration of the Court.”

In Tejaswini Gaud v. Shekhar Jagdish Prasad Tewari, (2019) 7 SCC 42 it was held that:

“19. Habeas corpus proceedings is not to justify or examine the legality of the custody. Habeas corpus proceedings is a medium through which the custody of the child is addressed to the discretion of the Court. Habeas corpus is a prerogative writ which is an extraordinary remedy and the writ is issued where in the circumstances of the particular case, ordinary remedy provided by the law is either not available or is ineffective; otherwise a writ will not be issued. In child custody matters, the power of the High Court in granting the writ is qualified only in cases where the detention of a minor by a person who is not entitled to his legal custody. In view of the pronouncement on the issue in question by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, in our view, in child custody matters, the writ of habeas corpus is maintainable where it is proved that the detention of a minor child by a parent or others was illegal and without any authority of law.

20. In child custody matters, the ordinary remedy lies only under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act or the Guardians and Wards Act as the case may be. In cases arising out of the proceedings under the Guardians and Wards Act, the jurisdiction of the court is determined by whether the minor ordinarily resides within the area on which the court exercises such jurisdiction. There are significant differences between the enquiry under the Guardians and Wards Act and the exercise of powers by a writ court which is summary in nature. What is important is the welfare of the child. In the writ court, rights are determined only on the basis of affidavits. Where the court is of the view that a detailed enquiry is required, the court may decline to exercise the extraordinary jurisdiction and direct the parties to approach the civil court. It is only in exceptional cases, the rights of the parties to the custody of the minor will be determined in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction on a petition for habeas corpus.”

In the present matter, Court stated that the custody cannot be termed as unlawful. Respondent 4 is the minors’ grandmother who has been given custody of the minors’ by Neeraj Gautam, the cousin or relative of Awadhesh’s in the presence of the Station House Officer.

Awadhesh who is the father of the minors’ could say that being the natural guardian of the two minors’ he has the right to seek their custody from the grandmother.

It is precisely this right which Awadhesh asserts, by virtue of Section 6 (a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. He says he is the sole natural surviving guardian, and therefore, entitled to the minors’ custody. It is, no doubt, true that Awadhesh is the minors’ natural guardian under Section 6 (a) of Act, 1956, but the issue about the minors’ custody is not so much about the right of one who claims it, as it is about the minors’ welfare.

The issue of welfare of the child cannot be mechanically determined. It is to be sensitively approached, taking into consideration both broad and subtle factors that would ensure it best.

The principle governing custody of minor children, apart from other issues, fell for consideration of the Supreme Court in Nil Ratan Kundu v. Abhijit Kundu, (2008) 9 SCC 413.

In the above-cited case, the facts disclose that the father, who claimed the minors’ custody from his maternal grandfather and grandmother was like her, an accused in a case relating to his wife’s dowry death. Fathers’ involvement in a case relating to wifes’ dowry death was regarded by the Supreme Court as an important factor to be carefully addressed.

“…fact about the involvement of a natural guardian, in a criminal case relating to the death of a spouse, was held to be an important consideration while determining the question of welfare of the minor.”

Court interacted with the eldest amongst the minors’ who expressed that he is not disturbed at all about the fact that his maternal grandmother has placed him and his sister at Sri Braddhanand Bal Ashram. 

Further, the child added that he does not wish to go back to his father or stay with him. On being asked the reason, he says that he fears for his life. He also said that he wishes to stay at the hostel. During the course of the conversation, the child emotionally brokedown and wept. He insisted upon staying with the hostel and refused to go back to his father.

Later the Court looked into the allegations for which the father was facing trial, wherein it was noted that the wife had called up her mother stating that there was a conspiracy afoot, where she could be crushed to death under the wheels of a tractor. Later on, she was found dead near portraying it as an accident.

The totality of the circumstances on record shows that unless acquitted, it would not be appropriate to place the two minor children in their father’s custody.

Bench held that the father is not entitled to the minors’ custody when he is facing criminal charges. Once he is acquitted, it would be open to him to make an appropriate application seeking their custody to the Court of competent jurisdiction under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.

In the totality of the circumstances obtaining for the present, this Court did not find it appropriate to grant any visitation rights to Awadhesh Gautam.[Shaurya Gautam v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1372, decided on 10-11-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court:  In a case where the appellant had challenged his conviction under Section 306 IPC for driving his wife to suicide, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ set aside the verdict of the Trial Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court and held that the conclusion that the deceased was driven to commit suicide, by the circumstances or atmosphere in the matrimonial home was nothing more than an inference, without any material support and the same cannot be the basis for sustaining conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC.

KEY FACTS CONSIDERED BY COURTS

  • The appellant was married to the deceased and they had a son (21/4 years) and a daughter (8/9 months), when the mother committed suicide on 12.8.1997. According to the prosecution case, the deceased was harassed after marriage, for insufficient dowry. The appellant along with his parents was charged under sections 304B and 498A read with section 34 of the IPC.
  • The father of the deceased submitted that “cash loan” of 20,000/- was asked from him by the family of the appellant.
  • appellant is the only son of his parents and they are the owner of a big house with a vegetable garden. The appellant and his father were drivers with Punjab police.
  • during delivery time, the deceased was admitted in the hospital for 10/12 days in November 1996 and her medical treatment was arranged by the husband and the father-in-law.
  • No evidence of any dispute relating to dowry demand or maltreatment of the deceased, during three years of marriage was seen.

TRIAL COURT AND HIGH COURT’s VERDICT

Even while declaring that there is insufficient material to convict anyone under section 304B & 498A IPC, the trial Court opined that although no charge of abetment was framed against the husband Gurcharan Singh, he can be convicted for abetting suicide of his wife, under section 306 IPC.

The Trial Court also concluded even if Rs. 20,000/- was asked for purchase of plot three years after marriage and few days later the unnatural death takes place, the death cannot be related to demand of dowry.

However, posing a question to itself as to why a young lady with two small children would commit suicide unless she has been pushed to do so, by the circumstances in the matrimonial home, the Trial Court observed that the expectation of a married woman will be love and affection and financial security at the hands of her husband and if her hopes are frustrated by the act or by wilful negligence of the husband, it would constitute abetment within the meaning of section 107 IPC, warranting conviction under section 306 IPC.

The High Court also endorsed the Trial Court’s view that deceased was pushed to commit suicide by the circumstances and the atmosphere in the matrimonial home.

SUPREME COURT’s OBSERVATION

On ingredients to establish offence of abetment under Section 107

As in all crimes, mens rea has to be established. To prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Sec 107 of the IPC, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible, to determine the culpability. In order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the appellant herein had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of the deceased. The ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous.

“In order to give the finding of abetment under section 107 IPC, the accused should instigate a person either by act of omission or commission and only then, a case of abetment is made out.”

On facts and circumstances of the case

Cruelty

In the present case there is no direct evidence of cruelty against the husband or the in-laws. There is nothing on record to show which particular hope or expectation of the deceased was frustrated by the husband. Evidence is also lacking on wilful neglect of the appellant, which led to the suicidal death.

Whereas contrary evidence is available to suggest that care and treatment was given to the deceased in the matrimonial home and in the hospital, and during the three years of marriage, there was no instance of maltreatment, attributable to dowry demand.”

Dowry

The demand of Rs. 20,000/- for purchase of a plot (in front of the residence which might have incidentally become available for sale just at that time), after three years of marriage, was ruled out by the trial Court as the possible cause for the suicidal death.

“Thus, a loan may have been sought by the accused which could not be given. But there is nothing to show that the deceased was harassed on this count, in the matrimonial home.”

Expectations from husband and in-laws

Insofar as the possible reason for a young married lady with two minor children committing suicide, in the absence of evidence, conjectures cannot be drawn that she was pushed to take her life, by the circumstances and atmosphere in the matrimonial home.

“What might have been the level of expectation of the deceased from her husband and in-laws and the degree of her frustration, if any, is not found through any evidence on record. More significantly, wilful negligence by the husband could not be shown by the prosecution.”

It must also be noted that both children born to deceased are being brought up by the appellant’s family ever since the death of the mother on 12.8.1997. The maternal grandparents, even while pointing fingers against the accused, never raised any issue on their grandchildren being brought up in the home where their daughter died an unnatural death.

Conclusion

The Court noticed that in the present matter both the Trial Court as well as the High Court never examined whether appellant had the mens rea for the crime, he is held to have committed.

“The conviction of Appellant by the Trial Court as well as the High Court on the theory that the woman with two young kids might have committed suicide, possibly because of the harassment faced by her in the matrimonial house, is not at all borne out by the evidence in the case.”

On the other hand, it is apparent that no overt act or illegal omission is seen from the appellant’s side, in taking due care of his deceased wife. The evidence also does not indicate that the deceased faced persistent harassment from her husband.

“The Trial Court and the High Court speculated on the unnatural death and without any evidence concluded only through conjectures, that the appellant is guilty of abetting the suicide of his wife.”

Hence, the conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC cannot be sustained.

[Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.40 OF 2011, decided on 02.10.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: A.J. Desai, J., allowed an application of anticipatory bail in connection with the FIR registered for the offences punishable under Sections 498A, 304(B), 506(2) and 114 of the Penal Code, 1860.

The counsel for the applicant submitted that the nature of allegations were such for which custodial interrogation at this stage was not necessary.

The Court while allowing the anticipatory bail application considered the facts of the case, nature of allegations which were general in nature, gravity of offences, role attributed to the accused and the fact that the present applicant who happened to be mother in law of the deceased was permanent resident of Uttar Pradesh as also the fact that the FIR had been lodged after a period of almost six months from the date of incident and the fact that the coordinate Bench had considered the case of co-accused and considered the age of the applicant who was aged 66 years reiterating the law laid down in Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra, (2011) 1 SCC 694. [Binasinh Dayaramsinh Raghuvanshi v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 1143, decided on 18-08-2020]


*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsHigh Courts

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]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of B.A. Patil and Hanchate Sanjeevkumar, JJ., upheld the decision of the trial court with regard to dowry death.

By the instant criminal appeal, the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge, Gulbarga has been challenged.

Counsel for the appellant-accused: Iswaraj S. Chowdapur and Additional State Public Prosecutor for respondent – State: Prakash Yeli.

Dowry | Cruelty

Parents of Dattamma at the time of the marriage had given one tola of gold as dowry. After one year of when the dowry was given, the accused started subjecting Dattamma to cruelty contending that she doesn’t know how to cook and used to ask her to bring cash and gold from her parent’s house.

The said fact of cruelty was conveyed by Dattamma to her parents who along with some elderly persons visited the accused and paid a sum of Rs 5000, but he continued to subject Dattamma to mental and physical cruelty.

Later the accused poured kerosene and lit fire on Dattamma with the intention to commit murder. Afterwhich, she was taken to the hospital and sustained burn injuries.

In view of the above-stated offence, the trial court had convicted the accused.

Analysis and Decision

Bench while analysing the set of circumstances and submission placed stated that,

When the prosecution establishes its case with regard to ill-treatment and harassment said to have been caused by the accused and admittedly the death of the decased has also taken place within 7 years after the marriage, under such circumsatnces, a duty cast upon the Court to draw a presumption under Section 113 A of the Evidence Act that is dowry death.

Demand of Dowry

In the present matter, Court relying on the proposition laid down in the decision of C.M. Girish Babu v. CBI, (2009) 3 SCC 779, held that the prosecution has established that there was ill-treatment and harassment caused by the accused for the demand of dowry.

Trial Court has rightly convicted the accused for the offences punishable under Section 498-A and 302 IPC and also under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

Accused’s Counsel contended that the imprisonment itself is harsh and severe punishment under such circumstances the imposition of a heavy fine to a poor agriculturist is not justifiable and it is excessive fine which ought not to have been imposed.

In view of the above stated, Court modified the fine imposed on the accused.

The sentence imposed by the trial court for the offences punishable under Sections 498A and 302 of IPC and under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act was confirmed. [Baswaraj v. State of Karnataka, Criminal Appeal No. 354 of 2013, decided on 10-08-2020]


Also Read:

Cruelty to Women [S. 498-A IPC and allied sections]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed an appeal filed against the order of the trial court whereby it had acquitted of the offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 306, 201 read with Section 34 Penal Code, 1860.

The accused were the in-laws of the deceased. The complainant (father of the deceased)and harassed her due to the non-fulfilment of their demand. Further, it was alleged that subsequent to the harassment, the accused persons murder the deceased. However, during the trial, the charge of murder against the accused persons was altered to that of the abetment of suicide. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court acquitted all the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the State approached the High Court in the instant appeal.

The High Court considered the findings of the trial court and held that the offence under Section 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) was not established as the demand of money, such as alleged by the complainant, could not be proved by the prosecution.

Coming to the charge under Section 306 (abetment of suicide), the High Court, relying on Sanju v. State of M.P., (2002) 5 SCC 371, explained: “Here is the case of abetment by instigation. The word ‘instigate’ means to goad or urge or forward or to provoke, incite, or encourage to do an untoward act which that person would have otherwise not done. It is also well settled that in order to amount to abetment, there must be mens rea. Without knowledge or intention, there can be no abetment and the knowledge and intention must relate to the act said to be abetted, i.e., suicide, in this case. In order to constitute ‘abetment by instigation’, there must be a direct incitement to do the culpable act. The word ‘instigate’ denotes incitement or urging to do some drastic or unadvisable action or to stimulate or incite. Presence of mens rea, therefore, is the necessary concomitant of instigation.”

It was noted that in the instant case, “There is no evidence to suggest or indicate that the accused knew or had reason to believe that deceased would commit suicide. Even if any acts or words uttered by the accused or their conduct are sufficient to demean or humiliate the deceased and even to drive the deceased to suicide, such acts will not amount to instigation or abetment of commission of suicide, unless it is established that the accused intended by their acts that the deceased must commit suicide. It is not enough if the acts of the accused cause persuasion in the mind of the deceased to commit suicide.”

The offence under Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) was also held to be not proved. Therefore, the order of the trial court was upheld and the instant appeal was dismissed. [State of Maharashtra v. Vijay Maruti Bombale, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 5985, decided on 19-12-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: R.P. Dholaria, J. whilst partly allowing the appeal reduced the sentence of the appellant.

In the present case, the deceased, Deepali committed suicide by setting herself on fire on 22-10-2014. The deceased’s marriage took place four months prior to the incident and since then the accused father-in-law picked up a quarrel for the promised dowry of Rs 30,000 of which Rs 10,000 had already been by paid by the deceased’s mother. The other two accused – husband and mother-in-law did not appeal.

Counsel for the appellant father-in-law, Shubha Tripathi confined to only challenging the conviction and pointed out that the appellant has already undergone a sentence of roughly five years and no acquittal is to be sought. The appellant’s prime concern is for a reduced sentence.

The Court observed from the facts and circumstances of the case that the grave allegations were levelled against the husband and mother-in-law alone. Therefore, it reduced the sentence to the extent of 5 years rigorous imprisonment for the offence punishable under Sections 304-B read with 114 IPC. [Aakash Madhukarbhai Egole v. State of Gujarat, 2019 SCC OnLine Guj 1288, decided on 01-07-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A bench of Abhay Manohar Sapre and Dinesh Maheshwari, JJ has held that

“the age of a case, by itself, cannot be decisive of the matter when a prayer is made for examination of a material witness.”

Factual Background

  • A woman died in Nigeria under unnatural circumstances and her mother moved an application under Section 311 CrPC seeking summoning of the Doctor who had conducted first postmortem of the dead-body of her daughter in Nigeria.
  • The dead-body of the daughter of appellant was brought to India and Medical Board was constituted for conducting the post-mortem but then, the Board found that no definite opinion could be given regarding the time and cause of death.
  • The investigating agency, for the reasons best known to it, did not cite the said doctor, who conducted the first post-mortem in Nigeria as a witness
  • The Trial Court rejected the application so moved by the appellant, essentially for reasons that the trial was pending for almost 8 years; and that it was not necessary to record the Doctor’s statement.

Ruling

Noticing that the discretionary powers like those under Section 311 CrPC are essentially intended to ensure that every necessary and appropriate measure is taken by the Court to keep the record straight and to clear any ambiguity in so far as the evidence is concerned as also to ensure that no prejudice is caused to anyone, the Bench said,

“the testimony of the said doctor who conducted the first post-mortem in Nigeria is germane to the questions involved in this matter; and for a just decision of the case with adequate opportunity to both the parties to put forward their case, the application under Section 311 CrPC ought to have been allowed.”

The Court said that the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case have either been ignored or have been cursorily dealt by the Trial Court with the observations that the effect of non-availability of the original post-mortem report would be considered at the time of the final disposal of the matter.

“In fact, the principal reason weighing with the Trial Court in declining the prayer for examination of the said witness had been that the case was pending since the year 2010. The High Court, on the other hand, chose not to exercise its powers under 8 Section 482 CrPC, with the only observation that the discretion so exercised by the Trial Court was not to be interfered with.”

The Court held that though it is expected that the trial of a sessions case should proceed with reasonable expedition and pendency of such a matter for about 8-9 years is not desirable but then, the length/duration of a case cannot displace the basic requirement of ensuring the just decision after taking all the necessary and material evidence on record.

[Manju Devi v. State of Rajasthan, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 552, decided on 16.04.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sanjeev Sachdeva, J., allowed a petition filed by in-laws of the deceased (wife) against the order of the trial court in pursuance of which charges were framed against them under Sections 304-B (dowry death) and 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) IPC.

As per the prosecution, the deceased had died within seven years of her marriage. It was alleged that on the fateful, she was brought to Sanjay Gandhi Hospital where she was declared brought dead. On the MLC, the doctor opined: “alleged history of hanging and declared brought dead”. Parents of the deceased stated that she was harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws (petitioner). A case was registered and the trial court was of the view that a prima facie case was established against the husband and the in-laws. Accordingly, the charges were framed against all the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the in-laws filed the present petition.

Anunya Mehta and Akshay Deep Singhal, Advocates for the in-laws contended that the charges against them were based on omnibus allegations and the deceased was not residing with them for last several years as she was living separately in Rohini with her husband. They prayed for discharging the in-laws.

The High Court perused both the sections. It was noted that the allegations made by parents of the deceased were all against the husband. And there were a few very general allegations against the in-laws like that of ‘continuous bickering’. There was no allegation that they ever demanded dowry. It was stated, To constitute an offence under Sections 304-B and 498-A IPC, it not mere bickering which would amount to an offence but it should be harassment of such a nature that would drive a woman to commit suicide.” The Court held that allegations against the in-laws were not such a nature so as to qualify as an offence under the said sections. In such view of the matter, the petition was allowed and the in-laws were discharged.[Satbir Dalal v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2019 SCC OnLine Del 7006, dated 14-02-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

High Court of Himachal Pradesh: While deciding a criminal appeal preferred by the appellant-State challenging the judgment of the Trial Court, whereby the accused were acquitted for the offence punishable under Sections 498-A, 306 and 404 read with Section 34 of IPC, a two-Judge Bench of Tarlok Singh Chauhan, J. and Chander Bhusan Barowalia, J. held that the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond shadow of reasonable doubt and declined to interfere with the impugned judgment.

The respondents were accused of abetting the suicide of the deceased. Learned Additional Advocate General argued that the proof required under Section 498-A is not strict proof, but only preponderance of probabilities are required to be established. He further argued that the statements of the witnesses clearly established the guilt of the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court, after perusing the arguments and the evidence, held that the prosecution failed to prove that cruel treatment was given to the deceased and under these circumstances the presumption that it was a dowry death within seven years of marriage does not arise at all. The fact of deceased’s being taken to hospital by the accused immediately on consuming medicines proved the good conduct of the accused persons. In the given circumstances, the appeal was held sans merit and was accordingly dismissed. [State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ashwani Kumar, 2017 SCC OnLine HP 1311, decided on September 1, 2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the light of the rising misuse of Section 498-A IPC dealing with dowry deaths, the bench of A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit, JJ gave the below mentioned directions to deal with the menace, except in case offences involving tangible physical injuries or death, and said that the below mentioned arrangement should be tried for at least 6 months or till 31.03.2018, after which the National Legal Services Authority will have to submit a report to the Court.

  • Family Welfare Committee:
  1. Atleast one committee to be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities in every district, preferably comprising of three members who are para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
  2. The constitution and working of such committees may be reviewed from time to time and at least once in a year by the District and Sessions Judge of the district who is also the Chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.
  3. The Committee members will not be called as witnesses.
  4. Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee.
  5. Report and opinion of such committee be given to the Authority by whom the complaint is referred to it latest within one month from the date of receipt of complaint. No arrest should normally be effected before that.
  6. The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
  • Investigating Officer: Complaints under Section 498A and other connected offences may be investigated only by a designated Investigating Officer of the area. He should undergo training of four months for such duration (not less than one week) as may be considered appropriate.
  • Bail: If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day. Recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail if maintenance or other rights of wife/minor children can otherwise be protected.
  • NRIs: In respect of persons ordinarily residing out of India impounding of passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not be a routine.
  • Video Conferencing: Personal appearance of all family members and particularly outstation members may not be required and the trial court ought to grant exemption from personal appearance or permit appearance by video conferencing without adversely affecting progress of the trial.

The Court said that it is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women and that most of such complaints are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues & many are not bona fide. The Court said that involvement of civil society in the aid of administration of justice can be one of the steps to remedy this situation, apart from the investigating officers and the concerned trial courts being sensitized. [Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P., 2017 SCC OnLine SC 821, decided on 27.07.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where death penalty was sought for a man who allegedly set his 7-month pregnant wife on fire by pouring kerosene oil and also threw their 3-year-old son on the burning body of the deceased, the bench of P.C. Ghose and R.F. Nariman, JJ refused to award death penalty and held that confinement till natural life of the accused shall fulfill the requisite criteria of punishment in peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.

In the present case, the medical evidence had proved that the deceased met an unnatural death. Considering the fact that there is no other eye-witness to the incident as the accused and the deceased were alone at the house at the time of commission of offence, the Court noticed that the failure on the part of the accused to explain how his pregnant wife and their minor child met with unnatural death due to burn injuries sustained at their house leads to an inference which goes against the accused. The Court also took note of the the dying declarations of the deceased with consistent allegations about demand of dowry and modus operandi of the offence which resulted into the death of the declarant and her minor child and held that it is evident that each of the circumstances had been established, the cumulative effect whereof would show that all the links in the chain are complete and the conclusion of the guilt is fully established.

However, based on the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in the Report Number 262 where the abolition of death penalty for all the crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war (offences affecting National Security) was recommended, the Court said that capital punishment has become a distinctive feature of death penalty apparatus in India which somehow breaches the reformative theory of punishment under criminal law and hence, refused to award the same in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present case. [State of Maharashtra v. Nisar Ramzan Sayyed, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 356, decided on 07.04.2017]