Legal Blog: Dowry Death - Meaning : Supreme Court explains

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dowry Death - Meaning : Supreme Court explains

Justice Lodha
We have dealt with various posts, relating to the Law of Dowry in India. The Supreme Court in Satya Narain Tiwari @ Jolly v. State of UP went to the extent of observing that Bride Burning cases should be treated as 'rarest of the rare'. In a recent case of Bachni Devi v. State of Haryana, Justice R.M. Lodha examined the relevant provisions of S. 304 B of the IPC, as under;

11. Section 304B was inserted in IPC with effect from November 19, 1986 by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 (for short, `(Amendment) Act, 1986'). Thereby substantive offence relating to `dowry death' was introduced in the IPC. Section 304-B IPC reads as follows :

"304B. 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 purposes 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."

12. For making out an offence of `dowry death' under Section 304B, the following ingredients have to be proved by the prosecution:

(a) death of a woman must have been caused by any burns or bodily injury or her death must have occurred otherwise than under normal circumstances;

(b) such death must have occurred within seven years of her marriage;

(c) soon before her death, she must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband; and

(d) such cruelty or harassment must be in connection with the demand for dowry.

13. Pertinently, for the purposes of Section 304B IPC, `dowry' has the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (for short, `1961 Act').

14. Section 2 of the 1961 Act defines `Dowry' as follows:

"2. Definition of `dowry'.- "Dowry" means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly--

(a) By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or

(b) By the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person, at or before or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

Explanation I--............(Omitted).

Explanation II--The expression "valuable security" has the same meaning as in section 30 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860)."

15. 1961 Act was enacted to prohibit the giving or taking of `dowry' and for the protection of married woman against cruelty and violence in the matrimonial home by the husband and in-laws. The mere demand for `dowry' before marriage, at the time of marriage or any time after the marriage is an offence. 1961 Act has been amended by the Parliament on more than one occasion and by the (Amendment) Act, 1986, Parliament brought in stringent provisions and provided for offence relating to `dowry death'. The amendments became imperative as the dowry deaths continued to increase to disturbing proportions and the existing provisions in 1961 Act were found inadequate in dealing with the problems of dowry deaths. The definition of `dowry' reproduced above would show that the term is defined comprehensively to include properties of all sorts as it takes within its fold `any property or valuable security' given or agreed to be given in connection with marriage either directly or indirectly. In S. Gopal Reddy v. State of A.P. , this Court stated as follows : "9. The definition of the term `dowry' under Section 2 of the Act shows that any property or valuable security given or "agreed to be given" either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other party to the marriage "at or before or after the marriage" as a "consideration for the marriage of the said parties" would become `dowry' punishable under the Act. Property or valuable security so as to constitute `dowry' within the meaning of the Act must therefore be given or demanded "as consideration for the marriage".

11. The definition of the expression `dowry' contained in Section 2 of the Act cannot be confined merely to the `demand' of money, property or valuable security "made at or after the performance of marriage" as is urged by Mr Rao. The legislature has in its wisdom while providing for the definition of `dowry' emphasised that any money, property or valuable security given, as a consideration for marriage, "before, at or after" the marriage would be covered by the expression `dowry' and this definition as contained in Section 2 has to be read wherever the expression `dowry' occurs in the Act. Meaning of the expression `dowry' as commonly used and understood is different than the peculiar definition thereof under the Act. Under Section 4 of the Act, mere demand of `dowry' is sufficient to bring home the offence to an accused. Thus, any `demand' of money, property or valuable security made from the bride or her parents or other relatives by the bridegroom or his parents or other relatives or vice versa would fall within the mischief of `dowry' under the Act where such demand is not properly referable to any legally recognised claim and is relatable only to the consideration of marriage. Marriage in this context would include a proposed marriage also more particularly where the non- fulfilment of the "demand of dowry" leads to the ugly consequence of the marriage not taking place at all. The expression `dowry' under the Act must be interpreted in the sense which the statute wishes to attribute to it...............The definition given in the statute is the determinative factor. The Act is a piece of social legislation which aims to check the growing menace of the social evil of dowry and it makes punishable not only the actual receiving of dowry but also the very demand of dowry made before or at the time or after the marriage where such demand is referable to the consideration of marriage. Dowry as a quid pro quo for marriage is prohibited .......... .".

16. While dealing with the term `dowry' in Section 304B IPC, this Court in the case of Kamesh Panjiyar @ Kamlesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar held as under : "14. The word "dowry" in Section 304-B IPC has to be understood as it is defined in Section 2 of the Dowry Act. Thus, there are three occasions related to dowry. One is before the marriage, second is at the time of marriage and the third "at any time" after the marriage. The third occasion may appear to be unending period. But the crucial words are "in connection with the marriage of the said parties". As was observed in the said case "suicidal death" of a married woman within seven years of her marriage is covered by the expression "death of a woman is caused ... or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances" as expressed in Section 304-B IPC."

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