Dowry Death

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Introduction

It is seen that the women is tortured by the husband and any of his relative after marriage for demand of dowry. The injury can be mental or physical injury. There are circumstances that the cruelty or harassment was inflicted by the husband is such that results in the death of wife by bodily injury. This death is called dowry death. This is defined under section 304B of Indian Penal Code 1860. She should have died in abnormal circumstances within the seven years of the marriage. In such circumstances the husband or the relative, as the case may be, will be deemed to have caused her death and will be liable to punishment. 

Section 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 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 304B applies only if a married woman dies 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 demand for dowry.

Meaning 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 (section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961).

Meaning of “soon before her death”

“Soon before her death” means interval between cruelty and death should not be much. There must be existence of a proximate and live links between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the concerned death. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become state enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence. Mustafa Shahdal Shaikh v. state of Maharashtra AIR 2013 SC 851.

The expression “soon before her death” used in section 304B, IPC, 1860 and section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 is present with the idea of proximity test. Though the language used is “soon before her death”, no definite period has been enacted and the expression “soon before her death” has not been defined in both the enactments. Accordingly, the determination of the period which can come within the term “soon before her death” is to be determined by the Courts, depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

Satya Narayan Tiwari v. state of UP 2011, in this case there was a demand of Maruti Car being pressed by the two accused persons after about six months of the marriage of the deceased (which took place about three years before the incident) and of her being pestered, nagged, tortured and maltreated on non-fulfilment of the said demand which was conveyed by her to her parents from time to time on her visits to her parental home and on telephone. She might have thought that things would improve with the passage of time, but it seemed that that did not happen. It, however, cannot be taken to mean that the demand made by the two accused persons had subsided or was given up by them. The test of ‘soon before’ was held satisfied in the facts, evidence and circumstances of this case.

Section 304B is a substantive provision creating a new offence and not merely a provision effecting a change in procedure for trial of a pre-existing substantive offence. As a consequence, accused cannot be tried and punished for the offence of dowry death provided in section 304B with the minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment for an act done by them prior to creation of the new offence of dowry death. Soni Devrajbhai Babubhai v. state of Gujarat 1991 Cr Lj (313) (SC).

Normal circumstances

 These words apparently carry the meaning of natural death. The expression “otherwise than under normal circumstances” means a death not taking place in the course of nature and apparently under suspicious circumstances if not caused by burns or bodily injury.

Conclusion

Dowry death is death of a women caused by bodily injury by her husband or in-laws within her seven years of marriage under unnatural circumstances and soon before her death there was cruelty and harassment caused to her. The section will apply whenever the occurrence of death is preceded by cruelty or harassment by husband or in-laws for dowry occurs in unnatural circumstances. This section does not apply under death in natural circumstances.

(Author: Palak Jain, pursuing LLB from Faculty of law, Delhi University.)