Just like a plant, a bride is also transplanted from one place (from her birth place) to matrimonial house. It is a universal custom in all the religions and in all the countries.
When a gardener takes so many precautions to safeguard the plant transplanted from one place to another place, the bridegroom and his blood relatives shall have to take more and more precautions and should welcome her amicably and wholeheartedly.
Both the parties to the marriage and their relatives shall have to adjust with each other. It should be done in a friendly manner between them. Give and take, mutual respect, lives and let live principles are the appropriate ways of life.
The bride has to accustom with the new family atmosphere, for which she has to loose some of her habits, and to adopt some of the new habits of new family and vice versa. If it is done from both the sides, that family enjoys a peaceful and prosperous life in all respects. It is one side of the coin.
Another side of the coin was dowry. The in-laws and husband, if not satisfied with the dowry brought by the bride, begin to harass her. Women belong to weaker section in every society especially in India in all religions.
The slogans “Ardhangini” and “Half in the sky” are only lip-service practically a woman is confined to mere procreate and attend the household works. The bride’s difficulties start from her mother-in-law. Mother-in-law herself is a woman and might have been suffered the same difficulties when she entered into that house as a bride.
However, she forgets all those olden days and sufferings. She begins to torture and harass the daughter-in-law to have the control on entire house, and to squeeze more dowry from her parents.
Thus the bride becomes a worst target of social and economic exploitation. Husband and his parents, sisters, brothers begin to torture and harass with words, and beat her cruelly and brutally.
Lastly, even they dare to kill the daughter-in-law by pouring kerosene. We read such incidents every day in newspapers. “Dowry Deaths” and “Dowry Suicides” have become very common in our society. It is our pitiable and shameful social structure. In fact, these incidents have been growing year by year after independence.
No doubt, the Constitution, the Indian Penal Code, the Dowry Prohibition Act, marriage laws, etc., have provided certain safeguarding provisions to the women. Due to the agricultural country having poor economy and illiteracy, all these provisions have become in vain.
Section 304-B was inserted in the IPC, by Act 43 of 1986, W.E.F. 19-10-1986. This Section imposes penalty to the dowry death. Nature of offence under this Section is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable and triable by Court of Session.
Besides Section 304-B, Section 306 (Abetment to commit suicide) may also be charged under the Dowry Death cases. In such cases, it is called “Dowry Suicides”.
Sec. 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.
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
A. Ingredients of Section 304-B:
1. The death of a married woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances.
2. The death should have occurred within seven years of her marriage.
3. She was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or by his relatives soon before her death.
4. Such cruelty or harassment should have connection with the dowry.
5. For the purpose of this Section, the term “dowry” shall be understood as is given in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
Sec. 2. (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961)
Definition of dowry:
In this Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly,—
(a) By one party to the other party to the marriage; or
(b) By the parents 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.
The wrong-doer shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life. Nature of offence: Cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable and triable by Court of Session.
B. While confirming the conviction on the accused, in Ram Badan Sharma vs. State of Bihar (AIR 2006 SC 2855), the Supreme Court held: “Ingredients to sustain conviction for:
(i) Demand for dowry and consequent harassment for non-fulfillment thereof;
(ii) Death of the deceased; and
(iii) Death under unnatural circumstances within seven years of marriage. Even in case of suicide, Section 304-B is attracted. Crimes against women and children are social evils and malpractices.”
C. State of U.P. vs. Ashok Kumar AIR (1992) SC 840)
At the time of marriage, Accused’s wife brought jewellery and dowry with her. He took entire jewellery and kept in his custody. Accused and his father were unhappy with the dowry brought by the bride.
Soon after the marriage, the husband started ill-treating his wife, demanding more money, for which she did not agree. He and his father had beaten her very cruelly.
Within one year of the marriage, oh one fateful night, Accused, his sister and father poured kerosene on her and burnt her at 2.30 or 2.45 a.m., and came out of the flat, and started chitchatting. As a result the wife died.
On the complaint of wife’s father, the police filed complaint against them. The neighbours of the flats gave the evidence in the trial Court.
The trial Court imposed of punishments seven years to the husband and three years to each of the other accused. The High Court acquitted the accused pointing out that the wife’s father did not mention the neighbours’ names in his petition.
On appeal, the Supreme Court felt that the High Court erred in its finding that the wife’s father did not write the names of the neighbours in the complaint. The Supreme Court observed that it is common when a person, in that circumstance coupled with tension and grievance, cannot enquire into the names of the neighbours. It is the duty of the police to enquire.
In this case, the police investigated and wrote the names of the witnesses and submitted their report to the trial Court. The witnesses, who were the neighbours, averred their evidence. Their testimony came from their hearts and reality.
All of them witnessed about the cruelty and harassment of the accused, his father and sister against the victim before the death and at the time of the death. The Supreme Court confirmed the trial Court’s judgment.
D. Mulakh Raj vs. Satish Kumar (AIR 1992 SC 1175)
The deceased wife was aged only 20 years at the time of her death. After one year five months of her marriage, one day, she was found dead with burnings. The husband averred that it was a suicide.
On post-mortem, it was found that the wife died due to constriction (asphyxia), and after her death, with an intention to destroy the evidence, kerosene was poured on the body and was burnt. There were no eye-witnesses.
The trial Court convicted the accused with life imprisonment depending upon the circumstantial evidence and the post-mortem report. On appeal, the High Court acquitted him opining that there were no eye witnesses.
On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the judgment of the trial Court opining that the medical report and circumstantial evidence were sufficient to prove the guilty of the accused.
E. Paniben vs. State of Gujarat (AIR 1992 SC 1817):
Brief Facts: Since the marriage, mother-in-law was not satisfied with the dowry brought by daughter- in-law. She harassed and tortured her inhumanely. Husband was a silent spectator.
Within one year of marriage, one day, the mother-in-law poured kerosene on her daughter-in-law, who was sleeping in her bed room.
Husband and others tried to save her. While she was taken to hospital, she told that her mother-in-law poured kerosene on her. Before she was taken to hospital, she died. The trial Court imposed life imprisonment. The High Court acquitted the accused. On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the judgment of the trial Court.
While disposing the appeal, Mohan J observed:
“Every time a case relating to dowry death comes up, it causes ripples in the pool of the conscience of this Court. Nothing could be more barbarous, nothing could be more heinous than this sort of crime. The root cause for killing young bride or daughter-in-law is avarice and greed.
All tender feelings which alone make the humanity noble disappear from the heart. Kindness which is the hallmark of human culture is buried. Sympathy to the fairer sex, the minimum sympathy is not even shown. The seedling which is uprooted from its original soil and is to be planted in another soil to grow and bear fruits is crushed.
Sympathy is what is pleaded at our hands. We are clearly on the opinion that it would be a travesty of justice if sympathy is shown when such cruel act is committed. It is rather strange that the mother-in-law who herself is a woman should resort to killing another woman.
It is hard to fathom as to why even the “mother” in her did not make her feel. It is tragic that deep racour should envelope her reason and drown her finer feelings. The language of deterrence must speak in that it may be a conscious reminder to the society. Undue sympathy would be harmful to the cause of justice. It may even undermine the confidence in the efficacy of law.”
F. Score of Dowry Deaths:
Dowry Deaths and Dowry Suicides are very shameful to our country. The score of such deaths has been increasing year to year, crossing regional boundaries, climbed down the caste and religious ladder.
The reported figure of dowry deaths and suicides in 1989 was 4006. This figure went up to 4,800 in 1990. There may be several thousands of unreported deaths. The same is the situation even after two decades, after incorporating Section 304-B in the Indian Penal Code.
According to the provisions of Section 304-B IPC, the law presumes that if a wife, within seven years of her marriage, dies other than the natural death, she was killed by her husband or his relatives in connection with squeezing dowry.
Section 304-B in IPC and Section 113-B in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 were inserted at once by the Act No. 43 of 1986.
Former is mainly the substantive, but also has procedural law. The latter is procedural law and is drafted by the Parliament for the support of former. Section 113-B of the Evidence Act presumes the dowry death, which runs:
(Indian Evidence Act, 1872). Sec. 113-B. Presumption as to dowry death:
When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.
For the purposes of this Section, “Dowry death” shall have the same meaning as in Section 304- B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
H. While disposing Harjit Singh vs. State of Punjab (AIR 2006 SC 680), the Supreme Court observed:
“By virtue of Section 304-B IPC, a legal fiction has been created in the said provision to the effect that in the event it is established that soon before the death the deceased was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any of his relatives; for or in connection with any demand of dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death.
From a conjoint reading of Section 304-B of the Penal Code and Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, it will be apparent that a presumption arising there under will operate if the prosecution is able to establish the circumstances as set out in Section 304-B of the Penal Code.”
I. Sec. 306 defines and imposes punishment for abetment of suicide. Nature of offence under this Section is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable and triable by Court of Session.