(1991) 1 Supreme Court Cases 371
- Criminal Appeal No. – 368 of 1990 decided on November 13, 1990.
- Bench – Justice S.R. Pandian & Justice K. Jayachandra Reddy.
- Appellant – Smt. Shanti And Another.
- Respondent – State Of Haryana.
Specific Offence – Section 304-B & 498-A of INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860.
The deceased Smt. Kailash was married to Sat Pal on April 18, 1987. Accused 1 Smt. Shanti is the mother-in-law of deceased and the other appellant is Smt. Krishna wife of the brother of Sat Pal, who was another inmate. It is alleged that these two accused were harassing the deceased all the while after the marriage for not bringing scooter and television as part of the dowry and she was treated cruelly. The two appellants also misbehaved with the brother and father of the deceased and later the father was insulted and pushed out of the house. On April 26, 1988, at about 11p.m. father of deceased came to know that the deceased had been murdered and was cremated by the two ladies with the help of three other persons. A report was given and the police could recover only bones and ashes. After investigation, the charge sheet was filed.
- Whether the ingredients of Section 304-B are satisfied?
- Whether the other essential namely the ‘death occurred otherwise than under normal circumstances’ is also established?
- Whether the acquittal of the appellants of the offence punishable under section 498-A IPC makes any difference for the charges under Section 304-B?
The additional session Judge, who tried all the 5 accused convicted the appellants under section 304-B IPC and sentenced each of them to life imprisonment and under section 201 of IPC, sentenced them to undergo punishment for one year and to pay a fine of Rs. 2000 each and also under section 498-A IPC to two years rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of Rs. 3000.The other accused were acquitted.
These two appellants preferred an appeal to High Court and the same was dismissed. The High Court, however,set aside the conviction under Section 498-A IPC But confirmed it under Section 304-B of the IPC.
Appellant side –
It has been stated that High court has acquitted the appellants of the offence punishable under section 498-A would itself indicate that the prosecution case regarding cruelty is not accepted and consequently the death cannot be one of ‘Dowry Death’. It was submitted that in the absence of clear proof of the cause of death one cannot presume that the death occurred in unnatural circumstances.
Prosecution side –
- After carefully examining the facts, the prosecution has established his arguments beyond all reasonable doubt that the appellants treated the deceased cruelly and the same squarely comes within the meaning of ‘cruelty’ which is an essential under section 304-B and that such cruelty was for demand for dowry. It is an admitted fact that the death occurred within seven years of marriage, therefore the essentials for Dowry Death are fulfilled.
- From the evidence of father, mother and brother it is clear that the appellants hurriedly cremated the dead body. Under these circumstances, the presumption under section 113-B is attracted. The accused examined defence witness to rebut the presumption and to show that the deceased suffered heart-attack but no material was placed to show that the deceased suffered any such attack previously. If it was a natural death, there was no need for the appellants to act in such unnatural manner and cremate the body in great and unholy haste without even informing the parents. There is absolutely no material to indicate even remotely that it was a case of natural death.
Therefore it was an unnatural death, either homicidal or suicidal. In such a case, Section 304-Bis attracted and this position is not disputed. Therefore, the prosecution has established that the appellants have committed an offence punishable under section 304-B beyond all reasonable doubt.
- The High Court considered the entire evidence and held that the element of cruelty which is also an essential of section 304-B has been established. Therefore the mere acquittal of the appellants under Section 498-A IPC in these circumstances makes no difference. Here, the view of High Court that these two sections are mutually exclusive is not correct because these Sections 498-A &304-B deal with two distinct offences, it is true that ‘Cruelty’ is a common essential to both of sections and that has to be proved. It must also be borne in mind that a person charged and acquitted under section 304-B can be convicted under Section 498-A without charge being there if such a case is made out.
A careful analysis of Section 304-B shows that this section has the following essentials:
- The death of a woman should be caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances.
- Such death should have occurred within 7 years of her marriage.
- She must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
- Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with demand for dowry.
Section 113-B of the Evidence Act lays down that if soon before the death of such woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry, then the court shall presume that such woman has died of Dowry Death.
The meaning of “Cruelty” for the purposes of these sections has to be gathered from the language as found in section 498-A and as per that section “Cruelty” means any “willful 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 etc. or harassment to coerce her or any other 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.”
Comparison between 498-A and 304-B:
The explanation of cruelty is given in 498-A but in section 304-B there is no such explanation but having regard to the same background to these offences the meaning of ‘Cruelty & Harassment’ has to be taken to be the same as in the explanation to section 498-A under which ‘cruelty’ by itself amounts to an offence and is punishable.
Under Section 304-B it is the 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 and the husband or his relative would be liable for subjecting the woman to “Cruelty” any time after the marriage. A person charged and acquitted under section 304-B can be convicted under Section 498-A without a charge being there and vice-versa is also true.
- Jayachandra Reddy, J. – This is a case of Dowry Death. Cruelty is common essential for both of the offences- Dowry Death under section 304-B as well as Cruelty under 498-A. Section 304-B and 498-A are not mutually exclusive, these provisions deal with two distinct offences provisions. Court stated that accused charged but acquitted under Section 304-B can be convicted under Section 498-A even in absence of any charge under Section 498-A. So also acquittal under section 498-A will not prevent finding conviction under section 304-B. Court also stated that to avoid technical defects, a better practice would be to frame charges under both sections and also convict under both though no separate sentence may be awarded under section 498-A in view of the substantive sentence being awarded for the major offence under section 304-B.
There is no evidence as to the cause of death but the cruelty on the part of these two appellants is established but in bringing about the death there is no evidence as to the actual part played by them. Under these circumstances, a minimum sentence of seven years with rigorous imprisonment would serve the ends of justice instead of life imprisonment under section 304-B IPC.The appeal is disposed of accordingly.
 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.
 498A. 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 purpose 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.
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About the author: Rachi is a second-year student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.