Author: Neitseizonou Solo
Dowry is one of the biggest issues facing Indian society and it is understood as the widespread practice of the bride’s family giving anything which has a monetary value like cars, jewellery etc. to the groom on demand from his side. Dowry must not be confused with a gift as a gift is voluntary while a dowry is compulsory as the groom makes it an essential condition for the marriage. The dowry pressure on a bride causes both extreme financial duress as well as mental and emotional stress. Moreover, dowry leads to the commitment of offences against the bride and later on the wife in an attempt to get the dowry.
Legal Definition of Dowry
Indian law has provided a definition for dowry under section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1962. This section defines dowry as any property or valuable security given directly or indirectly by:
- One party to the marriage to the other party of the marriage.
- Parents or any other person of one party to the parents or any other person of the other party before the marriage or even after the marriage when it is in connection to the marriage.
In the case of Arjun Dhondiba Kamble v. State of Maharashtra, 1995 AIHC 273 the court held that, “Dowry” in the sense of the expression contemplated by Dowry Prohibition Act is a demand for property of valuable security having an inextricable nexus with the marriage, i.e., it is a consideration from the side of the bride’s parents or relatives to the groom or his parents and/or guardian for the agreement to wed the bride-to-be.”
The above section has excluded “mahr” which is a form of dowry practiced by Muslims. The section excludes dowry for any person who is covered under Muslim personal law.
What is Dowry Death?
The name itself is explanatory of what it means; dowry deaths are those deaths which are a consequence of dowry. It can cover both suicide of the bride due to severe harassment, both physical and mental, from the groom and the family demanding dowry, as well as murder of the bride. India has the highest number of dowry deaths in the world with 8,083 dowry deaths reported in the year 2013 according to National Crime Statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau. Since 2012, that number has gone down and it was reported in 2015 by the NCRB that the number of dowry deaths was 7,634. Further, according to the same report, the conviction rate for dowry deaths are at an abysmal 34.7%
Laws against Dowry Deaths
Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)
Dowry death as an offence was inserted in the IPC as Section 304-B by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986. According to this section, when the death of a women occurs by burning, bodily injury ir any other abnormal circumstances within 7 years of the marriage and it must be shown that she had been subjected to cruelty or harassment prior to her death by the husband or his family in connection with dowry.
Essentials of Dowry death:
The essentials of a dowry death are as follows:
- Death of a woman.
- Within 7 years of marriage.
- Subjected to harassment of cruelty by husband or his family prior to her death.
- Such harassment or cruelty is in connection to dowry.
In the case of Prema S. Rao v. Yadla Srinivasa Rao, AIR 2003 SC 11 the court held that one of the essentials of dowry death is that:
- Soon before the death of the woman.
- She was harassed as a result of dowry demands.
Burden of Proof
The burden of proof in relation to dowry deaths is upon the prosecution. In the case of Bajnath & Ors. v. State of Madhya Pradesh Criminal Appeal no. 1097 of 2016, a two judge bench held that the essential ingredient of harassment prior to the death of the wife in connection to dowry must be proved by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt and only then will there be a presumption that the offense of dowry death has occurred.
In case of dowry deaths, majority of the evidence is circumstantial and thus a rule of presumption is used by the courts in such cases. This rule of presumption is encapsulated in the following sections:
- Under section 304-B it is said that if a woman dies within 7 years of marriage and all the given essentials for this section is proven by the prosecution, there is a presumption of dowry death.
- Section 113-B of Indian Evidence Act provides that there is a presumption that on the death of a woman, when there is a question of dowry death, and it can be shown that the women was subjected to cruelty or harassment due to demand for dowry prior to her death, there is a presumption of dowry death.
In the case of Ratan Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1994 Cri LJ 1684 the court held that section 304-B and section 113-B of the Evidence Act enact a rule of presumption. If the death of the woman occurs within seven years of marriage under abnormal circumstances which may be caused by burns or any other bodily injury. The prosecution must proof that the death occurred within seven years of marriage for the rule of presumption to apply.
Scope of section 304-B
The scope of section 304-B is quite wide considering the fact that harassment and cruelty as a consequence of demands for dowry is the main criteria. The section not only covers death at the hands of the husband or his relatives but it also extends to suicide. Thus, if a woman commits suicide due to the either or both mental and physical anguish caused by the husband and his relatives through their bullying, the husband and family would be held accountable for such a death. A legal fiction is created if all the prerequisites of dowry death are proven by the prosecution.
Punishment for Dowry Death
It is provided in clause 2 of section 304-B that whoever commits dowry death will be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than 7 years and may also be imprisoned for life.
This section provides a punishment for husband or his relative for subjecting woman to cruelty and it provides that such a person will be imprisoned for a term which may extend to 3 years along with a fine. It states that cruelty means:
- Wilful conduct which is likely to drive a woman to suicide or causes grave injury or danger to life, limb or health.
- Harassment of woman or her relative to fulfil an unlawful demand for property or valuable security.
In the recent case of Rajesh Sharma and Ors. v State of U.P. Criminal Appeal No. 1265 of 2017 the court provided criteria for when to apply section 498-A. The test is given below:
- Setting up of family welfare committees to process dowry harassment cases.
- The members who comprise the committee will be social workers.
- Members to be paid in honorarium.
- The police must look into the recommendations of this committee before making any arrests.
About the Author: Neitseizonou is a third-year student at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.
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