Kumar & Ors Vs. State of Haryana 
INSC 80 (9 February
A.P. Misra A.P.Misra, J.
29TH DAY OF FEBRUARY, 1998 Present :
the Chief Justice Hon'ble Mr. Justice A.P.Misra U.R.Lalit, Sr. Adv., Manoj Swarup
and Sudhir Walia, Advs.with him for the appellants. Prem Malhotre and Altaf Hussain,
Advs. for the Respondent
following Judgment of the Court was delivered:
more than a century, inspite of tall words of respect for women, there has been
an onslaught on their liberties through `bride burning' and `dowry deaths'.
This has caused anxiety to the legislators, judiciary and law enforcing
agencies, who have attempted to resurrect them from this social choke. There
have been series of legislations in this regard, without much effect. This led
to the passing of Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961. Inspite of this, large number
of `brides burning' and dowry deaths continued. To meet this, stringent
measures were brought in the Indian Penal Code and the Evidence Act through
amendments. It seems, sections of society are still boldly pursuing this
chronic action to fulfil their greedy desire.
of stringent legislations, such persons are still indulging in these unlawful
activities, not because of any shortcomings in law but under the protective
principle of criminal jurisprudence of benefit of doubt. Often, innocent
persons are also trapped or brought in with ulterior motives. This places an
arduous duty on the Court to separate such individuals from the offenders. Hence
the Courts have to deal such cases with circumvention, sift through the
evidence with caution, scrutinise the circumstances with utmost care. The
present matter is one such where similar questions have been raised, including
question of interpretation of the stringent law.
three appellants were convicted for offence under Sections 306, 498-A and 304-B
IPC. Appellant No. 1 is the deceased's husband, No. 2 the father-in-law, and
No, 3 the mother-in-law respectively. The trial court convicted and sentenced
appellant No.1 for offence under section 304-B for 10 years and a fine Rs.
500/, under section 306 for 7 years and a fine of Rs. 200/- and under section
498-A for 2 years and a fne of Rs. 200/. Appellant Nos. 2 and 3 were convicted
and sentenced under section 304-B for 7 years with a fine of Rs. 500/-, under
section 306 for 7 years with a fine of Rs. 200/- and under section 498-A IPC
for 2 years with a fine of Rs. 200/-. The sentences were ordered to run
concurrently. The High Court maintained the convictions but reduced the
sentence form 10 years to 7 years so far appellant No. 1 is concerned.
brief facts of the case are :
(deceased) and appellant No.1 were married on 29th May, 1985. Appellant No.1 was working at Lucknow and had later shifted to Sonepat (Haryana).
According to the prosecution case, within a few days of the marriage Urmil
returned home and complained regarding demands of dowry for a refrigerator,
scooter etc. by appellants. These demands were reiterated on subsequent visits.
On account of non- fulfilment of these demands, the deceased was allegedly
tortured and harassed. These alleged actions ultimately contributed towards a
suicidal death. It is not in dispute that she died of burn injuries on 18th May, 1987.
April 1987, Tara Chand, maternal uncle of the deceased died. Urmil (deceased)
and Appellant No.1 went to Shahdara (Delhi) to offer condolences. From there, Appellant No.1 returned and Urmil
went to her sister's place in Delhi.
On 17th May, 1987, when Appellant No. 1 went to the
deceased's sister's place to bring Urmil (the deceased) back to Sonepat, some
quarrel took place between them.
Appellant No. 1 brought back the deceased to Sonepat. The very next day i.e. on
the 18th May, 1987, according to the appellants, at 9.30 a.m. Joginder Pal, (neighbour of the appellant) came to
appellant No.2 and informed him that smoke was coming out from the room on the
first floor of the house. When they reached there, they found Urmil lying dead
on the floor with burn injuries. The room was full of smoke. Later, the parents
of the deceased arrived and a post mortem examination was conducted on the body
of the deceased. The doctor found that the cause of death was shock and
asphyxia as a result of servere burns which were ante-mortem and were
sufficient to causes death in the ordinary course of life.
counsel for the appellants vehemently argued with vehemence that even if all
the evidence on record was taken into consideration, no offence could be made
out. No clear finding of suicide had been recorded and in any case essential
ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC were lacking.
evidence against appellants No.2&3 was flimsy, and in any case their
conviction could not be sustained. Further, there was no evidence that soon
before her death, the deceased was subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in
connection with any demand of dowry. There was neither any demand of dowry nor
was there any agreement at the time of marriage, which is an essential
ingredient to constitute an offence under dowry death in terms of definition of
`dowry' as given under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
(hereinafter referred to as `the 1961 Act'). Unless there is an agreement for
dowry, at the time of marriage or in connection with marriage, it would not
qualify to be a dowry within such definition, hence no offence under Section
304-B I.P.C. Merely expressing the grouse of asking for fridge or TV would not
by itself constitute to be a dowry within the said definition in the absence of
any agreement. Further, before applying the demand clause under Section 304-B
the evidence has to be within the scope of criminal jurisprudence, i.e. to
prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. It cannot be based merely on
suspicion, conjectures and surmises.
see Section 304 I.P.C. The ingredients necessary for the application of Section
When the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury, or
otherwise than under normal circumstances.
the aforesaid two facts springs within 7 years of girl's marriage.
soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her
husband or his relative.
is in connection with the demand of dowry.
these conditions exist, it would constitute a dowry death; and the husband
and/or his relatives shall be deemed to have caused her death. In the present
case, it is not in dispute that the deceased Urmil died of burn injuries, that
she died otherwise than under normal circumstances, and that the death was
within a period of 7 years of marriage. The only consideration has to be:
whether she was subjected to any cruelty or harassment by the appellants soon
before her death, and whether the same was for or in connection with any demand
of prosecution case, Smt. Misro Devi, mother of the deceased, PW-4 Trishala Devi,
sister of the deceased, PW-5 Prem Chand Jain, father of the deceased, PW-6 Ram Gopal,
brother-in-law of the deceased, husband of PW-5,PW-7 were examined. On perusal
of the evidence of PW-4 we find that the mother of the deceased deposed that
within four days following the marriage, her daughter deceased Urmil came back
to her and told her that her parents-in-law and husband were subjecting her to
taunts for not bringing a scooter and refrigerator as dowry at the time of
marriage. She somehow pacified her daughter to return. Urmil came back after
two months and again told her mother that her husband in-laws were continuously
taunting her daily, maltreating her and calling her ugly for not bringing the
aforesaid goods as dowry. Admittedly, these taunts were uttered in view of the
lesser dowry brought by her. Even after giving birth to a son, when she came
back she again narrated the continued maltreatment poured on her by the
accused. She also deposed that Urmil wrote some letters from Sonepat to her at Calcutta and Hansi, but after going through
them she tore them up. Her letters also referred to the same maltreatment and
torture. Similarly, PW-6, the father of the deceased also referred to the
similar complaints made to him by Urmil. He also deposed that she used to tell
him that her husband and in-laws were maltreating and harassing her on account
of not meeting the demand of a scooter and a fridge. The father again expressed
his inability to meet this demand. Hence her father sent her back after
pacifying her. Similar is the deposition of PW-5, the sister of the deceased
and PW-7, the brother-in-law of the deceased.
afore referred to evidence, according to the learned counsel for the appellant,
may merely be an expression of the desire to acquire a fridge, scooter etc.
that by itself cannot be construed as an offence as this would not come within
the definition of `dowry' under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
read with Section 304-B and 498 I.P.C. It is necessary to refer the afore
2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 defines `dowry' as under "-
"Definition of `dowry'- In this Act, `dowry' means any property or
valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly.
one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
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 dowry or mehr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat)
304-B(1) with Explanation of IPC is as also quoted.
Dowry death - (i) 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 or 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
Explanation - For the purposes of this
sub-section, "dowry" shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of
the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (18 of 1961).
498-A is also quoted here under :
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 purposes of this section,
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
harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing here
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.
aforesaid 1961 Act was enacted to provide an effective check to dowry deaths
which were continuing despite the then prevailing laws. The object of the Bill
was to prohibit the evil practice of giving and taking of dowry.
objective was not achieved hence drastic amendments were brought in by amending
various provisions of the said Act and the related provisions under the Indian
Penal Code and the Evidence Act. Earlier, the definition of `dowry' which was
limited to the time at or before the marriage was extended to the period even
after the marriage by means of Act 43 of 1986 w.e.f. November 19,1986. Similarly, Section 304-B was
introduced by means of the same amending Act and Section 498-A was introduced
by Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983). Various other
amendments were brought in bringing more stringent provisions in the aforesaid
1961 Act in order to stem the onslaught on the life of a married woman.
true, as argued by learned counsel for the appellants, that in criminal
jurisprudence benefit of doubt is extendable to the accused. But that benefit
of doubt would arise in the context of the application of penal law, and in the
facts and circumstances of a case. The concept of benefit of doubt has an
important role to play but within the confines of the stringency of laws. Since
the cause of death to a married woman was to occur not in normal circumstances
but as a `dowry death', for which the evidence was not to easily available, as
it is mostly confined to within four walls of a house, namely husband's house,
where all likely accused reside. Hence the aforesaid amendments brought in the
concept of deemed `dowry death' by the husband or the relatives, as the case
may be. This deeming clause has a role to play and cannot be taken lightly and
ignored to shield an accused, otherwise the very purpose of the amendment will
be lost. Of course, the prosecution has to prove the ultimate essential
ingredients beyond all reasonable doubt after raising the initial presumption
of `deemed dowry death'.
to section 304-B refers to dowry "as having the same meaning as in Section
2 of the 1961 Act", the question is - what is the periphery of the dowry
as defined therein? The argument is, there has to be an agreement at the time
of the marriage in view of the words `agreed to be given' occurring therein,
and in the absence of any such evidence it would not constitute to be a dowry.
It is noticeable, as this definition by amendment includes not only the period
before and at the marriage but also a period subsequent to the marriage.
words in statute are referable to more than one meaning, the established rule
of construction is found in Heydon's case (1584) 76 E.R. 639 also approved by
this Court in Bengal Immunity Co. Ltd. V. State of Bihar & Ors., AIR 1955
SC 661 (674). The rule is to consider four aspects while construing an Act :
when was the law prior to the law which is sought to be interpreted;
was the mischief or defect for which new law is made;
is the remedy the law now provides; and
is the reason of the remedy.
Court must adopt that construction which, "suppresses the mischief and
advances the remedy." Applying this principle, it is clear that the
earlier law was not sufficient to check dowry deaths hence aforesaid stringent
provisions were brought in, so that persons committing such inhuman crimes on
married women should not escape, as evidence of a direct nature is not readily
available except of the circumstantial kind. Hence it is that interpretation
which suppresses the mischief, subserves the objective and advances the remedy,
which would be acceptable. Objective is that men committing such crimes should
not escape punishment. Hence stringent provisions were brought in by shifting
the burden onto the accused by bringing in the deemed clause. As aforesaid, the
definition of `dowry' was amended with effect from 19th November, 1986, to
include a period even after the marriage.
offence alleged against appellants is under Section 304-B IPC which makes `demand
of dowry' itself punishable.
neither conceives nor would conceive of any agreement. If for convicting any
offender, agreement for dowry is to be proved, hardly any offenders would come
under the clutches of law. When Section 304-B refers to `Demand of dowry', it
refers to the demand of property or valuable security as referred to in the
definition of `dowry' under 1961 Act. It was argued on behalf of the appellants
that mere demand of scooter or fridge would not be a demand for dowry. We find
from the evidence on record that within a few days after the marriage, the
deceased was tortured, maltreated and harassed for not bringing the aforesaid
articles in marriage. Hence the demand is in connection with marriage. The
argument that here is no demand of dowry, in the present case, has no force. In
cases of dowry deaths and suicides, circumstantial evidence plays an important
role and inferences can be drawn on the basis of such evidence.
could be either direct of indirect. It is significant that Section 4 of the
1961 Act, was also amended by means of Act 63 of 1984, under which it is an
offence to demand dowry directly or indirectly from the parents or other
relatives or guardian of a bride. The word `agreement' referred to in Section 2
has to be inferred on the facts and circumstances of each case. The
Interpretation that the appellant seeks, that conviction can only be if there
is agreement for dowry, is misconceived. This would be contrary to the mandate
and object of the Act. "Dowry" definition is to be interpreted with
the other provisions of the Act including Section 3, which refers to giving or
taking dowry and Section 4 - Penalty for demanding dowry, under the 1961 Act
and the Indian Penal Code. This makes it clear that even demand of dowry on
other ingredients being satisfied is punishable.
leads to the inference, when persistent demands for TV and scooter are made
from the bride after marriage or from her parents, it would constitute to be in
connection with the marriage and it would be a case of demand of dowry within
the meaning of Section 304-B IPC. It is not always necessary that there be any
agreement for dowry.
to the present case, the evidences of the aforesaid PWs are very clear. After
few days of the marriage, there was demand of scooter and fridge, which when
not being met lead to repetitive taunts and maltreatment.
demands cannot be said to be not in connection with the marriage. Hence the
evidence qualifies to be demand for dowry in connection with the marriage and
in the circumstances of the case constitutes to be a case falling within the
definition of `dowry' under Section 2 of 1961 Act and Section 304-B IPC.
next question is, whether there was any cruelty or harassment by the deceased's
husband or any relative and that too it was soon before her death. The argument
put in is that neither there is any physical injury nor any evidence of cruelty
from any neighbours or other independent persons; hence there is no cruelty or
harassment. In our considered opinion, cruelty nor harassment need not be
physical. Even mental torture in a given case would be a case of cruelty and
harassment within the meaning of Section 304-B and 498-A IPC. Explanation (a)
to Section 498-A itself refers to both mental and physical cruelty. In view of
Explanation (a) the argument is, before it constitutes to be a cruelty there
has to be wilful conduct. Again wilful conduct means, conduct wilfully done may
be inferred by direct or indirect evidence which could be construed to be such.
We find, in the present case, on account of not satisfying the demand of the
aforesaid goods, right from the next day, she was repeatedly taunted,
maltreated and mentally tortured by calling her ugly etc. A girl dreams of
great days ahead with hope and aspiration when entering into a marriage, and if
from the very next day the husband starts taunting for not bringing dowry and
calling her ugly, there cannot be greater mental torture, harassment or cruelty
for any bride. There was a quarrel a day before her death. This by itself, in
our considered opinion, would constitute to be a wilful act to be a cruelty
both within the meaning of Section 498-A and Section 304-B IPC.
argument, that There is no evidence of any cruelty or harassment soon before
her death, is also not correct.
find both from the evidence of her sister, Trachala Devi PW-5 and her
brother-in-law, Ram Gopal PW-7, that the deceased on 14th May, 1987 came to Shahdara
(Delhi) to mourn the death of her maternal uncle and by evening on the same day
instead of returning to her husband's place came to her sister's house. She
remained there for few days. Both deposed that she told them that her husband
was maltreating her in view of dowry demand, and that not being satisfied was
harassing her. When on 17th May, 1987 the husband came to take her back, she
was reluctant but Trishala Devi brought her down and sent her with her husband.
Though she went with the husband but with the last painful words that "it
would be difficult now to see her face in the future".
very next day, on 19th May, one day after she arrived at her husband's place,
the unfortunate death of Urmil took place. She died admittedly on account of
total burn of her body. Admittedly the incident of quarrel as deposed was only
a day before her death. There is direct evidence that on 17th May itself, there
was quarrel at the house of her sister with the deceased and her husband. The
quarrel between the deceased and her husband was tried to be explained as some
other quarrel which should not constitute to be a quarrel in connection with
the marriage. We find that Section 8-A of the aforesaid 1961 Act which came
into force w.e.f. 2nd October, 1985 for taking or abetting any dowry, the
burden to explain is placed on such person against whom the allegation of
committing an offence is made. Similarly, under Explanation to Section 113-B of
the Indian Evidence Act, which was also brought in by the aforesaid Act No. 43
of 1986, there is presumption that such death is on account of dowry death. Thus
the burden, if at all, was on the accused to prove otherwise.
aforesaid evidence would, on the facts and circumstances of the case, bring to
an inescapable conclusion that the aforesaid quarrel referred to by PWs 5 &
7 a day before actual death of the deceased, cumulatively with other evidence
constitute to be cruelty and harassment in connection with marriage and that
too at her own sister's place which has direct co-relation with the preceding
evidence of repeated demand of dowry, to be a case covered both under Section
304-B and 498-A IPC. However, it was open to the accused to prove otherwise or
dispel by means of evidence to destroy that deeming clause. But we find he has
not been able to do so. Such burden is placed on the accused with a purpose.
Evidence also concludes harassment to the deceased within the meaning of
Section 498-A Explanation (b), as she was repeatedly coerced for not meeting
the demands leading to her mental torture and agony which ultimately led her to
present case, we find that both the courts below found that inspite of thorough
cross-examination, there is no deviation on this issue. In fact, it has been
pointed out by the learned counsel for the respondent that on the question of
cruelty and torture, there is no cross- examination though there is some on
other points. The courts below have rightly believed the testimonies of the PWs
and we do not find that there is anything for us to deviate from the same. On
the other hand, the evidence of the defence is of perfunctory nature, not
enough to dispel the burden cast.
faint submission was also made that it would not be a case of abetment of
suicide under Section 306 IPC. Reference to Section 107 IPC was also made where
abetment should fall under any of the three heads. Reliance is placed on the
first head. We find that the first head provides "instigates any person to
do that thing". There is no doubt in the present case there is repeated
demand from the husband's side from the girl and her parents for the various
articles as aforesaid and on failure, the girl was tortured, harassed by words
and deeds, amounting to cruelty. As we have held above and one day before the
fateful day, the husband saturated the mental agony and cruelty by quarrelling
with the wife (deceased) even at her sister's place, leaving no option which
led the deceased to commit suicide. This mental state is further clear by the
following words which she spoke to her sister, "it would be difficult now
to see her face in the future". In our opinion all this would constitute
to be an act which would be an abetment for the commission of the suicide by
the girl. The husband, in the present case, has not led any cogent evidence or
brought any circumstance to dislodge the aforesaid inference. Of course benefit
of doubt to the accused would be available provided there is supportive
evidence on the record. Hence, for creating doubt or granting benefit of doubt,
the evidence was to be such which may lead to such doubt. We do not find that
present is a case where any benefit of doubt results at least against the
husband. There is direct evidence, as stated by the aforesaid witnesses PWs 5
& 7 that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty by the husband.
we find in so far appellant Nos. 2 & 3, father-in- law and the
mother-in-law, are concerned, the evidence is of a general nature. No
convincing evidence has been led that the deceased was subjected to cruelty by
appellant Nos.2 & 3. Before holding that appellant Nos. 2 & 3 had
committed the offence, it had to be found that they are responsible for
subjecting her to cruelty or harassment, soon before her death. We find in this
case evidence is only confined to the husband and not against appellant Nos. 2
& 3. Hence on the evidence on record, so far as appellant Nos. 2 & 3 are
concerned, we extend to them the benefit of doubt and acquit them.
for the aforesaid reasons, we partly allow the appeal. Convictions and
sentences of appellant No.1 are maintained but the convictions and sentences of
the appellant Nos. 2 & 3 are set aside. Accordingly, appellant No.1, namely
Pawan Kumar is sentenced to 7 years' rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs.
500/-, in default of payment of fine for further rigorous imprisonment for 6
months under Sec tion 304-B IPC, 4 years' rigorous imprisonment and to pay a
fine of Rs 200/-, in default payment of fine further rigorous imprisonment for
3 months, under Section 306 IPC, and sentence for 2 years' rigorous
imprisonment and to pay fine for Rs.200/-, and in default of payment of fine
further rigorous imprisonment for three months, under Section 498-A IPC. All
the sentences would run concurrently. The other appellants, namely appellants
Nos. 2 & 3 are hereby acquitted. They are on bail. They need not surrender
to their bail bonds. Their bail bonds are hereby discharged.
appeal is allowed in part.