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Report No. 91

Chapter 2

The Factual Components of Dowry Deaths, and Their Impact on The Law of Evidence

2.1. Factual components.-

Let us first examine the factual components of a typical "dowry death". The following analysis of these components, elementary though it may appear, is basic to an understanding of this peculiar social phenomenon:-

(i) Sex-The person who dies in a dowry death is always a woman.

(ii) Age-She is mostly in her twenties.

(iii) Status-She is a married woman, totally dependent on her husband or his relatives. In many cases, she has already become a mother, or is about to become a mother.

(iv) Mode of death-In the vast majority of cases, the death occurs as a result of burns sustained by the woman in a fire-though some cases of injuries or poisoning have also been known.

(v) Condition-The woman is extremely unhappy, by reason of the demand for dowry. She has not other cause for unhappiness, except that resulting from, or connected with, the demand for dowry. The demands are persistent, determined and oppressive.

(vi) Nature of the act-Initially, a case of dowry death is presented (and even recorded) as one of accident or suicide. Homicide takes a back seat, and is brought into the front only with great reluctance, and only after great persuasion. This is not to say that the police or any other enforcement authority is necessarily to blame for the situation. For various reasons, the general stance adopted in law enforcement is not to rush to a conclusion of homicide, in the absence of some concrete proof. In the cases of dowry of death, such concrete proof is not easily available.

(vii) Locate-The death mostly takes place within the house; the victim of the "accident" is always behind closed doors, when she dies.

(viii) Reporting-The death, where reported to the police by the husband or his relatives, is reported as caused by suicide, but where it is reported by the woman's own parents or relatives, the suspicion of homicide is put forth. There are several other noteworthy features, but they need not encumber the present discussion.

Dowry Deaths and Law Reform - Amending the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Back

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