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Report No. 202

2.3. Offence of dowry death

2.3.1 Section 304B, IPC, says:

(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 S.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.

2.3.2. In Shanti v. State of Haryana, 1991 (1) SCC 371 the Hon'ble Supreme Court has stated that the term dowry is not defined in Indian Penal Code. However, it has been defined in the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 as "any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly -

(a) by one party to the marriage to the other party to the marriage; or

(a) by the parents of either party to a marriage 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."

2.3.3. In view of the aforesaid definition of the word "dowry" any property or valuable security should be given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly at or before or any time after the marriage and in connection with the marriage of the said parties. Therefore, the giving or taking of property or valuable security must have some connection with the marriage of the parties and a correlation between the giving or taking of property or valuable security with the marriage of the parties is essential. Being a penal provision it has to be strictly construed.

Dowry is a fairly well known social custom or practice in India. It is well settled principle of interpretation of Statute that if the Act is passed with reference to a particular trade, business or transaction and words are used which everybody conversant with that trade, business or transaction knows or understands to have a particular meaning in it, then the words are to be construed as having that particular meaning. (See Union of India v. Garware Nylons Ltd. AIR 1996 SC 3509 and Chemicals and Fibres of India v. Union of India AIR 1997 SC 558).

A demand for money on account of some financial stringency or for meeting some urgent domestic expenses or for purchasing manure cannot be termed as a demand for dowry as the said word is normally understood. (See Appasaheb & Anr. v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2007, SC 763 at p. 767).

2.3.4. There are three occasions related to dowry. One is before the marriage, second is at the time of marriage and the third is "at any time" after the marriage. The third occasion may appear to be an unending period. But the crucial words are "in connection with the marriage of the said parties". This means that giving or agreeing to give any property or valuable security on any of the above three stages should have been in connection with the marriage of the parties. There can be many other instances for payment of money or giving property as between the spouses.

For example, some customary payments in connection with birth of a child or other ceremonies are prevalent in different societies. Such payments are not enveloped within the ambit of "dowry". Hence the dowry mentioned in Section 304-B should be any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given in connection with the marriage. (See Satvir Singh and others v. State of Punjab and another, AIR 2001, SC 2828 at p. 2834).

2.3.5. It is not enough that harassment or cruelty was caused to the woman with a demand for dowry at some time, if Section 304-B is to be invoked. But it should have happened "soon before her death". The said phrase, no doubt, is an elastic expression and can refer to a period either immediately before her death within a few days or even a few weeks before it. But the proximity to her death is the pivot indicated by that expression.

The legislative object in providing such a radius of time by employing the words "soon before her death" is to emphasise the idea that her death should, in all probabilities, have been the aftermath of such cruelty or harassment. In other words, there should be a perceptible nexus between her death and the dowry related harassment or cruelty inflicted on her. (See Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab, supra).

2.3.6. In Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana, 1998 (3) SCC 309, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has laid down the ingredients necessary to attract section 304B, IPC which are as follows:-

(1) death of a woman is either by burns or by bodily injury or other wise than under normal circumstances;

(2) it should be within seven years of marriage;

(3) it should also be shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by husband or any relative of husband.

(4) Such harassment or cruelty should pertain to demand for dowry.

2.3.7. The offence of dowry death punishable under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code is a new offence inserted in the Indian Penal Code with effect from November 19, 1986 when Act 43 of 1986 came into force. The offence under Section 304B is punishable with a minimum sentence of seven years which may extend to life imprisonment and is triable by a Court of Sessions. The corresponding amendments made in the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act relate to the trial and proof of offence. Section 304B is a substantive provision creating a new offence. (See Soni Devrajbhai Babubhai v. State of Gujarat and Others, (1991) 4 SCC 298 at p. 303).



Proposal to amend Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code Back




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