The ambit of Dowry Death

At times a law may have two possible constructions of a rule in its provision of which one gives effect to the provision and the other refrains the same it is the court that has to take into account which rule of law is to be considered keeping in mind its implementation for the betterment of society in the future.

Early this year a Criminal Appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of India where the bench headed by CJI N V Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna, and Justice Hima Kolhi on 11 Jan’2022 upheld that the demand of money for building a house is a “dowry demand”. In this case, State of Madhya Pradesh v. Jogendra, a 5-month pregnant woman chose to burn herself rather than get tortured by her in-laws for the money to buy a plot and build a house.

The entire case relied upon the scope of the definition of dowry that whether the money asked by the deceased in-laws would be considered under the ambit of dowry to uphold the death of the deceased as dowry death.

The trial court held the husband and father-in-law of the deceased under Sections 304-B, 306, and 498A of IPC. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh High Court referring to K.Prema S. Rao & Anr. v. Yadla Srinivasa Rao & Others, Saro Rao & others v. State of Jharkhand and, Appashaeb & Anr. v. State of Maharashtra gave a clean chit to the accused for the demand of money for the construction of a house stating that such a demand cannot be treated as a demand for dowry. The court hence held the accused liable for the offence only under Section 498A of IPC and stated that Section 304B cannot be established against them.

Laws established to help and avoid any sort of injustice done to the people of the society do not enable or guarantee them to seek help or provide them with sufficient sources to shade themselves under the umbrella of such laws. Similar was the case with Geeta Bai, the deceased in the current case, even if the laws such as Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 could have winged her with protection from her in-laws, but mental & physical cruelty deprived her of economic resources or essential amenities of life also putting restraints on her movements not allowing her to talk to the outside world which ultimately led she not stand for herself.

The Supreme Court further in this matter gave its verdict keeping in mind the morality and social values of a society and the establishment of law for the betterment of the society. It discussed the ambit of the definition of dowry under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and declared that any money or property or valuable security demanded by any of the persons mentioned in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, at or before or at any time after the marriage which is reasonably connected to the death of a married woman, would necessarily be in connection with or in relation to the marriage unless the facts of a given case clearly and unequivocally point otherwise.

According to the facts of the case, the deceased was harassed and tortured multiple times for the money to construct a house. The husband of the deceased had demanded a sum of Rs. 20,000 for buying a plot with the furtherance of demand from her father-in-law for another sum of Rs.50,000. A sum total of Rs.70,000 was demanded by the deceased in-laws failing which she had been subjected to cruelty which finally led her to commit suicide at her matrimonial home within seven years of her marriage.

Later in the case, the Supreme Court quoted the maxim “Ut es magis raleat quam pereat” explaining the meaning as the construction of a rule that should give effect to the rule rather than destroying it. i.e., when there are two constructions possible from a provision, of which it gives effect to the provision and the other renders the provision inoperative, the former which gives effect to the provision is adopted and the latter is discarded. The case Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 states as the best example for the above-mentioned maxim that said, any rigid meaning would tend to bring to naught, the real object of the provision. Therefore, a push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil that has become deeply entrenched in our society.

The Court hereby also mentioned the main provisions of Section 304B of IPC,

1. that the death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occurred otherwise than under normal circumstance;

2. that such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage;

3. that the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death; and

4. that such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.

The Court opined keeping in mind the fact that Section 304B was inserted in the Indian Penal Code to combat the social evil of dowry demand.

It is better for a thing to have an effect than to be made void, meaning it is better to validate a thing than to invalidate it. A statute is supposed to be an authentic repository of the legislative will and the function of a court is to interpret it “according to the intent of them that made it.

This article is written by Sneha Chandran of Amity University Jaipur.

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