Dowry death, at present, is a burning problem of the society. It is increasing day by day owing to prevailing socio – economic fabric and life style in the family. Dowry death has thrown a major challenge to the police personnel, medico legal experts as well as to judicial officers not only to wipe out this social menace but also to penalize the culprits in deterrent manner.
An interesting feature of this crime is that in the majority of the cases of bride – killing, the trouble is created by the female themselves against their own sex. It has been usually found that attitude of the bride’s mother is different from that of mother -in -law. For the happiness of her own girl she gives money in form of dowry but in the latter capacity, she attempts to extract the maximum possible dowry and can go to the extent of causing death of the bride if the demands are not met to her satisfaction. In other words, in bride burning cases, crime is normally abetted and even committed by the females themselves.
Dowry death or suicides by married women as a result of their being subjected to cruelty by in – laws and/or husband, constitute a slur on the Hindu Society. More often cruelty emanates from the failure of the parents of the girl to meet the exacting demand for the dowry by the in-laws of the victims, our anxiety on this score has darkened into dread which in turn has dwindled into despair.
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The unnatural deaths of newly married young women is hitting the headlines of every newspaper. Hardly a day passed when the newspapers do not report the occurrence of this tragic event. Self burning by females in Hindu community are traditionally sanctioned and glorified as in ‘Sati-Pratha’ or ‘Joher’. But nowadays large number of newly married women are burnt alive by their husbands and / or in-laws or forced by them to choose fire to end their unhappy life, while a few others are killed first and then burned to hide the crime. In majority of these cases dowry is the first and foremost motive behind this heinous crime. Cruelty means, any willful 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 her 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.
The problem of protecting young married women against harassment and cruelty on account of dowry is responsibility of government which must enact deterrent laws. Social organization may also valuably contribute by arousing awareness regarding this burning problem and mobilizing the support of society against this scourge.
“2. Definition of `dowry’.- “Dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly–
(a) By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
(b) By the parent 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 dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
Section 304-B(1) of the Indian Penal Code tells the meaning of dowry death. It is as follows: “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.”
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(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.”
12. For making out an offence of `dowry death’ under Section 304B, the following ingredients have to be proved by the prosecution:
(a) death of a woman must have been caused by any burns or bodily injury or her death must have occurred otherwise than under normal circumstances;
(b) such death must have occurred within seven years of her marriage;
(c) soon before her death, she must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband; and
(d) such cruelty or harassment must be in connection with the demand for dowry.
The parties were married on 24-5-1962. After staying in the matrimonial home for two months, she returned to her parents’ house and told them that her husband wanted a television set and a fridge. Her father gave her a sum of Rs. 6,000 and she left for the matrimonial home. Her husband again demanded a sum of Rs. 25,000 for purchasing a plot. Thereafter the husband took his wife to her parents’ home saying that he would not take her back unless a sum of Rs. 25,000 was paid to him. After one year he took her back but he did not give up the demand for Rs. 25,000. Soon thereafter she left for her parents’ home and came back with a sum of Rs. 15,000 with a promise that the rest of the amount would be paid later on. In her husband’s home she died of strangulation. The trial court found the accused guilty. The death of the deceased took place within seven years of marriage and persistent demands of dowry were made on her and she died under mysterious circumstances. The trial court framed charge under section 304B. The Supreme Court held that no ground for quashing the charge was made out; Nem Chand v. State of Haryana, (1994) 3 Crimes 608 (SC).
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n Ashok Kumar vs. State of Rajasthan where the post mortem report indicated that the smell of kerosene was there in the body and even the burnt hair was smelling of kerosene, it was held that this fact ruled out the statement of the husband’s sister that the deceased was the victim of the accidental burning while making tea and also ruled out the remotest possibility of an accident.
The demand for dowry is itself punishable if the other ingredients of Section 304 B are established. In case of Pawan Kumar vs. State of Haryana, the facts were that a few days after the marriage, there was a demand for a scooter and fridge, which when not being met led to repetitive taunts and maltreatment. The wife finally committed suicide. The Court stated that Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act deals with the penalty of demanding dowry. This makes it clear that even the mere demand for dowry was punishable. The Court thus concluded that the persistent demands for scooter, fridge etc made from the bride after marriage or from her parents, would constitute to be in connection with the marriage and it would be a case of demand of dowry within the meaning of the Section 304 B IPC. It is not always necessary that there be any agreement for dowry. The Court also held that the facts proved cruelty in connection with dowry demand.