Dowry Death: Meaning, Essentials, Explanation & Presumption of Guilt

By | March 31, 2020
Dowry Death: Meaning

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Dowry Death: Meaning, Essentials, Explanation & Presumption of Guilt

In this article, the section relating to dowry death is explained and its essentials are discussed clearly. The most important clause in that being the soon before death is also explained with case law and their dictum for better understanding. Further, the article talks about the burden of proof in such cases. The presumption of guilt i.e., the presumption of dowry death as per the evidence act, is explained in brief.

What if a person dies due to demand dowry and related cruelty meted upon? Why was a dowry death added to this code, as a crime? Was there a need for inclusion of such law?

I. Meaning

This offence of dowry death was added in order to punish the criminals who have increased in number, committing crimes against women. That is there have been so many deaths due to harassment and cruelty for dowry demands to be fulfilled.

Section 304B Dowry death— (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 section 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”

As it is clear from the section itself, that this section was added on later by the “Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961)”. The same act has made relevant changes in “Criminal Procedure Code” And “Indian Evidence Act” as well.

II. Essentials

  1. Death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances
  2. Death must occur “within seven years of her marriage”
  3. And it must be proved that “soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband”
  4. Such “cruelty or harassment” must be subjected is or was “for or in connection with any demand for dowry”.

In convicting a person under this section, the above essentials must be satisfied. In the beginning, it is the duty of the prosecution side to establish the foundational facts like there was a “death of a woman”, and the “death has occurred within seven years of marriage”.

Further, the death should not be a consequence under any “normal circumstance” but “abnormal circumstances or circumstances as mentioned in this section”. The woman “soon before her death” was subject to cruelty in relation to “dowry demand”. Further, the burden is upon the person who is accused to establish otherwise.

Death within 7 years of Marriage: Is it Mandatory?

If the death of the victim i.e., a woman occurred after seven years span of her marriage, then it will be treated as a case under section 498A and if the death is suicide then it can also be covered under section 306 of the penal code.

So, the case falling under the category of section 304B must be a death of a woman within the time limit mentioned in the section and it is held to be mandatory[1].

Dowry Demand: What can and what cannot be called as Dowry Demand?

The meaning of dowry is provided in the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.[2] The act requires the death of the woman must be the result or consequence of dowry demand only.

“Definition of `dowry’- In this act, `dowry’ means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:

  1. by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
  2. by 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 said parties but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies

Explanation I – For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that any presents made at the time of a marriage to either party to the marriage in the form of cash, ornaments, clothes or other articles, shall not be deemed to be dowry within the meaning of this section unless they are made as consideration for the marriage of the said parties

Explanation II – The expression `valuable security’ has the same meaning as in section 30 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860)”.

In the case of Nunna Venkateswarlu v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1996) Cr LJ 108 (AP), the court observed that the foundational fact as to demand for dowry was to be proved by the prosecution in the terms of “dowry given or agreed to be given”. Hence, the prosecution, according to the lower court, failed to prove that an agreement was present between the deceased’s father and the accused of dowry.

In the absence of the same court did not accept the charges of section 304B. And when the matter went up to the High Court of AP, there too, in the absence of proof with respect to the agreement to give dowry, the accused was rather charged under section 498A and section 306 of IPC, 1860 and held liable.[3]

The above case may not hold good in law as they have applied strict interpretation to the wording of the section of Dowry Prohibition Act 1961. So in the case of Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana (1998) Cr LJ 1144 (SC), the court observed that-

“The word ‘agreement’ referred to in section 2 has to be inferred on the facts and circumstances of each case. The plea 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.

This 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 304B, IPC.

It is not always necessary that there be any agreement for dowry. In the instant case, the evidence of the prosecution witnesses was very clear. After a few days of the marriage, there was demand for a scooter and fridge, which when not being met, led to repetitive taunts and maltreatment.

Such demands cannot be said to be not in connection with 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 and section 304B”[4]

The above reasoning was again quoted by the apex court in another case, State of Andhra Pradesh v. Raj Gopal Asawa AIR 2004 SC 1933, approving the same.[5] The term dowry was observed to be in relation to marriage and not for any other cause as it was explicitly mentioned in the definition of dowry.[6]

In the light of the same demand for money for meeting domestic needs or due to financial instability cannot be termed as a demand for or want of dowry.[7] Also, a demand for a motorcycle for doing a milk vending business cannot be termed as dowry demand.

Hence, time and again the courts have decided that the demand for dowry be always connected to marriage.[8] Further, there is no hard and fast rule that demand should be of one particular item to be termed as dowry demand.[9]

Cruelty or Harassment: What is the reference to soon before the death clause to this essential?

The cruelty as such is not defined in the code. However, in the case of Shanti v. State of Haryana (1991) 1 SCC 371, that both the section 498A and section 304B are not exclusive of each other but support each other. And the same meaning can be applied to both when necessary, as to what can be meant as cruelty.[10]

Further such cruelty or harassment must be meted out “soon before the death of that woman or victim”. The test of proximity is applied when the court is to be satisfied that the case falls within the ambit of section 304B of IPC.

So, the prosecution has the burden of proving its case on the foundational facts that the woman soon before her death was subject to cruelty or harassment. Then only the presumption of guilt falls upon the accused. Hence, there must be close proximity between the cruelty meted out and the death occurred.[11]

In the case of Keshab Chandra Pande v. State (1995) Cr LJ 174 (Ori), the case where the accused had assaulted his wife due to non-fulfilment of demand for dowry once with an iron rod and after the said incident there was no reported violence or cruelty.

After about one year the victim died. The prosecution contended that the said assault had left an impression in the mind of the victim and that her death was due to violence and cruelty by her husband. The court, however, held that there was no proximate link between the incident of an act of assault and the death occurred. Hence, the case is not satisfying the requirement of the law i.e., “soon before death”.[12]

In the case of Kans Raj v. State of Punjab (AIR 2000 SC 2324), it has been decided that “soon before death” implies that the interval should not be too long between the time of making the statement and the death.

The time must be reasonable depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case. Thus, the proximate and live link “between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the consequential death” is required to be proved by the prosecution.[13]

Thus, when a wife is subject to cruelty by husband two years before her death for a want of dowry and later on there was no reported cruelty or harassment. So the court held, there cannot be a case falling under section 304B merely because the wife dies of unnatural circumstances within seven years of marriage.[14]

But in another case, as the wife was subject to cruelty which led to her death just two years before her death. The court held that all those two years can be said to be soon before death as the marriage did not even last for more than two years.[15]

The word soon before death does not imply to be immediately before death, it requires a link to be present between the cruelty and death and also it must be proximate, not remote. So, the cruelty subjected should not be too remote to have enough time to repair the mental equilibrium of the victim.[16] Further, the soon before death period should not even be too immediately before her death.

It must be balanced in a way to show a proximate link as well as convinced that the woman was mentally disturbed with such cruelty or harassment.[17]

III. Presumption of guilt: reversing the presumption of innocence

The moment prosecution proves the foundational facts, the court then presumes the accused to be guilty of commit dowry death under section 304B. The accused now has the burden to prove that he is innocent.[18]

Section 113B of Indian Evidence Act: Presumption as to dowry death— When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall presume that such person had caused such dowry death.

Explanation—For the purposes of this section, “dowry death” shall have the same meaning as in section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860)”

Usually in India, we follow the principle of the accused to be presumed innocent and the prosecution has the duty to prove his accusation beyond a reasonable doubt.[19] But the presumption is reversed in this case after initial burden by the prosecution is discharged.[20] If the accused fails to rebut the presumption, he is bound to be convicted under section 304B.[21]

Learn More – Presumption as to Dowry Death

The fact that a co-accused is given the benefit of doubt and be acquitted does not mean that the main accused will also be acquitted, as the presumption still lies until rebutted.[22]

[1] M Srinivasulu v. State of AP (2007) 12 SCC 443

[2] s 2, Dowry Prohibition Act 1961

[3] Nunna Venkateswarlu v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1996) Cr LJ 108 (AP)

[4] Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana, (1998) Cr LJ 1144 (SC)

[5] State of Andhra Pradesh v. Raj Gopal Asawa, AIR 2004 SC 1933

[6] State of Himachal Pradesh v Nikku Ram, (1995) Cr LJ 41 84 (SC)

[7] Appasaheb & Anr v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721

[8] Bachni Devi v State of Haryana, AIR 2011 SC 1098

[9] Devi Lal v. State of Rajasthan, (2007) 14 SCC 176

[10] Shanti v. State of Haryana, (1991) 1 SCC 371

[11] Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 2001 SC 2828

[12] Keshab Chandra Pande v. State, (1995) Cr LJ 174 (Ori)

[13] Kans Raj v. State of Punjab, AIR 2000 SC 2324

[14] Rajinder Amar Singh v. State of Haryana, (2000) Cr LJ 2492 (P&H)

[15] Uday Chakraborty v. State of West Bengal, (2010) 7 SCC 518

[16] Heera Singh v. State of Uttaranchal, 2005 Cr LJ 2062(Uttaranchal)

[17] Hira Lal v. State (Govt of NCT) Delhi, (2003) 8 SCC 80

[18] s 113B, Indian Evidence Act 1872

[19] Kunhiabdullah v. State of Kerala, (2004) 4 SCC 13

[20] GM Natarajan v. State, (1995) Cr LJ 2728(Mad)

[21] Hira Lal v. State (Govt of NCT Delhi), (2003) 8 SCC 80

[22] Sudhir Kumar v. State of Punjab, (2010) 3 SCC 239

  1. Cruelty by Husband or Relatives of Husband | Section 498A(Opens in a new browser tab)
  2. Rules relating to Burden of Proof(Opens in a new browser tab)