Dowry death was first used around 1977-78 when investigations pointed out that death of many women which were earlier labelled as suicide and accidental deaths were actually due to extortion by her in-laws, for dowry from the bride. Section113 B, Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and Section 304 B, Indian Penal Code (IPC) was added b the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 in order to provide speedy justice in case of dowry deaths and protect women from such torture going on.
Dowry death is defined in Section 304 B, IPC as the death of any woman within 7 years of her marriage due to burn or any other bodily injury and had occurred under abnormal conditions. It is also important to show that the woman was subjected to cruelty and harassment before her death by her husband or in-laws in relation to demand for dowry.
Dowry is defined under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 as any property or valuable security given to one party of a marriage by the other. This property can be given before, during or after the marriage. This act also states that dowry here is not “Dower” or “Mahr” defined under the Muslim Personal Laws.
Presumption under dowry death is defined under Section 113 B, Indian Evidence Act, 1872. This section says that whenever there is a question of dowry death, if it is proven that the woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment soon before her death in relations to demand of dowry, it will be assumed that the husband has caused said dowry death. In such cases, the prosecution only has to prove that a dowry death has occurred, and then the burden of proof shifts on the accused to prove his innocence.
Section 113 B, Indian Evidence Act, 1872 does not use the word “shall” but “may” which mean that it is a presumption of law. It implies that when prosecution proves that it is a case of dowry death, it become important for the Court to raise a presumption that the it is the accused only who has caused the said dowry death. The legislature has made it a mandatory presumption of law. This is different than the accepted norms in Criminal Law, where it is the prosecution who has to not only prove the occurrence of a crime, but also that it was indeed the accused who has caused the offence. If it is proved that the victim was subjected to cruelty and harassment soon before her death in relation to demand for dowry, then the presumption under Section 113 B, Indian Evidence Act, 1872 can be raised. Here cruelty not only means physical harm, but also mental torture. If the prosecution is unable to prove that the case was one of dowry death, this presumption cannot be raised.
Hem Chand v. State of Haryana, (1994) 6 SCC 727
In this case, the parties were married on 24th May, 1962. The bride returned to her parents’ house after staying in her husband’s house for 2 months. The husband had demanded for a television set and a fridge. To fulfil this demand, the bride’s father had given Rs. 6000 to the wife and sent her back to her matrimonial house. This time her husband demanded for Rs. 25,000 for purchasing a plot. Then, the husband, left his wife at her maternal home and said that he would not take her ack until the total sum was paid. Though after one year, the husband took his wife back, but he did not stop his demand for Rs. 25,000. Then the wife brought back Rs. 15,000 from her house and promised that her parents would pay the rest soon. After this incident, she was strangled to death in her husband’s home.
The Court held that although the prosecution had proved that the case was one of dowry death, they were not able to prove that the husband had a direct relation with the victim’s death. Theaccused was not charged under Section 302, IPC which charges for murder, but the Supreme Court raised the presumption of dowry death under Section 113 B and the accused was convicted under Section 304 B, IPC. In this case, it was proved that the death of the victim was unnatural and thus the provisions of presumptions were raised. The Court balanced it out by balancing the sentence awarded to the accused.
Shanti v. State of Haryana, (1991) 1 SCC 371
In this case, it was alleged that there was a constant demand of dowry from the bride. In one instant, the brother and father of the bride were not allowed in the matrimonial home of the bride because of failure to pay the dowry money. The death of the victim occurred within 7 years of marriage and after the death the body of the victim was immediately cremated, before informing her father and brother, this ruled out any chances for natural death. The prosecution proved beyond doubt that the mother-in-law and wife of the deceased brother-in-law of the victim were continuously treating her to cruelty for dowry money. The Supreme Court held that under this circumstance, the presumption under Section 113 B will be raised and both the accused were convicted under 304 B, IPC and subjected to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment.
Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana, (1998) 3 SCC 309
In this case, the victim was constantly asked to bring a scooter and a fridge and when she could not, she was subjected to cruelty and harassment by her husband and in-laws. The deceased had also mentioned this to her father and sister who deposed the same before the Court. A day before the victim committed suicide, she had a quarrel with her husband in front of her sister and her brother-in-law. She did not want to go back with her husband, but her sister cajoled her into going back, the victim’s parting words to her sister were “it would be difficult now to see her face in the future”. The next day, the victim burned herself and was declared dead. Although, there was no concrete evidence to prove that the quarrel that the victim had with her husband was related to dowry, the suicide was dowry related, seeing to the witness of the victim’s family. Thus, the presumption raised shifted the burden of proof to the accused to prove that the conversation was not dowry related, which he was unable to quash. The Court thus held, seeing to the provisions of the Section 113 B, Indian Evidence Act that under the mandatory presumption it seemed like the husband was guilty of dowry death and thus was convicted to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment along with fine.
Baijnath &Ors. v. State of M. P., (2017) 1 SCC 101
In this case, the prosecution was not able to prove beyond doubt that the death of the victim was dowry related. The Supreme Court had held that mere death of the deceased, no matter how tragic it is, is not enough to prove that death was a dowry death, thus, neither sufficient to raise presumptions under Section 113 B, Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It was alleged that there was a demand of motorcycle from the bride, which was quashed on the basis of witnesses. It was proved that the newlywed couple lived separately from the in-laws and they treated the bride with respect and there was no harassment or cruelty from their side. Even the deceased’s sister-in-law deposed that on the night of death, the deceased was sitting and watching a television series when they went into their respective rooms to sleep and there was no demand of dowry from the deceased. The Court did not hold the accused to be convicted and the appeal was accepted.
Keshab Chandra Pandey v. State, (1995) Cri LJ. 174 (Ori)
In this case, the Court held that presumption under Section 113 B of the Indian Evidence Act will be raised only when the prosecution has proved beyond doubt that the death which has occurred is relation to dowry only, i.e. it is indeed a case of dowry death.
Mangal Ram & Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1998 SCC OnLine MP 256
In this case, the wife committed suicide within 5 years of her marriage, she went to her maternal home for two-three years and when she returned back, she jumped off into a well. The prosecution was not able to prove beyond doubt that her husband and her in-laws had tortured her for dowry to force her into committing suicide, the Court thus quashed the case and the accused were acquitted.
Taking dowry is a common occurrence in our country. Every other day we come across some case in which the wife is tortured or harassed for some amount of money that she had to bring with her while getting married. When a man becomes of age, he becomes a mere commodity for his parents to take dowry who see it as a source of income and this often puts them on a higher pedestal in the equation of marriage.
While taking dowry is degrading to the female section of the society, it also puts the counter sex in a lower pedestal, to evaluate on such mere grounds of his income and not by the substance of his man. Torturing woman, however, in order to extract dowry is an extreme form of patriarchy that can be seen. These days, however, we can see a reduce in the number of dowry cases due to the stringent statutes brought about to curtail it.
The amendment was done to curb dowry cases in India and to give speedy justice to the grieved. Evidences against the defendants in crimes such as these are difficult to gather and therefore to bring about such amendments which help the prosecution, will only strengthen the justice system. Section 113 B, Indian Evidence Act, 1872 gives a relief to the prosecution by permitting to raise presumptions when a dowry death has been proved.