The Supreme Court has held that the mere fact that a wife died under unnatural circumstances in her matrimonial home within seven years of marriage would not by itself be sufficient to convict the husband for dowry death.

The Bench of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Rajesh Bindal observed that “...we are of the considered view that the prerequisites to raise presumption under Section 304B IPC and Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act having not been fulfilled, the conviction of the appellant cannot be justified. Mere death of the deceased being unnatural in the matrimonial home within seven years of marriage will not be sufficient to convict the accused under Section 304B and 498A IPC.”

Advocate Shubhranshu Padhi assisted the Apex Court as an Amicus Curiae for the appellants and Advocate Jatinder Kumar Bhatia appeared for the respondent.

In this case, the appeal was preferred against the order of the Uttarakhand High Court which had upheld the decision of Trial Court. The Trial Court had convicted the appellant-accused under Sections 304B, 498A and Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) for the death of his wife within two years of marriage.

The father of the deceased registered the complaint against the husband of deceased and in-laws for the murder of his daughter. It was stated that a day before her death, she was beaten up and was subsequently strangulated to death on account of non-fulfilment of demand for motorbike and land as dowry.

The Apex Court noted that since the conviction was under sections 304B and 498A IPC, presumption under section 113B of the Indian Evidence act, 1872 (IEA) had to be raised. And the presumption regarding dowry death could be raised in terms of Section 113B IEA only if it was shown that soon before death, such woman had been subjected to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with the demand of dowry.

However, the Court noted that on considering the statements of the father of the deceased, apart from instances of dowry demands in the initial months of marriage, there was nothing in the statement that would suggest that any such demand was raised immediately before her death.

The Apex Court further observed that “...none of the witnesses stated about the cruelty or harassment to the deceased by the appellant or any of his family members on account of demand of dowry soon before the death or otherwise. Rather harassment has not been narrated by anyone. It is only certain oral averments regarding demand of motorcycle and land which is also much prior to the incident.”

Therefore, the Court said that conviction under Section 498A could not be sustained as evidence led by the prosecution did not fulfil the pre-requisites to invoke presumption under Section 304B IPC or Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act and that the ingredients of Section 498A IPC were not made out as there was no evidence of cruelty and harassment to the deceased soon before her death.

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed, and the appellant-husband was acquitted.

Cause Title- Charan Singh @ Charanjit Singh v. The State of Uttarakhand

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