Dowry Death - Once Established That Woman Was Harassed Due To Dowry, Presumption Shall Be Drawn Against Accused - SC
A Supreme Court Bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli partly allowed an appeal against a judgment passed by the Uttarakhand High Court regarding offences Sections 498A, 304B, and 120B of IPC.
The Court observed, "Section 304B IPC read along with Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes it clear that once the prosecution has succeeded in demonstrating that a woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry soon after her death, a presumption shall be drawn against the said persons that they have caused dowry death as contemplated under Section 304B IPC."
Mr. Robin R. David appeared on behalf of the Appellants and Mr. Jatinder Kumar Bhatia appeared on behalf of the Respondents.
In this case, Appellant No. 1 was married to the deceased. The deceased went missing from her matrimonial home roughly 6 months after their marriage was solemnized. The complainant was the brother of the deceased. He alleged that there were repeated demands for dowry made by the Appellants and the manner in which they had behaved with him made him suspect that the deceased had been killed by the Appellants and they were feigning ignorance and acting as if the deceased had simply gone missing.
The local police carried out an investigation and the body of the deceased was found in the river. Since an unnatural death had taken place within about 6 months of the marriage and since there was an allegation of cruelty relating to the demand of dowry, a case was registered against the Appellants under Sections 498A, 304B, and 120B of IPC.
The Appellants denied the allegations against them before the Trial Court, and on considering the evidence, the Trial Court recorded findings in favor of the Appellants and acquitted them. Aggrieved by the judgment, the State preferred an appeal before the High Court. Consequently, the judgment and order passed by the Trial Court were set aside and the Appellants were convicted under Sections 498A, 304B, and 120B of IPC. Aggrieved with this conviction, the Appellants approached the Supreme Court.
The Counsel for the Appellants contended that there was no material on record to indicate that the Appellants had been harassing the deceased for dowry. Further, the Counsel contended that the High Court had misdirected itself to note that the Appellants had committed a delay in registering the missing complaint. The Counsel argued that there was no cause for the Appellants to make any monetary demands from the deceased. It was also contended that the High Court made an error in determining the cause of death since the deposition of the doctor indicated that the cause of death was due to shock and blood flow received from the injuries sustained and it was opined that such injuries could occur if a person falls down from standing rock. It was therefore prayed that the impugned judgment should be set aside.
The Counsel for the Respondent contended that the provision of "dowry death" raises certain presumptions against the Appellants. He argued that since an unnatural death occurred within a few months of marriage while the deceased was residing in her matrimonial home, it was for the Appellants to have explained the circumstance under which the death had occurred, whereas, prima-facie, the Respondents had succeeded in proving the basic ingredients of the section. The Counsel contended that the Trial Court had misdirected itself and since the High Court is required to re-appreciate the evidence, the High Court had arrived at a just conclusion and resultantly set aside the judgment of the Trial Court. Therefore, it was prayed that the appeal should not be allowed.
Relying on cases like Bansi Lal vs State of Haryana and Maya Devi & Anr. Vs State of Haryana, the Supreme Court opined that Section 304B IPC read along with Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 made it clear that once the prosecution side has succeeded in demonstrating that a woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry soon after her death, a presumption shall be drawn against the said persons that they have caused dowry death as contemplated under Section 304B IPC.
After perusing the material facts of the case and the impugned judgment, the Court opined that the High Court had appreciated the evidence in the correct perspective and that the Trial Court had appreciated the evidence from the prism of assessing the charge under Section 302 IPC when the evidence on record ought to have been analyzed and appreciated keeping in mind the requirements of Section 304B and 498A IPC.
The Bench also noted that although it was true that the High Court had not properly appreciated that the cause of death was due to shock and blood flow from injuries, the doctor was categorical that the cause of death was not from drowning as there was no water inside the lungs and abdomen. To that end, the Court said that "though learned counsel for the appellants referred to this aspect to contend that the High Court has erred in not properly considering the same, in our opinion, when it is indicated that the deceased had suffered injuries before her death and there was loss of blood and also when it is medically indicated that the death was not caused due to drowning as there was no water in her lungs and abdomen, the natural corollary and a fair conclusion would be that the said death had occurred even before falling into the river, which would rule out any accidental fall, as sought to be claimed by the appellants."
The Court opined that the Appellants had miserably failed to rebut the presumption drawn against them, and therefore, the conviction and sentence handed down by the High Court to the Appellant No. 1 should be upheld. The Court further ordered to set aside the conviction and sentence handed to the parents of Appellant No. 1.