One of the essential ingredients of dowry death under Section 304B of IPC is that the accused must have subjected the woman to cruelty in connection with demand for dowry soon before her death and that this ingredient has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt and only then the Court will presume that the accused has committed the offence of dowry death under Section 113B of the Evidence Act. This legal principle was reiterated by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy in the case of Baijnath & Ors. v. State of Madhya Pradesh [Criminal Appeal No. 1097 OF 2016; decided on 18 November 2016].
Hearing an appeal filed by the appellants, the in-laws of the deceased woman, being aggrieved by the conversion of their acquittal into conviction by the M.P. High Court under Sections 498A and 304B of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court observed that cruelty or harassment of the lady by her husband or his relative for or in connection with any demand for any property or valuable security as a demand for dowry or in connection therewith is the common constituent of both the above offences. It held that cruelty or harassment by the husband or any relative of his for or in connection with any demand of dowry to reiterate is the gravamen of the two offences.
The court further observed that the presumption under Section 113-B (Presumption as to dowry death) of the Evidence Act as well is founded on the proof of cruelty or harassment of the woman dead for or in connection with any demand for dowry by the person charged with the offence. The presumption as to dowry death thus would get activated only upon the proof of the fact that the deceased lady had been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry by the accused and that too in the reasonable contiguity of death. It was held that such a proof is thus the legislatively mandated prerequisite to invoke the otherwise statutorily ordained presumption of commission of the offence of dowry death by the person charged therewith.
The Supreme Court further observed as under:
“A conjoint reading of these three provisions, thus predicate the burden of the prosecution to unassailably substantiate the ingredients of the two offences by direct and convincing evidence so as to avail the presumption engrafted in Section 113B of the Act against the accused. Proof of cruelty or harassment by the husband or her relative or the person charged is thus the sine qua non to inspirit the statutory presumption, to draw the person charged within the coils thereof. If the prosecution fails to demonstrate by cogent coherent and persuasive evidence to prove such fact, the person accused of either of the above referred offences cannot be held guilty by taking refuge only of the presumption to cover up the shortfall in proof.”
It held that the legislative primature of relieving the prosecution of the rigour of the proof of the often practically inaccessible recesses of life within the guarded confines of a matrimonial home and of replenishing the consequential void, by according a presumption against the person charged, cannot be overeased to gloss-over and condone its failure to prove credibly, the basic facts enumerated in the Sections involved, lest justice is the casualty.
The court referred to the earlier decisions in the cases of Shindo Alias Sawinder Kaur and another Vs. State of Punjab, (2011) 11 SCC 517 and Rajeev Kumar Vs. State of Haryana, (2013) 16 SCC 640. In the latter case, it had been held that one of the essential ingredients of dowry death under Section 304B of the Code is that the accused must have subjected the woman to cruelty in connection with demand for dowry soon before her death and that this ingredient has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt and only then the Court will presume that the accused has committed the offence of dowry death under Section 113B of the Act. The court also referred to the earlier decision in K. Prema S. Rao Vs. Yadla Srinivasa Rao, (2003) 1 SCC 217 to the effect that to attract the provision of Section 304B of the Code, one of the main ingredients of the offence which is required to be established is that “soon before her death” she was subjected to cruelty and harassment “in connection with the demand for dowry”.
Applying these legal principles, the court held that in the present case, the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt, cruelty or harassment to the deceased for or in connection with any demand for dowry as contemplated in either of the two provisions of the IPC under which the accused persons had been charged.
Holding that the appellants are entitled to the benefit of doubt, the Supreme Court acquitted them of the charges under Sections 498A and 304B of the Indian Penal Code.
Read full order of the court: