|CITATION||AIR 2003 SC 3828|
|COURT||Supreme Court of India|
|JUDGES/CORAM||Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Arijit Pasayat|
|DATE OF JUDGEMENT||27.08.2003|
The facts of the case are as follows: At the time of the marriage between the deceased and her husband (Ashok Kumar), demand for jewelry and cash was made by the latter’s family. The family of the deceased could not arrange the whole demand at the time of marriage and promised to pay the balance soon. Meanwhile, Ashok Kumar was working abroad and whenever he left India, he would leave the deceased with her parents. The deceased was continuously insulted, humiliated, and tortured because the demand was not completely met. When it became unbearable, the deceased left her matrimonial house. Subsequently, appellant no. 1 (her father in law) went to take her back and beat her in a public street. On hearing about this, the parents of the deceased went to the house of appellant no. 1 where they were insulted and abused. On 9.12.1992, they received information that their daughter had committed suicide. A charge sheet was filed against the appellants and Ashok Kumar, but he was acquitted.
The main issue in the case was: Whether or not a case under Sections 304B and 498A is made out against any of the accused.
Summary of court decision and judgment
The appellants were found guilty and convicted under Sections 498A and 304B by the Sessions Judge. On appeal, the High Court upheld the conviction and only reduced the sentence from nine years to seven years for the offence punishable under Section 304B IPC but confirmed the sentence five years as imposed in respect of offences punishable under Section 498A. The Supreme Court in its judgment made the following observations:
- There are two essential ingredients to be proved under Section 304B: a woman must have been “soon before her death” subjected to cruelty or harassment “for or in connection with the demand of dowry”. The presumption under Section 113B, IEA cannot be raised unless these are proved. On proof of the essentials mentioned therein, it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.
- “Soon before her death” is a relative term and there can be no straitjacket formula to compute it. It has to be ascertained based on the circumstances of each case. It would be hazardous to indicate any fixed period, and that brings in the importance of a proximity test both for the proof of an offence of dowry death as well as for raising a presumption under Section 113B of the Evidence Act. What is important is that there is a proximate link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry death and the death of the woman.
Based on the facts of the case, the Court upheld the conviction of appellant no. 1 (Father in law) under Sections 304B and 498A. However, the order of conviction of appellant no. 2 (mother in law) under Section 304B was set aside due to inadequacy of material to attract culpability; however, her conviction under Section 498A was upheld.
When the offence of dowry death was introduced in the IPC, the Evidence Act was also amended to include Section 113B to provide for presumption as to dowry death. However, this presumption only arises when the prosecution has established the basic ingredients of section 304B. It cannot be invoked merely because the alleged death occurred within 7 years of marriage. However, once the ingredients are established, the Court is bound to invoke Section 304B.
“Soon before her death”: this implies that the interval between the cruelty and the death shouldn’t be much. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and had become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence.
To invoke Section 113B, ingredients of Section 304B are to be fulfilled first. However, the fulfillment of these ingredients depends on case to case and there can be no straitjacket formula to compute “soon before her death”.
 Baljeet Singh v. State of Haryana, (2004) 3 SCC 122.
 Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 2001 SC 2828.