The Special Bench of the Hon’ble #SupremeCourt comprising of Chief Justice of India, Justice Hima Kohli & Justice Surya Kant, in the matter of Parvati Devi v. State of Bihar now State of Jharkhand & Ors. (Criminal Appeal Nos. 574/2012) and Ram Sahay Mahto v. State of Bihar now State of Jharkhand & Ors. (Criminal Appeal Nos. 575/2012) has passed a common Judgement dated 17.12.2021 and has partially set aside the Order of the Hon’ble High Court of Jharkhand dated 20.09.1999 that upheld the judgement of Ld. Additional Sessions Judge, Giridih, which sentenced Mrs. Parvati Devi, Mother-in-Law of Fulwa Devi (Deceased) and Mr. Ram Sahay Mahto, #Husband of the #Deceased, to undergo rigorous imprisonment of 3 years and 10 years respectively in a #DowryDeath case.
In this case, the informant, Bodhi Mahto (herein referred as ‘Informant’) had married off his daughter Fulwa Devi (herein referred as ‘Deceased’) to Ram Sahay Mahto (herein referred as ‘Husband’) in 1997. After few months of Marriage, the Deceased’s in-laws started to harass her for dowry and demanded Rs. 20,000/- cash and Rajdoot motorcycle.
The Deceased informed about the dowry demands to her parents, after which she expressed her inability to fulfil the demands to her in-laws. The Deceased’s in-laws brutally assaulted her and threatened her that her Husband would be married off to someone else if she does not fulfil the demands of dowry.
The Informant rushed to the Deceased’s Matrimonial Home on receiving the information that she has been missing for some days. After such information, the Informant filed a Complaint with the local Police. The local Police filed Case No. 71/1997 under Sections 304B (Dowry death) of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC), 201 IPC (Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender), 34 IPC (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) after receiving the Compliant. Later on, a Charge-sheet was filed by local Police for the above-mentioned offences and also under Section 3 (Penalty for giving or taking dowry) and 4(Penalty for demanding dowry) of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Act).
After 5 days of FIR being lodged, a dead body was discovered near bank of River Barakar which was presumed to be of the Deceased. The Informant, after looking at the partially decomposed face and clothes of the Deceased, confirmed her identity – as his Daughter and wife of Ram Sahay Mahto.
During the investigation, the Examining Doctor concluded that the Deceased Body was highly decomposed and had no ante mortem injury, hence concluded that the Deceased has been dead for a week.
After the Trial Court convicted the Husband and in laws (date of Trial Court’s Order is not known, as it is not mentioned in the Supreme Court Judgment), the Husband and his Mother i.e. Parvati Mahto moved the Hon’ble High Court for quashing the Trial Court’s conviction. The Hon’ble High Court concurred with the findings of the Trial Court on the following points:
“(i) The deceased Fulwa Devi was married with Ram Sahay Mahto S/o. Nema Mahto and Parvati Devi within seven years of her death;
(ii) The dead body of the deceased was found in river Barakar on 13.8.97 and there are consistent evidence that the deceased died otherwise than under normal circumstances;
(iii) The deceased was at her Sasural prior to her death;
(iv) The deceased was traceless but neither information was given to her parents nor was information given to the Police;
(v) The deceased was subjected to assault and harassment by the accused persons who are husband and his other relatives;
(vi) Such cruelty and harassment was in connection with demand of dowry;
(vii) Such cruelty and harassment was made soon before her death.”
Aggrieved by the Hon’ble High Court Order dated 01.05.2207, the Appellants – Ram Sahay Mahto and Paravti Mahto preferred an Appeal before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The Hon’ble Apex Court passed a Judgment dated 17.12.2021 and observed as follows:
- For constituting Dowry Death under Section 304B of IPC, the following conditions must be fulfilled (Conditions): “(i) that the death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occurred otherwise than under normal circumstance; (ii) that such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage; (iii) that the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death; and (iv) that such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.”
- The Hon’ble Supreme Court has relied upon Bansi Lal vs. State of Haryana, (2011)11 SCC 359 for definition of ‘Dowry’:“17. While considering the case under Section 498-A (Sic. Section 304-B), cruelty has to be proved during the close proximity of time of death and it should be continuous and such continuous harassment, physical or mental, by the accused should make life of the deceased miserable which may force her to commit suicide.”
- The Apex Court further stated that once Sections 304B along with 113B of the Evidence Act 1872, has been established by the Prosecution along with the fact that the woman was subjected to cruelty due to demands for dowry, which resulted in her death, the persons who caused her death shall be prosecuted under Section 304B of IPC.
- However, if the Accused is able to prove that the four Conditions mentioned hereinabove in Para 1 are not satisfied, then the Accused can be treated with leniency.
- The Supreme Court in this case held that the Prosecution was not able to fulfil the 4 abovementioned Conditions in respect of the Deceased’s mother in law – Parvati Mahto. As the Prosecution only relied on oral evidence and did not examine any witnesses to establish the involvement of Pravati Mahto in the death of the Deceased, hence, she was acquitted. But the Apex Court upheld the punishment for Dowry Death in respect of the Husband.
Therefore, based on the aforesaid grounds, the Supreme Court dismissed the Appeal of the Husband and upheld the Trial Court’s punishment thereof. The Hon’ble Apex Court further allowed the Appeal filed by the Mother in Law – Parvati Mahto and acquitted her.
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer