A Three Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court comprising of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli passed a Judgment dated 21-04-2022 in Devender Singh & Ors. Vs The State of Uttarakhand and reiterated the essential ingredients of Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) (Dowry death) and Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 (Presumption as to dowry death) to establish an offence of dowry death.
In this case, the Appellant No. 1, Mr. Devendra Singh was married to the Deceased, Mrs. Sushila on 20-10-2007 and thereafter, the Deceased went missing from her matrimonial home since 24-04-2008. This came to the knowledge of the mother of the Deceased on 25-04-2008 at 7 pm when the Appellant No. 2, Mr. Jagdish Singh, brother of Appellant No. 1 called her to enquire whether the Deceased had gone to her paternal home. The Deceased’s mother then informed her Son, the Complainant, residing at Haridwar that the Deceased was missing. The Complainant visited the Deceased’s matrimonial home on 28-04-2008. Based on the repeated demands for dowry made the Appellant and his family and the manner in which they behaved with the Complainant on 28-04-2008, made him suspect that they may have killed the Deceased.
Thus, a Complaint was filed by the Deceased’s brother with the local police, who investigated the case and found the Deceased’s body in River Ganga. The Police, thereafter, registered the FIR against the Appellant No. 1 (Deceased’s Husband), Appellant No. 2 (Deceased’s brother-in-law), Appellant No. 3 (Deceased’s mother-in-law) under Sections 498A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), 304B (Dowry death) and 120B (Punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC), as it was a case of unnatural death taken place within six months of marriage and there were allegations of cruelty relating to demand of dowry against them.
The trial took place in Sessions Case No. 18/2008 before the District and Sessions Judge, Rudraprayag (Trial Court), where, the Appellants denied the allegations made in the FIR and produced witnesses in their favour. The Trial Court thereby acquitted all the Appellants vide Judgment dated 17-04-2010.
Aggrieved by the Trial Court Judgment dated 17-04-2010, the State of Uttarakhand filed an Appeal before the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital (High Court) vide Government Appeal No. 57 of 2010. The High Court observed that the Appellants committed unreasonable delay of more than 48 hours in filing missing complaint relating to the Deceased, despite the fact that the Appellant No. 2 had telephonically informed the Deceased’s mother on 25-04-2008 and the Appellant No. 1 informed her on 26-04-2008 that the Deceased was missing since 24-04-2018. Further, the High Court observed that the Appellants had been harassing the Deceased for bringing insufficient dowry, etc.
On reappreciating the entire evidence, the High Court passed a Judgment dated 14-09-2017 and thereby allowed the Appeal and set aside the Trial Court Judgment dated 17-04-2010. The High Court thereby convicted the Appellants under Sections 498A, 304B and 120B of IPC and sentenced them to undergo (i) rigorous imprisonment for a period of seven years and pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- and (ii) in default, to undergo three months of simple imprisonment under Section 304B IPC, (ii) rigorous imprisonment of one year under Section 120B IPC and (iv) rigorous imprisonment of two years under Section 498A IPC.
Aggrieved by the High Court Judgment dated 14-09-2017, the Appellants have filed an Appeal before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court passed a Judgment dated 21-04-2022 and made the following observations in this case:
1) That in order to establish an offence of dowry death under Section 304B IPC, the following essential ingredients have to be proved:
i) that soon before the death, the deceased was subjected to cruelty and harassment in connection with the demand of dowry
ii) the death of the deceased was caused by any burn or bodily injury or some other circumstance which was not normal;
iii) such a death has occurred within 7 years from the date of her marriage;
iv) that the victim was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband;
v) such a cruelty or harassment should be for, or in connection with the demand of dowry; and
vi) it should be established that such cruelty and harassment were made soon before her death.
2) That Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 (Presumption as to dowry death) provides that the Court shall presume that a person has caused the dowry death if it is shown that soon before her death, he/she has subjected such woman to cruelty / harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry.
3) That in this case (i) the Deceased and the Appellant No. 1 got married on 20-10-2007 and (ii) the Deceased went missing from her matrimonial house on 20-04-2008, i.e. within less than 1 year of their marriage. (iii) Further, her body was recovered within 10 days after she went missing. Hence, the ingredients of Section 304B IPC that the death was not normal and happened within 7 years of marriage stand established.
4) Furthermore, based on the testimony of the Deceased’s mother, (i) it is established that the Deceased had once complained to her about dowry demands and harassment by the Appellants. (ii) Also, when the Deceased’s mother visited her Daughter’s matrimonial house on 10-04-2008, the Appellants had quarrelled with her and placed a demand for dowry. (iii) Within 2-3 days thereafter, the Deceased’s mother received a call from her Daughter when she complained of harassment and dowry demands by the Appellants. (iv) Then, on 25-04-2008, the Appellant No. 2 called up the Deceased’s mother to enquire about the Deceased’s whereabouts. (v) Thereafter, her body was recovered within 10 days after she went missing. (vi) The Deceased’s mother’s statements were corroborated by the Deceased’s brother as well. (vii) The Deceased’s brother added that he was informed by his sister on 24-04-2008 that she was pregnant and the Appellants were mistreating her. (viii) The other relatives of the Deceased also deposed regarding dowry demand and harassment by the Appellant. Hence, the other ingredients of Section 304B IPC that the cruelty or harassment made soon before her death was in connection with the demand of dowry, etc also stand established.
5) Furthermore, the Medical Examiner / Doctor confirmed that the death of the Deceased was not caused due to drowning as alleged by the Appellants, as there was no water in the lungs or abdomen. In fact, death had occurred due to shock and blood flow from the injuries received before the death. Thus, 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.
6) However, as the Appellant No. 2 and 3 resided in a different house which is far away from the house where Appellant No. 1 and the Deceased resided, therefore, there is no specific role with regard to the demand of dowry and nor has any specific instance of cruelty and harassment been ascribed to the appellants No.2 and 3 except for the general assertion.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court held that the Appellant No. 1 in this case has failed to rebut the presumption drawn against him under Section 113B Indian Evidence Act read with Section 304B IPC. Therefore, the Apex Court upheld the High Court Judgment dated 14-09-2017 to the extent that the Appellant No. 1 is held guilty for making dowry demands and causing harassment to the Deceased which culminated into her death and hence, directed him to surrender himself and serve the remaining sentence. The High Court Judgment dated 14-09-2017 has been modified to the extent that the Appellant No. 2 and 3 have been ordered to be released on bail.
The Indian Lawyer