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An estimated 5-minute read

Importance of evidence in "Dowry Death"

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According to Black’s Law Dictionary, term dowry can be defined as the property which a woman brings to her husband in marriage, or the effects which the wife brings to the husband to support the expenses of marriage. Webster dictionary defines “Dowry” as the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage. Section 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 defines “Dowry” as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly between the concerned parties before or after the marriage as a consideration for the same.

The tradition of dowry was originated in ancient India, and it was generally provided to enable a woman to support her in crisis, and also to support her husband and children if needed. But, the purpose for which it was created lost its significance over a period of time and now it has become a tradition followed in many parts of the country. A large number of cases are witnessed by various courts throughout the country daily, and many of them have “Dowry death” as its subject matter. Section 304-B of Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines “Dowry Death” and it states that if the death of a woman is caused under 7 years of her marriage under normal circumstances, and if there is enough evidence to prove that woman was subjected to some kind of cruelty or harassment by her husband or any of his relatives while demanding dowry, such death would come under the category of “Dowry Death”. But, it becomes important to understand the role of evidence in such cases. Section 498-A of the same act relates to the cruelty on a woman by her husband or nay of his relatives. These two sections play a very important role while deciding the case pertaining to the issue of dowry death, along with Section 300 and 299 which are related to the issue of “Culpable Homicide” and “Murder”. Murder and Culpable homicide become important to consider because in cases pertaining to the issue of “Dowry Death”, death of a woman is caused and it is very important to relate that death with these provision so as to decide whether the deceased was murdered or not.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, term “evidence” can be defined as any species of proof, or probative matter, legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of including belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention. The same has to be distinguished from proof and testimony. Evidence is such kind of proofs which can be presented in front of the court when are where needed to be presented. Testimony means only such evidence as is delivered by a witness on the trial of a cause, either orally or in the form of affidavits or depositions.

Offences committed under Section 304-B and 498-A are non-bailable offence which makes difficult for the accused person to get bail, and courts remain careful while granting bail in cases relating to dowry death. Schedule 1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides a list of non-bailable offences and there are approximately 222 offences which come under the category of “non-bailable offence”. Death because of dowry is a very serious crime, but court are also careful while examining such cases because the punishment prescribed for dowry death is very severe and it would be highly unjustifiable to punish the person who is not involved in such crime. And, also it is a principle under criminal law that an accused should be convicted only if the offence could be proven beyond reasonable doubt. And, for this purpose evidence becomes very crucial. In cases relating to the issue of dowry death, there can be various forms of evidences for e.g., Letter by woman to her parents explaining her plight or communicating with them by any other means, torture by the family members of the husband for dowry etc. But, it has also been seen over a period of time that the story portrayed by the parent’s of the deceased woman, and also there are various cases where a man or his family members get punishment for the crime which they have not committed. Sometimes, a woman dies naturally but a case is registered under the provision mentioned under Indian Penal Code for “Dowry Death”. It is for this purpose that the relevance of evidence in such cases becomes more important.

Interpretation of certain expressions present in various act become more important in these case. One such point was decided by the Supreme Court in Baldev Singh v State of Punjab AIR 2009 SC 913, where the meaning of the term “agreement” as mentioned in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was interpreted by the court. It was held by the court that just because there was no expressed agreement of dowry between the parties doesn’t mean that no conviction can be made for dowry, whether there was any demand for dowry or not would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. Moreover, it was held by the court that the expression “soon before her death” present in Section 304-B of Indian Penal Code, 1860 is present with the ides of proximity test. It was opined by the court that “soon before death” is not interval between cruelty and harassment and death of the woman, but it denotes the existence of a proximate and live-link between the effects of cruelty based on dowry demand and the death concerned.

In Vijay v State of Maharashtra AIR 2009 SC 1217, it was alleged by the counsel of the state that a ring and money was demanded by the deceased, and that she informed this to her parents through a letter but there was no mention of money in the letter. Trial court acquitted the accused, but trial court’s order was reversed by the Bombay High Court. Supreme reversed High Court’s order and acquitted the accused on the ground that evidence present by the counsel didn’t mention money.

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