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Section 304B IPC – Demand of Money for Construction of a House is a ‘Dowry Demand’: Supreme Court

Team SoOLEGAL 12 Jan 2022 4:18pm

Section 304B IPC – Demand of Money for Construction of a House is a ‘Dowry Demand’: Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court ruled that a demand for money to build a house constitutes a ‘dowry demand’ punishable under Section – 304(B) of the Indian Penal Code.

The term ‘dowry’ should be given a broad interpretation to include any demand made on a woman, whether for property or a valued security of any kind, according to a bench comprising CJI NV Ramana, Justices AS Bopanna, and Hima Kohli.

In this case, the husband and father – in – law of the deceased were convicted under sections – 304(B), 306, and 498 – A of the IPC. The accused was found to have demanded money from the dead for the construction of a house, which her family members were unable to provide, and as a result, she was continually harassed and exposed to brutality, eventually leading to her death. In an appeal, the High Court ruled that a demand for money to build a house cannot be considered a dowry demand. The court ruled that the charge under Section – 304(B) was not proven against them since the purported demand placed on the dead was for money to build a house, which cannot be construed as a dowry demand for linking her death to the above mentioned reason.

In its ruling handed in response to the State’s appeal, the Apex Court bench specified four prerequisites for convicting an accused of the act punishable under Section – 304(B) as follows:

      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;

   iv.         That such a cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.

Disagreeing with the High Court’s position, the bench stated: “13. The Latin maxim ‘Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pereat’ i.e. a liberal construction should be put up on written instruments, so as to uphold them, if possible, and carry into effect, the intention of the parties, sums it up. Interpretation of a provision of law that will defeat the very intention of the legislature must be shunned in favor of an interpretation that will promote the object sought to be achieved through the legislation meant to uproot a social evil like dowry demand. In this context the word “Dowry” ought to be ascribed an expansive meaning so as to encompass any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature. When dealing with cases under Section – 304(B) IPC, a provision legislated to act as a deterrent in the society and curb the heinous crime of dowry demands, the shift in the approach of the court ought to be from strict to liberal, from constricted to dilated. Any rigid meaning would tend to bring to naught, the real object of the provision. Therefore, a push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society.”

The bench stated that the trial court properly characterized the respondents’ claim for money made on the dead for the building of a house as being within the scope of the term ‘dowry’.

“The submission made by learned counsel for the respondents that the deceased was also a party to such a demand as she had on her own asked her mother and maternal uncle to contribute to the construction of the house, must be understood in the correct perspective. It cannot be lost sight of that the respondents had been constantly tormenting the deceased and asking her to approach her family members for money to build a house and it was only on their persistence and insistence that she was compelled to ask them to contribute some amount for constructing a house. The Court must be sensitive to the social milieu which the parties hail,” the court said.

As a result, the bench reinstated the accused’s conviction under Section – 304(B) of the IPC.



Tagged: Supreme Court   Indian Penal Code   CJI NV Ramana   Justic AS Bopanna   Justic Hima Kohli  
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