Case No.: Criminal Appeal Nos. 17351736
Satbir Singh Case : Supreme Court Guidelines for trial in dowry death cases, (banerji, 2021)
FACTS OF THE CASE
- Satbir Singh and his deceased wife were married on 1.07.1994. Satbir Singh’s wife passed away on 31.07.1995 in hospital as she succumbed to her burn injuries.
- Some evidences proved that the deceased came back to her parental home after 1 month of their marriage as her new family was pressurizing her to bring more dowry. Even before 1 week of death, she was complaining about the harassment.
- On 31.07.1995, around 4 or 4:30 pm, the father of the deceased was informed by some villagers that his daughter was admitted in the hospital.
- The prosecution’s case was that the wife committed suicide after she set herself on fire due to being subjected to cruelty and dowry demand by her husband and her in-laws. Only 15% of her body was undamaged and was there for identification. After the autopsy, doctors found that the body of the deceased was doused with kerosene oil.
The appellant was found guilty of violating sections 304-B and 306 of IPC by the trial Court in an order dated on 11.12.1997. Under section 304-B of IPC they were given 7 years of imprisonment with close monitoring and 5 years of imprisonment for offence under section 306 of IPC.
The appellant petitioned the Hon’ble High Court to dismiss the decision made by trial Court but the Hon’ble High Court sustained the judgment passed by the trial Court on 06.11.2008.
The appellants approached Hon’ble High Court to set aside the order of conviction and sentence passed by the Trial Court. The Hon’ble High Court upheld the order of the Trial Court and dismissed the appeal filed by the appellant in 2008 (10 years later). After that the accused appellant and his brother approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court according to Article 136 of the Indian constitution through special leave petition.
- Whether the Trial Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, was correct in convicting the accused on the charge under Section 304-B, IPC?
- Whether the Trial Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, was correct in convicting the accused on the charge under Section 306, IPC?
Contention on behalf of Appellant
The appellants attorney argued that the probability of the fire in the house cannot be ruled out as it could be a case of suicide. The appellants were found guilty by the Trial Court for offenses under Sections 304-B and 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The contention was about 304-B of the IPC which defines as Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than If a woman passes away under circumstances considered normal within the initial seven years of her marriage, a critical factor comes into play when it is evident that, shortly before her demise, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment. This mistreatment is attributed to her husband or any relative of her husband and is specifically associated with a demand for dowry.
In such unfortunate cases, the term “dowry death” is employed to describe the nature of her demise. Furthermore, the individual responsible for the mistreatment, whether it be the husband or a relative, is legally regarded as the cause of the tragic outcome. This legal framework is designed to address instances where a woman’s death is linked to the undue pressure or harm inflicted upon her due to dowry-related demands, highlighting the significance of addressing and preventing such circumstances within the legal and social contexts.
Its main ingredients are bodily injury under normal conditions, harassment by the husband and in-laws, brutality, ill treatment by the husband or relatives for the demand of dowry ‘soon before she passes away.’
Then, the prosecution did not offer any proof to support the demand of dowry made by the appellant and his family. In other words, the prosecution could nor bring any evidence to establish that there was any demand for dowry on the part of the appellant and his family.
The prosecution also failed to prove if the fire was accidental or it was a case of suicide.
Contention on behalf of respondent
The counsel on behalf of the respondent contented that the appellant failed to produce any evidence about the strange death of the victim within one year of marriage by burning.
the appellant has failed to justify the interference of the Hon’ble Apex Court in the order passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Trial Court at Chandigarh.
1. Whether the Trial Court and the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court, was correct in convicting the accused on the charge under Section 304-B, IPC?
The Court analyzed section 304-B IPC for dowry death, Section 304B (1) of IPC defined ‘Dowry Death’ of a woman.
It states that where the death of women is caused by bodily injuries or any burns or any other reason within seven years of marriage and is shown that ‘soon before death’ she was subjected to any kind of harassment by her husband or any other relatives for dowry or anything related to dowry. Such deaths would be called as dowry deaths and the husband and the relatives involved would be responsible for it. And subclause (2) provides punishments for those who causes dowry deaths.
Subsection 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act 1961
It states that whoever is responsible for the dowry death shall be punished for a minimum of 7 years which may also extend to life imprisonment.
The Court referred to the case Major Singh v. The state of Punjab, 2015
- burns or bodily injuries or ‘normal circumstances’ must be the cause of death
- death of a woman must occur within 7 years of her marriage
- she must be harassed by her husband or any relative of her husband
- such cruelty or harassment should be related to demand of dowry
- such harassment or cruelty is shown to have been meted out to the woman soon before her death
2.Whether the Trial Court and the High Court, was correct in convicting the accused on the charge under Section 306, IPC?
Section 306 of the IPC states that if any person commits suicide or whoever abets the commission of such suicide shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 10 years and be liable for the fine.
This indicates that the prosecution must find out whether or not it was a suicide and second that whether the person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide is involved in it or not.
The conclusion was as the prosecution failed to prove that the death occurred to the deceased due to suicide as there was no evidence to prove the same. So, the Court held as the fact of commission of suicide was not proved under section 306-B of IPC. Therefore, the submission made by appellant was rejected by the Hon’ble Supreme Court
The Hon’ble Supreme Court also referred to the judgment of Major Singh v. The State of Punjab. In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court overruled the judgment made by the subordinate Court as it did not fulfil the essential ingredients of dowry death but the judgment was still mad in the favor of dowry death under Section 304B of The Indian Penal Code.
The Supreme Court also mentioned the judgment of Bansi Lal v. State od Haryana where all the key ingredients od dowry death were satisfied.
Defects of law
- ‘Soon before’ section 304-B IPC
There was no interpretation of ‘soon before’ used by the legislature. By that the legislature did not mean an immediately before. They left it in the hands of the Court. The level of harassment and cruelty differs from case to case as it can range from physical, verbal or even mental harassment. there should be proper proof and shreds of evidences The prosecution must prove the link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the consequential death of the deceased.
- The presumption under Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The court ruled that if the prosecution establishes that ‘shortly before the woman’s death, she experienced cruelty or harassment from a person in connection with a demand for dowry,’ a presumption of causation is triggered against the accused, as per Section 113B of the Evidence Act 1872.
Section 304B of the IPC categorizes the death as homicidal or suicidal, or accidental which is not sufficient. This lack of categorization is because ‘other than just normal conditions’ deaths might sometimes brutal, suicidal, or accidental. Therefore, Section 304B should have a wider approach and be extra careful while handling such cases.
- The Courts must be very careful while recording statements of the accused by the Courts under section 313 Cr.P.C. the examination should not be just a formality and the judge should make sure of it.
The Supreme Court pronounced that the death of the deceased happened by burning of the body and due to cruelty by the husband or relatives of the husband provided u/s 498A of IPC.
It is concluded that the judgment made by the trial Court and the high Court was justified and there was no error committed by both the Courts in convicting the appellant under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code.
In the matter of the conviction under 306 of IPC, the prosecution failed to prove that the death occurred due to suicide as there was no evidence to prove the same. Therefore, the Supreme Court of India held the appellant convicted under the offence of section 304B but upon appreciation of the facts and circumstances offences section 306 of the Indian Penal Code was not made out and was set aside.
Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida