By – Kirtika Chakraborty
In Supreme Court Of India
|NAME OF THE CASE
|P. Bikshapathi And Ors. vs State Of Andhra Pradesh
|Crl. Appeal No. 349/88
|DATE OF THE CASE
|October 27, 1988
|State Of Andhra Pradesh
|G R Rao
|The Indian Evidence Act, 1872; the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961; The Indian Penal Code
|Section 113A in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Section 498A in The Indian Penal Code
Dowry murder refers to a bride’s suicide or murder committed by her husband and his family shortly after their marriage due to their dissatisfaction with the dowry. It is usually the culmination of a pattern of domestic abuse by the husband’s family. As a result, most dowry deaths occur when a young woman, unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide by hanging herself or ingesting poison. Bride burning is another form of dowry death in which brides are doused in kerosene and set ablaze by the husband or his family. The bride may end up setting herself on fire as a result of their encouragement to commit suicide.
Bride burnings are frequently misrepresented as accidents or suicide attempts. Bride burnings are the most common type of dowry death for various reasons, including the low cost of kerosene, the lack of evidence after the murder, and the low survival rate. Aside from bride burning, there have been cases of bride poisoning, strangulation, acid attacks, and so on, resulting from which brides have been murdered by the groom’s family.
According to the Indian National Crime Record Bureau, India has the highest number of dowry-related deaths globally due to its large population. In 2012, there were 8,233 dowry death cases reported across India, while in 2013, there were 8,083 dowry deaths reported. This means that every 90 minutes, a woman is killed due to dowry-related crime, resulting in 1.4 deaths per year per 100,000 Indian women.
Dowry in India varies according to economic class. Dowry is more common in upper-class families than in lower-class families. This could be due, in part, to women’s financial exclusion from the upper-class labour market. When dowry first emerged in the Vedic period, it was primarily used to benefit the bride, who could not inherit property under Hindu law.
To counteract this, the bride’s family gave the groom dowry, which was registered in the bride’s name. This dowry was considered stridhan (Sanskrit for “woman’s property”). In addition, while the upper castes practised dowry, the lower castes practised bride price to compensate her family for the loss of income. Dowry has evolved in the modern era, and Indian families no longer practice the traditional Vedic concept of dowry. Over time, bride prices faded, and dowry became the most common form of transferred wealth. Dowry is the practice of sharing goods from the bride’s family to the groom’s family in exchange for marriage in the modern era.
Following the Deepavali festival, the deceased was delivered to the home of the accused. The accused began to mistreat the dead, blaming her for not bringing the television set and the remaining half a tola of gold, as well as blaming her for not properly performing household chores and starving her on several occasions. PW-3 went to the accused’s house to see her daughter, and she asked A-3 not to ill-treat and harass the deceased because they could not provide the T.V. set and gold as demanded.
PW-1, a resident of Gemini Colony, returned home around 6 p.m. on 6-4-1984 and was informed that the deceased had burned herself and committed suicide. PW-1 went to the accused’s house and discovered the deceased’s body in the bathroom, where he also found A-3 and another lady. People from the neighbourhood gathered there. While PW-1 was walking away from the accused’s house, A-2 handed him his T.V.S. moped and told him to go to the place of the deceased Rajyalakshmi’s parents and inform them. PW-1 went to PW-3 and informed him. PW-3 and others arrived at the accused’s home around 8 p.m. They discovered the deceased’s body in the bathroom, and A-3 was the only person in the house; A-1 and A-2 were not present. PW-3 inquired of A-3 as to how the deceased’s death occurred. She didn’t say anything. A-1 and A-2 arrived at the house one after another a short time later.
On May 27, 1983, A-1 married the now-deceased Rajyalakshmi. A-1’s father is A-2, while A-1’s mother is A-3. PW-2 is the deceased’s father, while PW-3 is the dead’s mother. PW-4 is the deceased’s paternal grandmother, while PW-5 is his paternal uncle.
According to the prosecution, the deceased Rajyalakshmi committed suicide on April 6, 1984, around 6 p.m., in the house’s bathroom bearing No. 1-7-513/1/12 in Gemini Colony, Musheerabad, Hyderabad. A-1 to A-3 constantly abused and harassed her for not receiving a television set and a one-tola gold ring from her parents. The deceased Rajyalakshmi, who was about 19 years old at the time, was pushed to commit suicide by lighting herself on fire by pouring kerosene on her body as a result of the actions of A-1 to A-3. The prosecution further claims that at the time of A-1’s marriage to Rajyalakshmi, the accused seized a Bajaj chetak scooter, a steel almirah, a wristwatch, steel kitchenware, etc., six tolas of gold, and Rs. 2,116/- in cash as dowry.
- To ventilate the grievances about atrocities of newly married brides due to dowry or other such similar demands from their husbands or in-laws, women social workers had taken up the cause in a movement in the country and due to the effective persuasion by social compulsions.
- Whether the deceased was compelled to commit suicide because of the harassment she faced in her in-law’s house.
- Whether the ill-treatment was started on account of their failure to fulfil the demand
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE
“Sri. Padmanabha Reddy learned counsel for the accused, contended that P.W.s. 2 to 5, who are father, mother, grandmother and paternal uncle of the deceased, are interested, and their statements have been recorded 1 1/2 years after the incident and the learned Judge was not justified in accepting their testimony as correct. It is also contended that at the earliest point of time, P.W.s. 2 to 5 have not come forward with the plea of cruelty or the request of demand for T.V. set gold, and the belated version ought not to have been taken into consideration.
Having been dissatisfied with the nature of the investigation done by PW-10, PW-2 approached the higher authorities, and the higher powers, in turn, directed them to hand over the case file to PW-11 and the same was accordingly handed over to him on 16-10-1985. It must be noted here that despite the notice given by PW-10, PW-2 did not choose to appear before him. The circumstances under which the file was handed over lends more support that the grievance of P.W.s. 2 to 5 and, in particular, PW-2 that PW-10 has not done the investigation correctly is correct. The irregularities that have been committed by the investigating officers will not come in the way of appreciating the oral testimony of the witnesses.
Much stress has been laid by the defence that PW-10 has recorded the statements of the witnesses, and they were suppressed, and the other statements also which were purported to have been signed by the witnesses have been suppressed. The witnesses, in their anxiety, that their statements may not be accepted, may state that they have signed the documents on a reading of the evidence of P.W.s. 1 to 5. I find that what has been recorded by PW-11 are the statements that have been produced into Court. PW-11 indeed admitted that he had not compared the statements that have been filed into Court with the originals, and there are mistakes, and those mistakes are due to lack of proper translation by PW-11. PW-11 is a Muslim, and he does not know Telugu perfectly. P.W.s. 2 to 5 do not know English. P.W.s. 3 and 4 are illiterates. The answers elicited in cross-examination about the mistakes in the copies are only a product of lack of correct translation.
Based on the recording of the statements of the witnesses at a later stage, the defence has raised a contention that the witnesses have made up their minds to give a false version. Even though the bride burning cases are on the high side, the investigating officers are not diligent enough to take appropriate prompt steps in the investigation of those cases.”
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT
“A-1 to A-3 have constructed a new house, and the house warming ceremony took place during 1983 Dasara. On account of the construction of the house, they might have spent all their monies. As they live in the city and as they are Government employees and as they have constructed home of their own, the possibility of having a desire to have the T.V. set in their house also cannot be ruled out. It is not the affluent circumstances of the husband’s family alone that have to be considered. The greed of money knows no bounds, and a person, even if affluent, can well pressurise and squeeze his ‘in-law’ for getting easy-money, as a bargain to keep his spouse in peace and comfort. Due to failure and reluctance on the part of the wife or in-laws to satisfy the demand for money, the accused tortured the daughter-in-law leading to commit suicide which was the direct result of the accused’s abetment.
A-3 was also once a daughter-in-law. Forgetting the fact that she was also once a daughter-in-law, she gained the upper hand as a mother-in-law immediately after the performance of her first son’s (A-1) marriage, and she thought it fit to demand money on the ground that they require a T.V. set and one tola of gold. It has become a standard feature that mother-in-law plays an essential role in instigating their sons or husbands to demand more money. If the demands have not been met, the mothers-in-law start ill-treating and humiliating their daughters-in-law by gestures or by other means, which ultimately leads to suicide. A-1 is the only person that was married recently before the construction of the house. It is the general custom that for Deepavali and Sankranthi, parents-in-law invite the son-in-law and the daughter and give them new clothes and some presents. The quantum of gifts and the value of clothes depends upon their financial status.
As Deepavali was very nearing and as PW-3 approached to invite the deceased and A-1, the accused made the demands, and it finds corroboration from the evidence of P.W.s. 2 to 5. As 1/2 tola of the gold ring was presented for Deepavali instead of one tola of gold ring and the T.V. set and as P.W.s. 2 and 3 expressed their inability to meet the other demands as they have already incurred a good amount of money on their first daughter’s (deceased) marriage, A-1 and A-3, in particular, might have developed a grouse. Having set the grouse, the possibility of ill-treating the dead cannot be ruled out. In case of dowry deaths, we cannot have direct pieces of evidence or circumstantial evidence. In such cases, the Court has to draw inferences from the set of facts that have been brought out by the prosecution. In dowry death cases, the instances that took place for an extended period of seven years have to be considered, and the totality of the circumstances has to be considered as a whole. It is the onerous duty of the Court to draw inference from such material available before it. The husband or his relatives who know of the instances or the cause of the death will not come out as they will be prosecuted. It is only the parents or her relations or friends alone that will come forward to narrate the incidents. The failure to meet the demand and the deceased being stout and ugly, as alleged by A-3, might have made them harass her on one pretext or the other. The conduct exhibited by the accused and as stated by P.W.s. 2 and 3 in connection with the invitation extended for Deepavali and Sankranthi festivals and the behaviour exhibited by the accused at the time of the death of the grandfather of the deceased can be seen with the background of the evidence. The other instances by themselves may not throw light on the cause of the death. The cumulative effect of the incidents spread over for a period from the date of the marriage, i.e. 27-5-1983, until the end, i.e. 6-4-1984, has to be considered. The Legislature intended to take into consideration the incidents for about seven years. If we think of the incidents narrated by P.W.s. 2 to 5, there is a ring of truth in their evidence. The irregularities committed by the investigating officers or the omissions pointed out will not enure to the benefit of the accused as nothing have been elicited from those witnesses to discredit their testimony.”
- Section 113A in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872
“[113A. Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman.—When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.1[113A. Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman.—When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.” Explanation.—For this section, “cruelty” shall have the same meaning as in area 498A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).].”
- Section 498A in The Indian Penal Code
“[498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is intending to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person associated to her to meet such demand.].”
The IInd Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge in Hyderabad filed three charges against A-1 to A-3 for violating sections 306 and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. The accused was found not guilty of the offence under Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act by the learned Judge. He found the accused guilty of the charges under sections 306 and 498-A of the I.P.C. and sentenced them to seven years in jail and a fine of Rs. 200/- for the offence under S. 306, I.P.C. He further condemned them to two months in prison if they did not pay the fine. For the crime under S. 498-A I.P.C., he additionally sentenced the accused to six months of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 100/-, in default, of which he was sentenced to one month of rigorous imprisonment. Both sentences were written to run at the same time. A-1 to A-3 filed an appeal before this Court in response. By order dated October 27, 1987, this Court granted the appeal and overturned the accused’s conviction and penalties. By ruling dated 11-7-1988 in Crl. Request No. 349/88, the Supreme Court overturned this Court’s decision, holding that the case should be remanded to this Court for a new determination based on the law after hearing both parties. PW-2, the deceased’s father, who filed the Supreme Court appeal, also applied and presented written arguments.
“The view that the trial court has considered the legal effect of the presumption under Sec. 113-A of the Evidence Act read with Section 498-A I.P.C. and gave a correct finding that the ill-treatment meted to the deceased by her husband and in-laws before the date of her death made her commit suicide. The trial court has not committed any illegality in considering the events of cruelty as stated by pws. 2 to 5 and convicted the accused based on legal presumption under Section 113-A of the EVIDENCE ACT, 1872. After all, the sufferings which the deceased Rajyalakshmi faced were disclosed by her to her mother PW 3, and One cannot expect that a newly married bride should go on complaining about her ill-treatment by her husband or in-laws to any outside person. The conduct of the deceased in disclosing her sufferings to the nearest and dearest ones is most natural. It is not the case of the accused that the prosecution witnesses had any axe to grind against them to involve them falsely because the deceased committed suicide.
The wilful conduct of the husband in taking liquor almost daily despite the constant protest by his wife and his habit of coming home late at night does not fulfil the essential ingredients of “cruelty” as denned in Section 498-A I.P.C. The first requisite for attracting the presumption under Section 113-A of the EVIDENCE ACT, 1872 is that it must be proved that the wife was subjected to cruelty as defined in Section 498-A I.P.C. Taking a drink and coming late to home much against the wife’s will may not, per se, amount to cruelty, but the acts coupled with beating and demanding dowry and harassment to bring money to attract the term “cruelty” as defined in Section 498-A I.P.C. In this case also, the evidence of P.W.s. 2 and 3 reveals that they came to know that A-1 was addicted to alcohol, and the ill-treatment was started on account of their failure to fulfil the demand for the T. V. set and gold.
In all dowry death cases, the standard of appreciation of evidence has to be in the light of the provisions contained in Section 113-A of the EVIDENCE ACT, 1872. The observations made by the Supreme Court and the reasoning given by the Supreme Court in dowry death cases even much before the amendment as reported in Shri Bhagwant Singh case (supra) by Pathak, J. (as he then was) has to be followed.
In Surinder Kumar vs State (Delhi Administration), the accused was convicted under Section 302 IPC in a bride burning case. Natarajan, J. speaking for the Bench found that the dying declaration sets out that the accused was in the habit of ill-treating her and that on the morning in question, he had abused Her and beat her. On top of everything, he had also poured kerosene over her and set fire to her.
Generally, after the marriage, if the girl happens to be educated and the parents are educated, they will write letters, and the contents in those letters will also be of safe guide to know the truth or otherwise of the oral evidence let in the prosecution witnesses. The deceased Rajyalaksbrni studied only up to Xth class. She is also residing in Hyderabad, and her parents are also living in Hyderabad, and they are not well educated, and her mother and grandmother are illiterates. Under these circumstances, we cannot expect that she will be in a position to write any letters to her parents. It is only the oral testimony alone that has to be taken into consideration.”
Due to the prevalence of the dowry practice, a girl is regarded as a liability in her own natal home. Some parents are unwilling to give their daughters a higher education because they must search for highly educated boys for marriages. A better-educated boy will demand more dowries, creating an unnecessary problem for parents. Dowry is thus a significant impediment to the advancement of girls’ education, and girls who are denied higher education are unable to advance their status. Due to the practice of dowry, boys are always given more importance in terms of food, clothing, medical care, and education in middle-class families.
Furthermore, the boy who receives a large dowry may regard himself as more dignified, as having a higher status, greater prestige, and being more respectful than the girl. As a result, the girl develops an inferiority complex. In another way, the dowry system lowers women’s status.
Some avaricious young men wish to marry multiple women to reap financial benefits in the form of dowry. This, of course, has an impact on women’s status.
Dowry causes an imbalance in the sex ratio: Parents from low-income families murder their daughters from the time they are born or when they are foetuses in their mother’s womb. The practise of female infanticide and feticide has resulted in a sex imbalance in our society.
Dowrying raises psychological tension: Dowry practice causes many marriages to fail and increases the pressure between parents and daughters. Furthermore, parents are always concerned and tense about arranging the money required to pay in dowry for their daughter’s marriage. In some cases, self-respecting girls may refuse to marry a dowry-demanding boy and may be forced to remain spinsters for the rest of their lives. Forced sex suppression may cause them to become irritable, frustrated, disgusted, and pessimistic. They could even develop neurotic diseases or become involved in an emotional problem.
In many cases, girls are mistreated even after the dowry has been paid. As a result, despite their resistance to the treatment, they disrupt their mental peace and cause constant annoyance. Many times, parents arrange their son’s marriage solely for the sake of dowry. Consent leads to misunderstanding and unhappiness between married couples. Dowry has become the most significant social evil today, despite rapid globalisation, liberalisation, and privatisation. Legislative and non-legislative.Dowry practice has to be eradicated through legislative action.