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Dowry Death

Dowry Death
Dowry Death


Dowry death is a grave offence under Indian law, reflecting the serious societal issue of dowry-related violence. Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) specifically addresses dowry deaths, establishing stringent legal provisions to combat this social evil.

Section 304B IPC

"(1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called 'dowry death,' and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.

Explanation: For the purpose of this sub-section, 'dowry' shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

(2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life."


Essential Elements Required to Prove Dowry Death

1. Death of a Woman

The first essential element is the death of a woman. This death must be caused by burns, bodily injury, or occur under circumstances that are not normal. The nature of the death should raise suspicion about the involvement of foul play rather than being a result of natural causes.

Shanti v. State of Haryana (1991)

In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the unnatural death of a woman within seven years of marriage, coupled with evidence of cruelty or harassment for dowry, constitutes dowry death. The court examined the circumstances surrounding the death, which included severe burns, and concluded it was not a normal occurrence.

2. Death Occurring Within Seven Years of Marriage

The death must occur within seven years of the woman’s marriage. This specific time frame is crucial as it highlights the vulnerability of newly married women to dowry-related violence and harassment. The law presumes that deaths occurring within this period may have a connection to dowry demands.

Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana (2021)

The Supreme Court reiterated that the proximity of the woman’s death to her marriage is a significant factor in dowry death cases. The statutory period of seven years is intended to capture the period during which dowry-related harassment is most likely to occur.

3. Cruelty or Harassment Soon Before Death

It must be shown that the woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives soon before her death. This cruelty or harassment must be specifically in connection with demands for dowry. The term "soon before" is not precisely defined but is generally interpreted to mean within a reasonable time frame that establishes a connection between the harassment and the death.

Hira Lal v. State (NCT of Delhi) (2003)

The Supreme Court clarified that "soon before" is a relative term and its meaning depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. There must be a perceptible nexus between the cruelty or harassment and the woman's death.

4. Demand for Dowry

The harassment or cruelty must be related to dowry demands. Dowry is defined under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other party, or by the parents of either party, in connection with the marriage.

Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana (1998)

The Supreme Court emphasised that the prosecution must prove that the cruelty or harassment meted out to the woman was for or in connection with the demand for dowry. Mere allegations of cruelty or harassment without linking them to dowry demands do not constitute dowry death under Section 304B IPC.

Burden of Proof and Presumption

Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, provides for a presumption of dowry death when certain conditions are met. Once the prosecution proves the basic elements of Section 304B IPC, the burden shifts to the accused to rebut the presumption.

Sher Singh v. State of Haryana (2015)

The Supreme Court explained that the presumption under Section 113B of the Evidence Act is a rebuttable presumption, meaning the accused can provide evidence to counter it. The court noted that the standard of proof required from the accused is not as high as that of the prosecution.


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