On 28 May, 2021, the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave its judgements on two of its Criminal appeal cases involving the provisions regarding Dowry death under Section 304-b and 498A of IPC and Section 113B of Evidence Act, 1872.
Without digging deep into the facts of these judgements let us first understand the heinous impact of dowry related crimes in the Indian context, in a retrospective manner.
The Dowry system has existed in India since the medieval times and even remarkably attained a legal status during the British era. So basically, a couple cannot get married legally in India during the colonial era, without the practice of dowry.
The founding stone and intention upon which the dowry system was practiced in India during the earlier times was to provide some sort of financial security and independence to the bride after her marriage, mostly in the form of jewellery, which has, in the current society, turned into a mere perpetration of economic greed by the groom’s family in the form of materialistic demands.
What began as a social practice for the purpose of empowering the married women has now formed its roots in the modern society as a predominant cause of social crimes against women.
In the prevailing society, the act of dowry is considered to be more of a financial opportunity for the husband rather than a sense of security for the wife. In an alarming statistic, dowry deaths amount to at least 40-50 percent of female homicides recorded annually in India and according to the National Crime Record Bureau, India has by far the highest cases of dowry related deaths across the globe.
Now, coming back to the recent judgements of the Supreme Court regarding the dowry deaths, the CJI opined that the courts, while dealing with the underlying statutes, shouldn’t take a ‘literal interpretation’ of the provisions embedded in it.
This opinion is true is in the sense that the criminal justice system can only function fairly when the judiciary uses its full discretionary powers in interpreting the provisions liberally.
This liberal interpretation and approach will only help in enhancing and widening the scope of such provisions relating to dowry deaths.
To understand this let us first examine the fundamental law relating to dowry deaths,
Section 304-B of IPC defines, and provides the punishment for dowry demand, reads as under:
“304B. Dowry death-(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 (28 of 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.”
In the recent judgement, the CJI opined that the term ‘soon before’ need not necessarily mean immediately preceding the death of the victim and, consequently, it is the duty of the judge to interpret the ingredients of the case and examine the “proximity and live link” between the cruelty and the death of the victim.
Hence, a strict interpretation of the statutes would indeed defeat the principles of justice and it might show callousness on the part of the adjudicator.
Now, based on the statistical analysis of dowry related crimes in India, it is evident that in spite of enacting and inserting various provisions and laws such as the Dowry Prohibition Act,1961 and subsequently Sections 304-B and 498A under the IPC, it has still not proven to be sufficient in curbing the menace of dowry in the present society.
It is also important to note that unlike the more stringent provisions enshrined under the IPC for the felony of murder, dowry death under Section 304B only provides for an imprisonment of a minimum period of 7 years, which maybe extended to a life imprisonment.
Hence, based on the analysis of the recent trends of domestic violence against women and the subsequent judgements regarding the same, such a meagre punishment for a crime as menacing as dowry is definitely not adequate in the present Indian scenario and only a harsher retribution in the manner of a death penalty can eradicate this rampant social evil.
So for this very reason, Section 304-B of IPC certainly deserves a flak and further reports and amendments on dowry-related provisions by the Law Commission and the Parliament is indispensable.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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