5 June : If a woman dies one year or so after an alleged harassment by husband and in-laws, it cannot be treated as a cruelty for dowry and the accused cannot be convicted for causing dowry death, the Supreme Court has ruled.
"Some harassment which had taken place one year prior to the death without something more, in our opinion, could not have been considered to be a cruelty which had been inflicted soon before the death of the deceased. It does not satisfy the proximity test," a bench of S B Sinha and Mukandakam Sharma ruled.
The apex court passed the ruling while setting aside the conviction of Suresh Kumar Singh under Section 304 B (dowry death) for causing the death of his wife Asha Devi on 8th December, 1993, who died due to severe burn injuries.
In the present case, family members of the deceased had alleged that Asha was subjected to harassment by her husband and in-laws for gold ornaments a year before she died.
Singh was convicted under Section 304 B IPC (dowry death) and awarded a sentence of seven years by a session’s court in Uttar Pradesh which also convicted him under Section 498A IPC (harassment by husband/relatives) and sentenced him to three years for the offence. Both the sentences were to run concurrently.
The Allahabad High Court confirmed the sentences, after which Singh appealed in the apex court.
Interpreting Section 304 B IPC (dowry death), the apex court said that as per the statute the death must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or other than under normal circumstances.
To invite conviction under the section, it is necessary that "soon before her death," the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband and such cruelty or harassment must be in connection with dowry," the bench said.
In this particular case, the bench pointed out that the alleged demand for dowry was made more than a year prior to the death of Asha.
"Indisputably, in order to attract the said provision, it is imperative on the part of the prosecution to establish that the cruelty or harassment has been meted out to the deceased "soon before her death." Its application would depend upon the factual matrix obtaining in a particular case.
"No fixed period can be indicated there for. It, however, must undergo the test known as ‘proximity test.’ What however, is necessary for the prosecution is to bring on record that the dowry demand was not too late and not too stale before the death of the victim," the apex court observed.