Ashok Kumar v State of Haryana – Citation: AIR 2010 SC 2839
The deceased and accused Ashok Kumar were married on 9th October, 1986 wherein the father of the deceased had given sufficient dowry at the time of her marriage according to his means, desire and capacity. But, the appellant and his family members were not satisfied with the dowry. They allegedly used to harass and maltreat the deceased and used to give her beatings. They had demanded a refrigerator, a television etc. One week prior to the date of occurrence, the deceased came to the house of her father at Kaithal and narrated the story. She specifically mentioned that her husband wanted to set up a new business for which he required a sum of Rs. 5,000/-; which could not be managed by her parents due to which the accused and his family members alleged to have burnt the deceased by sprinkling kerosene oil on her as a result of which the deceased died. Also, as per post-mortem, cause of death was shock and dehydration which resulted from extensive burn injuries, which were ante-mortem.
The SC partially accepted the appeal and accused was awarded sentence of 7 years rigorous imprisonment. It stated that, at time of occurrence, the accused was present at home and failed to protect or save deceased from burning which caused her death. Marriage itself had survived for short period nearly one and half year. Cruelty and harassment to deceased was stated to be caused by mother in law of deceased and brother in law of deceased, they had been acquitted by High Court for total lack of evidence. The Court further observed that neither State nor complainant had preferred Appeal against judgment of acquittal.
Re definition of dowry the SC referred to the cases of Ram Singh v. State of Haryana (customary gifts) (2008) 4 SCC 70; Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab (in connection with marriage) AIR 2001 SC 2828; State of Andhra Pradesh v. Raj Gopal Asawa (not restricted to agreement or demand for payment of dowry before and at the time of marriage but even include subsequent demands) (2004) 4 SCC 470. Further it referred to the case of Kaliyaperumal v. State of Tamil Nadu AIR 2003 SC 3828 (ingredients for raising presumption S. 304B)
The Court sided with the decisions of other courts wherein the husband had demanded a specific sum from his father-in-law and upon not being given, harassed and tortured the wife and after some days she died, such cases would clearly fall within the definition of ‘dowry’ under the Act.
Further, it observed that the expressions ‘soon before her death’ cannot be given a restricted or a narrower meaning. Regarding the meaning of the phrase “soon before death” the Court stated that, the interpretation given should be one which would avoid absurd results on the one hand and would further the object and cause of the law so enacted on the other; and stated that this expression would normally imply that there has to be reasonable time gap between the cruelty inflicted and the death in question. The SC relied on case of Tarsem Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 2009 SC 1454, held that the legislative object in providing such a radius of time by employing the words ‘soon before her death’ is to emphasize the idea that her death should, in all probabilities, has been the aftermath of such cruelty or harassment. Yashoda v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2004) 3 SCC 98 has also been referred, wherein this Court stated that determination of the period would depend on the facts and circumstances of a given case.
The Court opined that cruelty and harassment by the husband or any relative could be directly relatable to or in connection with, any demand for dowry. The expression ‘demand for dowry’ will have to be construed ejusdem generis to the word immediately preceding this expression. Similarly, ‘in connection with the marriage’ is an expression which has to be given a wider connotation. It is of some significance that these expressions should be given appropriate meaning to avoid undue harassment or advantage to either of the parties. These are penal provisions but ultimately these are the social legislations, intended to control offences relating to the society as a whole. Dowry is something which existed in our country for a considerable time and the legislature in its wisdom considered it appropriate to enact the law relating to dowry prohibition so as to ensure that any party to the marriage is not harassed or treated with cruelty for satisfaction of demands in consideration and for subsistence of the marriage.