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  • Nidhi Dutia

DOWRY DEATH (CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN)

Nidhi Dutia,

Bharati Vidyapeeth, New Law College, Pune

DOWRY DEATH (CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN)

INTRODUCTION

Dowry deaths are a type of gender-based violence that persists in many regions of the world, including India. The Indian government enacted Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code in 1986[i], making dowry a crime.

A dowry death is defined, in this provision, as ‘Where the death of a woman is caused by

1.     any burns or

2.     bodily injury or

3.     occurs otherwise than normal circumstances and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment for any demand for dowry,

such death shall be called "dowry death", and the court shall presume that her husband or his relatives caused the dowry death.

Dowry death is a serious issue in India. Despite being illegal since 1961, the practice of giving dowry to the groom’s family is still prevalent in many communities. 

WHAT IS DOWRY DEATH?

The expressions "dowry deaths" and "dowry murder" describe situations in which a bride's husband and family kill her or commit themselves soon after the wedding because they are unhappy with the dowry. It usually results from a string of previous instances of domestic abuse committed by the husband's relatives. When a young woman can no longer stand the harassment and abuse, she usually kills herself or takes poison in dowry killings. Another type of dowry killing is called "bride burning," in which the husband or his family douses the bride in kerosene and sets her ablaze.  

Brides are sometimes set on fire for assisted suicide. Dowry deaths can also include sex discriminatory abortions and female fetuses by parents who do not want to pay a dowry when their daughters come of age. Due to the dowry system, daughters are often considered a financial liability.

LAWS RELATING TO DOWRY DEATH IN INDIA

To protect women from dowry-related killings, legislatures have made certain laws some of which are given below:

●       SECTION 2 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961[ii]: As per this section, whenever a woman commits dowry death, the accused shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which is not less than seven years and may extend up to imprisonment for life.

●       SECTION 174 OF CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, 1973[iii]: As per this section, if the woman dies suspiciously within seven years of her marriage and if there is a doubt that her in-laws are related to death in any manner then the police are vested with power to investigate the matter and appoint a doctor for immediate checking.

●       SECTION 113-A OF EVIDENCE ACT, 1872[iv]: As per this section, if there is a question of abatement of suicide by the husband of a woman and that she has committed suicide within seven years of her marriage and if that woman is subjected to cruelty by her husband or his relatives, then such suicide must have been abated by her husband or her relatives.

●       SECTION 304-B OF INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860[v]: As per this section, if the death of a woman is caused by burns or bodily injury within seven years of her marriage and it is proved that she is subjected to cruelty by her husband for the demand of dowry, it will be termed as “dowry death” and the relatives will be deemed to have caused her death. The punishment will be between seven years to life imprisonment.

●       PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2005[vi]: Under this law, if a woman is facing dowry harassment, she can seek help by talking to a domestic violence protection officer to put a stop to the mistreatment.

CASE LAWS RELATING TO DOWRY DEATH

In Satbir Singh & Another v. State of Haryana[vii], the woman died of fire and the Trial Court and High Court of Punjab & Haryana punished the appellants with 7 years of imprisonment under section 304-B of IPC, 1860. Appellants filed the case in the Supreme Court with the contention that it was an accidental death and there was no proof of dowry demand. The Court rejected the appellant's submissions and held that the evidence and witnesses of the Trial Court and High Court were reliable. The Court also was satisfied that all the essentials of dowry death were present in the case. The appellant had not been able to prove that there was an accidental fire.

Therefore, the Court upheld the decision of the Trial Court and High Court.

In Kamesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar[viii], the deceased died within 7 years of marriage as her

family was not able to give the groom's family a she-buffalo as they demanded. The Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to show that the victim had suffered cruelty and hence the conviction of the appellant is justified under Section 304B of IPC.

In Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana[ix], the wife of the appellant was taunted for not bringing sufficient dowry, and as a result, she committed suicide. The court held him guilty of dowry demand under section 498A of cruelty and harassment for the demand of dowry. He was sentenced to imprisonment of 7 years and a fine of Rs. 5000.

LIMITATIONS OF LAWS RELATING TO DOWRY DEATH

A 26-year-old woman took her own life by hanging at her residence in Coimbatore, unable to endure the torment and mistreatment inflicted by her mother-in-law.[x] 

A woman has tragically taken her own life due to the torment of dowry harassment.11 

Two women from Faridabad have passed away in circumstances that raise suspicion, and their families believe that their in-laws are responsible for their deaths due to dowry-related issues.The first woman was reportedly beaten to death by her in-laws who frequently asked for money. The second woman is said to have been fatally tortured.[xi] 

This is enough proof that the law has failed us completely. Soon everybody will forget about it and it will become just another statistic. It has been years since provisions for dowry and the killings for it have been made but still many women die due to the malpractices of dowry. So, this can be referred to as the biggest limitation of law. It needs to be tackled as soon as possible to empower women.

PRESENT CONDITION OF DOWRY DEATHS IN INDIA

NCRB data shows in 2022, more than 6,000 dowry death cases were registered. Even though the number of dowry deaths and cases reported under the Dowry Prohibition Act has slightly decreased, the statistics remain alarming.[xii] 

The dowry system in India incorporates payments in the form of capital, durable goods, and the real estate among others, made to the bridegroom from the family of the bride as a condition for marriage

 CONCLUSION

It would be wrong to say that there has been no improvement in dowry-related killings but thinking of this decrease as our achievement can be a baffling statement. There are thousands of women in India who die every year due to malpractices of dowry. This needs to be stopped if we, in real life, want to become developed and prosperous. As a famous philosopher has already said, “No society can become prosperous if its women are still living in restriction and danger.” Laws need to be amended to see that there are no loopholes in it so that a criminal cannot escape.

People shall be made aware of various legal provisions about these killings. If this happens, we can surely be able to bring social transformation.

REFERENCES

[i] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 § 304

[ii] Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 § 2, India

[iii] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 § 3(i-v), India.

[iv] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 § 113, India.

[v] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 § 304

[vi] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

[vii] Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, 2021 SCC Online SC 404

[viii] Kamesh Panjiyar v. State of Bihar, AIR 2005 SUPREME COURT 785

[ix] Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana, AIR 1998 SC 958

[x] Tortured by in-laws, woman kills herself, The Times Of India, (July 5, 2016) 11 Woman ends life over dowry torture, The Times Of India, (June 29, 2023).

[xi] Ankita Anand, Faridabad dowry deaths: One poisoned and another thrashed, say relatives, The Times Of India, (Dec. 24, 2023)

[xii] Akchayaa Rajkumar, More than 6,000 dowry death cases registered in 2022: NCRB data, The News Minute, (Dec. 6, 2023).

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