Dowry death

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In any jurisdiction, decisions have to be made about whether a death is natural or unnatural. If deemed unnatural, further decisions have to be made about whether it was accidental or non-accidental; and if non-accidental, whether self-inflicted or caused by a third party. In the event of death caused by a third party, decisions have to be made about whether anyone is culpable or not. Accounts of events leading up to the death are important in reconstructing the circumstances and cause, which in turn, inform the class into which it is placed. Those formally involved in classifying unnatural deaths vary by country and may include physicians, pathologists, district health officers, coroners, police officers, magistrates, public prosecutorsTraditionally,
Dowry death
AuthorNayna Maheshwari
Published on04/10/2018
Last Updates04/10/2018
dowry deaths (homicidal and suicidal) occurred through immolation. Indeed, even though in recent years dowry-related deaths as a result of poisoning or hanging may have been increasing, the term dowry death has become synonymous with ‘bride burning’ in popular discourse. The appropriate criminal justice response to the death of a woman from burns follows India’s Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973. Section 174 outlines the response to suicide, homicide, accident, or death under suspicious circumstances, and is applied particularly to women within seven years of marriage. The police are to report the incident to a magistrate (who follows section 176 and is empowered to hold an inquest), and, with at least two people from the neighbourhood in attendance, to report on the appearance of the body and the apparent cause of death.In India, ancient texts describe women as ‘Power’ which rules over God’s creation. But current scenario shows a contrast picture. Women have never been fortunate enough to hold that position. Marriage plays a significant role in making or marring a woman’s fortune. Not all many but many Indian women fall prey to the monster of dowry. Earlier the dowry system was prevalent only in the upper classes who considered it an ill-omen to send their daughter said to be the Goddess of Wealth according to Indian mythology, empty-handed to her in-laws house. Therefore, they gave her the articles required for daily household. Daughter’s share of her father’s property was also sent as ‘gift’. With the passage of time, the significance and purpose of dowry changed and it has become a social menace that ails the society now. Today a cultural idea has become a corrupted one and a blessing has changed into a curse. One of the main reasons is the growing greed of money, power and status. They dream of a luxurious living out of the money that the bride brings in as dowry. Thus, it is seen that most of the victims belong to middle class or lower strata of the society. Inability to bring in more dowry often result in the brutal murder of the bride herself. Burning her alive or torturing her to such a severe extent that she commits suicide as a panacea to all her sufferings. In the IPC “Dowry Death” is defined as: 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 har¬assment 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.This section makes the offence punishable with imprison¬ment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.In Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana[12], the Hon’ble Supreme Court has laid down that the ingredients necessary to attract Section 304-B IPC are:

(1) death of a woman is either by burns or by bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances;

(2) it should be within seven years of marriage;

(3) it should also be shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by husband or any relative of husband;

(4) such harassment or cruelty should pertain to demand for dowry.

India is a land of traditions and cultures followed across its length and breadth. It comprises of many traditions accepted and practiced widely. One such is that of dowry deaths. Numerous legal provisions have been set up for curbing this problem yet it is being practiced openly. Dowry deaths or as popularly known as bride burning has become extensively common in many parts of the country and unfortunately accepted by persons who have no interest in changing the state of affairs. Fortunately increasing demands by feminists and demand for women empowerment as a matter of right have led to various amendments of provisions in the criminal law on the country in order to achieve the goal of curbing the problem of dowry deaths.Over the years many legislative steps have been initiated towards bringing equality and fair treatment towards women. These legal provisions have helped families of the victims to get justice and find comfort in the arms of law. Married women have suffered and continue to suffer even to this date by being tortured by their husband and his family members. Due to such provisions culprits can no longer hide behind obsolete traditions which violate right to live of a person, e.g. wife. Although such provisions have their cons as well since sometimes cunning women use such tactics to frame their in-laws and husband for petty fights and conflicts. Thankfully our Indian legal system is strong enough to differentiate frivolous cases from those of genuine nature and would continue to do so in the future as well.The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was amended specifically to deal with dowry-related violence, cruelty and dowry deaths in 1983. Section 498A IPC penalizes harassment (or any kind) of a woman by her marital family. Unnatural death of a woman within seven years of marriage attracts penal provisions of section 304B IPC. This section defines dowry death as the unnatural death of a woman following harassment or cruelty by her husband or his relatives in connection with a demand for dowry. In cases where a woman commits suicide, as a result of harassment (not related to dowry) from her husband or his relatives, section 306 IPC addresses abetment of suicide. If it is a dowry-related suicide both sections 304B and 306 are applicable.Section 498-A IPC has paved the way for cruelty/domestic violence to be recognised as a criminal offence. Prior to insertion of Section 498-A IPC, cruelty was only a ground for divorce as a matrimonial wrong, leaving women vulnerable. Another important provision that impresses me is Section 304-B IPC which for the first time recognised dowry death as a specific crime. It further condemned dowry death as a social evil by its enactment. Insertion of this provision by the legislature has proved to be a boon to its women citizens. Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, by shifting the onus on the accused in dowry death cases, is a very important tool in aid of penalising dowry deaths. Today, the social evil of dowry death has been put into perspective. Although I honestly feel that the Indian legal system has come a long way from where it had started, yet there is much more to achieve. Unfortunately in cases related to dowry deaths, sometimes there are mala fide and frivolous cases made by the victim’s family. In such instances the whole family of the husband is put behind bars even when they are not a part of it. I am aware that it is tough to make provisions to make sure that the entire family or innocent members of the family are not unnecessarily punished for acts not done by them. But, I think, judicial jurisprudence has developed ensuring some protection for the innocent. There are loopholes in all systems and India is not immune to it. However, these laws serve an important social function and misuse, if any, should be dealt with by appropriate measures, not undermining its inherent need. Therefore, I as a citizen of India overall feel the need for the existing legal provisions and hope for further advancement to curb this menace. With progressive legislation, judicial progressive interpretations and social awareness, the time will come soon when such evils will be history.


1. Kuldip Singh And Anr. vs State Of PunjabII (2004) DMC 628

2. Chain Singh Dhakad vs Hargovind And Ors. 1991 CriLJ 33

3. Khimiben vs State Of Gujarat And Anr.1992 CriLJ 1994

4. Balkrishna Pandurang Moghe vs The State Of Maharashtra And Anr.1998 CriLJ 4496

5. Sunil Kumar Sharma vs State139 (2007) DLT 407

6. Rameshwar Das Vs. State of Punjab 2008 Cri. L. J. 14000 SC