Dowry Deaths in India, SC clarifies on IPC section 304B linked with Dowry deaths

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Dowry Deaths in India, SC clarifies on IPC section 304B linked with Dowry deaths

  • The Supreme Court said the word ""dowry"" ought to be given a wider interpretation to include any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature, and held that demand for money for constructing a house comes within the ambit of dowry.
  • A bench of Justices N V Ramana, A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli said interpretation of a provision of law that will defeat the very intention of the legislature,
  • It must be shunned in favour of an interpretation that will promote the object sought to be achieved through the legislation meant to uproot a social evil like dowry.


  • In literal sense, dowry means transferring wealth in the form of money or other assets from a family of the bride to a house of the bridegroom.
  • It existed from ancient times not just in India society but in European, African and American society as well.
  • As girls was not entitled to inheritance in parent's property or wealth, It was seen as a substitute for inheritance, offering some security to the wife.

Dowry Death

  • Dowry deaths are deaths of married women who are murdered or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by their husbands and in-laws because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry.
  • Most dowry deaths occur when the young woman, unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide.
  • Sometimes the woman is killed by being set on fire by her husband or in-laws and disguised as suicide or accident.

Dowry Deaths in India

  • India reports the highest total number of dowry deaths in the world with 6,966 such deaths reported in 2020.
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Dowry related matters accounted for the lives of 19 women every day in 2020.
  • Number of Dowry deaths have remained more or less same over the years with 7,141 dowry deaths in 2019 and 7,167 in 2018.

Causes of Dowry deaths in India

  • Early Marriages
  • In India, Some 40 percent of women are married before the legal age of 18.
  • At this early age they have little or no role in the market economy and are dependent upon their husbands and in-laws.
  • Girls married at early age with no employability and practically no inheritance in parent's property accepts the demand of in laws aheir destiny and refuse to voice any early exploitation by In-laws.
  • Social Stigma with 'Unmarried Girl' and 'Divorced Women'
  • In Indian Society daughters are inevitably regarded as an unwelcome burden, compounding the already oppressed position of women in Indian society.
  • Having an unmarried girl in the family is considered as social taboo in Indian society. Parents wants to marry their daughters as early as they can on any cost. This socially legitimize the demand of dowry.
  • Divorced and widows were always considered lowest in the social hierarchy of Indian Society
  • Due to this poor status of divorced women, married women refrain from raising their voices against cruelty at the hand of their in laws to save their marital status.
  • It compounds the demand and exploitation of married women which result into occasional dowry death.
  • Lack of Literacy and Awareness
  • Education attainment in women improves access to knowledge and information and brings about an openness to ideas and an increasing independence from traditional authority.
  • Illiteracy among women In India is high, in some rural areas up to 63%.
  • As a result they are isolated and often in no position to assert themselves in case of early exploitation by In-laws.
  • Increase in income disparity post LPG Reforms
  • Critics of the dowry system point to the fact that the situation has worsened in the 1990s.
  • As the Indian economy has been opened up for international investment, the gulf between rich and poor widened and so did the economic uncertainty
  • Modernization has increased the desirability of consumer goods young married couples may see dowry as a way of obtaining things.
  • Under the impact of capitalism, the old custom has been transformed into a vital source of income for families desperate to meet pressing social needs.
  • A number of studies have shown that the lower ranks of the middle class are particularly prone.
  • According to the Institute of Development and Communication $5 percent of dowry death and 80 percent of dowry harassment occur in the middle and lower stratas of society.

Legal Status

  • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was the first proper legislation introduced in order to provide the protection of women and fulfil the obligation of protection of women under the fundamental rights.
  • According to this act, If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry,
  • He shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such the dowry.

Section 304 B dowry death

  • 1986 amendment proposed a fresh offence of dowry death under IPC named dowry death.
  • Under Section 304-B (2) of Indian Penal Code, 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.
  • The offence is cognisable, non-bailable, non-compoundable by a Court of Session.

Important Provisions of Section 304 B

  • Death of woman should be induced by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under ordinary circumstances
  • Death should have taken place within Seven years of her marriage
  • The woman must have been exposed to cruelty or harassment by her husband or relatives of her husband.
  • Such Cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with the demand for a dowry Or should have been subjected ""soon before her death"".

Issues with Section 304 B

  • Courts had interpreted the phrase 'soon before' in Section 304-B as 'immediately before'.
  • This interpretation would make it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
  • The phrase ""otherwise than under normal circumstances"" in the Section was ambiguous.
  • Courts always stressed on physical harassment and mention harassment was ignored.

Recent Supreme Court Judgement

  • In its recent verdict Court said the expression soon before her death"" would normally imply that the interval should not be much between the cruelty or harassment concerned and the death in question.
  • In other words, there must be an existence of a proximate and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the death concerned.
  • The cruelty has to be proved during the close proximity of time of death.
  • It should be continuous. Such continuous harassment, physical or mental, by the accused should make life of the deceased miserable which may force her to commit suicide,""
  • In addition, Court said ""The presumption is, however, rebuttable and can be dispelled on the accused being able to demonstrate through cogent evidence that the ingredients of Section 304f have not been satisfied