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Court found that though the deceased had died within 7 years of marriage, there were no clinching evidence to prove that she had been subjected to harassment for dowry demand
The Orissa High Court has recently observed that a husband's request for financial support from his in-laws to secure a job, with an assurance of repayment, does not constitute a demand for dowry.
While setting aside the husband's conviction under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (Dowry death), the bench of Justice S.K. Sahoo cited a lack of evidence linking the deceased woman's death to dowry demands.
However, the court upheld the husband's conviction under Section 498-A of the IPC (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and confirmed the sentence awarded to him for such offence.
The case involved the marriage of the complainant's daughter to the appellant/husband. Following a domestic quarrel, the appellant and the deceased lived separately from the appellant's family for four months. The complainant received news of his daughter's death and, upon reaching the location, found the appellant beside her lifeless body. The appellant claimed she had consumed poison, however, the complainant field the FIR alleging dowry-related torture by the appellant leading to his daughter's death.
The trial court found the appellant guilty under sections 498-A & 304-B of the IPC but acquitted him under section 302.
The high court, however, set aside the conviction under section 304-B, stating that the demand for money for a job, as alleged against the husband, did not fall under the definition of 'dowry' as per the Dowry Prohibition Act.
"In the case in hand, the request for arranging money for getting a job was not there at the time of marriage. It was also assured by the appellant to repay such amount as soon as possible...In my humble view, this request of money by the appellant to arrange a job for himself cannot come within the definition of ‘dowry’ as per section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act," held the single judge bench.
Further, regarding the claim that a demand for a gold necklace from the side of the bridegroom had been made at the time of marriage and since such demand was not fulfilled, there was torture to the deceased by the appellant, the court held that 'soon before’ as appears in section 304-B of the IPC is a relative term and it is not synonymous with ‘immediately before'.
Court emphasised that there must be a proximate link in existence between the facts of cruelty in connection with the demand of dowry and the death. "The time-lag may differ from case to case. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence," court observed.
Therefore, in view of lack of any clinching evidence on record that soon before the death of the deceased, she was subjected to cruelty and harassment by the appellant in connection with any demand of dowry, court held that even though the deceased had died within seven years of marriage, all the ingredients of offence under section 304-B were not satisfied.
In conclusion, high court partially allowed the appeal, overturning the conviction under section 304-B while upholding the sentence under section 498-A.
Case Title: Bhanu Charan Pradhan v. State of Odisha
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