What is the News?
The Supreme Court in its recent judgement has widened the scope of Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code(IPC). This section punishes persons accused of dowry deaths.
Data on Dowry Deaths in India:
- Dowry deaths accounted for 40% to 50% of homicides in the country for almost a decade from 1999 to 2018.
- In 2019 alone, 7,115 cases of dowry death were registered under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.
About Section 304-B:
- Section 304-B was inserted into the Indian Penal Code(IPC) in November 1986.
- According to this section, to make out a case of dowry death:
- A woman should have died of burns or other bodily injuries or “otherwise than under normal circumstances” within seven years of her marriage.
- A woman should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” in connection with the demand for dowry.
- Punishment: The section punishes convicts with a minimum of seven years imprisonment extendable up to a life term.
Supreme Court Guidelines on Section 304-B:
- Avoid Absurd Interpretation:
- Over the years, the courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B as ‘immediately before‘. This interpretation makes it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
- On the other hand, the Supreme Court recently said that the prosecution needs to show only a “proximate and live link” between the harassment and her death to make out a case of dowry death.
- Need broader Reading of the Provision:
- The lower courts should not take a limited approach in categorising death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in Section 304-B calls for a liberal interpretation of the provision, not the stricter one.
- Hence, Section 304-B not imply the narrow categorisation of death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. Instead, it also includes non-categorised deaths ‘other than under normal circumstances.
- Proper examination of Accused:
- The Supreme Court also raised concern about the casual way in which trial courts examine accused persons in dowry death cases under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
- The court said that the examination of the accused about the incriminatory material against him should be done fairly.
- The court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. The accused should also be given sufficient opportunity to give his side of the story.
Source: The Hindu