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 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 this context the word ‘dowry’ ought to be ascribed an expansive meaning so as to encompass any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature. When dealing with cases under IPC Section 304-B, a provision legislated to act as a deterrent in society and curb the heinous crime of dowry demands, the shift in the approach of the courts ought to be from strict to liberal, from constricted to dilated. Any rigid meaning would tend to bring to naught the real object of the provision. Therefore, a push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society, ” said Justice Kohli, who penned the judgment for the bench.
The court set aside a verdict of the Madhya Pradesh high court which had acquitted a husband and father-in-law for a dowry death on the ground that the victim had herself asked her family members to contribute money to construct a house, which cannot be treated as a dowry demand.
The top court said that the demand made by the deceased herself had to be seen and understood in the correct perspective as she was being tortured to bring money from her family. It said the order of the trial court convicting both of them for the dowry death was correct. In this case, the deceased, who was five months pregnant, immolated herself in her matrimonial home.
“We are of the opinion that the trial court has correctly interpreted the demand for money raised by the respondents on the deceased for construction of a house as falling within the definition of the word dowry. It cannot be lost sight of that the respondents had been constantly tormenting the deceased and asking her to approach her family members for money to build a house and it was only on their persistence and insistence that she was compelled to ask them to contribute some amount for constructing a house,” it said.
The court said the evidence brought on the record shows that the deceased was pressured to make such a request for money to her mother and uncle. “It was not a case of complicity but a case of sheer helplessness faced by the deceased in such adverse circumstances,” the court said while convicting both husband and his father under Section 304-B and Section 498-A IPC and awarded seven years’ rigorous imprisonment, which is the minimum sentence prescribed for an offence under Section 304-B IPC.
“The above glaring circumstances, when viewed together, can hardly mitigate the offence of the respondents or take the case out of the purview of Section 304-B IPC, when all the four prerequisites for invoking the said provision stand satisfied, namely, that the death of Geeta Bai took place at her matrimonial home within seven years of her marriage; that the said death took place in abnormal circumstances on account of burning and that too when she was five months pregnant; that she had been subjected to cruelty and harassment by the respondents before her death and such cruelty/harassment was in connection with demand for dowry,” the court said.