Tag Archives: dowry death

Imposition of Death Sentence – Circumstances Therefor

It is clearly well settled that normal punishment for the offence under Section 302 IPC is life imprisonment but in a case where the incident is of “rarest of rare cases”, death sentence is to be imposed. It is equally well settled that only special facts and circumstances will warrant passing of death sentence and a just balance has to be struck between aggravating and mitigating circumstances, before the option is exercised. While referring to the earlier cases in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 and Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, (1983) 3 SCC 470, further guidelines are summarised in the judgment in Sushil Murmu v. State of Jharkhand, (2004) 2 SCC 338 as under:

“The following guidelines which emerge from Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 will have to be applied to the facts of each individual case where the question of imposition of death sentence arises:

(i) The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability.

(ii) Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the “offender” also require to be taken into consideration along with the circumstances of the “crime”.

(iii) Life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception. Death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime, and provided, and only provided, the option to impose sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.

(iv) A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances have to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances before the option is exercised.

In rarest of rare cases when the collective conscience of the community is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining death penalty, death sentence can be awarded. The community may entertain such sentiment in the following circumstances:

(1) When the murder is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community.

(2) When the murder is committed for a motive which evinces total depravity and meanness e.g. murder by a hired assassin for money or reward or a cold-blooded murder for gains of a person vis-à-vis whom the murderer is in a dominating position or in a position of trust, or murder is committed in the course of betrayal of the motherland.

(3) When murder of a member of a Scheduled Caste or minority community, etc. is committed not for personal reasons but in circumstances which arouse social wrath, or in cases of “bride-burning” or “dowry deaths” or when murder is committed in order to remarry for the sake of extracting dowry once again or to marry another woman on account of infatuation.

(4) When the crime is enormous in proportion. For instance when multiple murders, say of all or almost all the members of a family or a large number of persons of a particular caste, community, or locality, are committed. (5) When the victim of the murder is an innocent child, or a helpless woman or an old or infirm person or a person vis-à-vis whom the murderer is in a dominating position or a public figure generally loved and respected by the community.” Ishwari Lal Yadav v. State of Chhatisgarh, (2019) 10 SCC 423.

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Dowry – Meaning of

A perusal of Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act shows that this definition can be broken into six distinct parts:
(a) Dowry must first consist of any property or valuable security – the word “any” is a word of width and would, therefore, include within it property and valuable security of any kind whatsoever.
(b) Such property or security can be given or even agreed to be given. The actual giving of such property or security is, therefore, not necessary.
(c) Such property or security can be given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly.
(d) Such giving or agreeing to give can again be not only by one party to a marriage to the other but also by the parents of either party or by any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person. It will be noticed that this clause again widens the reach of the Act insofar as those guilty of committing the offence of giving or receiving dowry is concerned.
(e) Such giving or agreeing to give can be at any time. It can be at, before, or at any time after the marriage. Thus, it can be many years after a marriage is solemnized.
(f) Such giving or receiving must be in connection with the marriage of the parties. Obviously, the expression “in connection with” would in the context of the social evil sought to be tackled by the Dowry Prohibition Act mean “in relation with” or “relating to”. Rajinder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2015) 6 SCC 477.

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Expression – Relative of the Husband

The expression “relative of the husband” has been used in Section 498-A I.P.C. While interpreting the said expression, the Hon’ble Apex Court in U. Suvetha v. State, (2009) 6 SCC 757 held it to mean a person related by blood, marriage or adoption. In the absence of any statutory definition, the term ‘relative’ must be assigned a meaning as is commonly understood. Ordinarily it would include father, mother, husband or wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew or neice, grandson or granddaughter of an individual or the spouse of any person. The meaning of the word ‘relative‘ would depend upon the nature of the Statute. It principally includes a person related by blood, marriage or adoption.
The expression “relative of the husband” further came up for consideration in Vijeta Gajra v. State, (2010) 11 SCC 618 and while approving the decision in U. Suvetha v. State, (2009) 6 SCC 757, it was held that the word relative would be limited only to the blood relations or the relations by marriage. It was held as under:
“Relying on the dictionary meaning of the word ‘relative’ and further relying on P. Ramanatha Aiyar’s Advanced Law Lexicon (Vol. 4, 3rd Edn.), the court went on to hold that Section 498-A IPC being a penal provision would deserve strict construction and unless a contextual meaning is required to be given to the Statute, the said Statute has to be construed strictly. On that behalf the court relied on the judgment in T. Ashok Pai v. CIT, (2007) 7 SCC 162. A reference was made to the decision in Shivcharan Lal Verma v. State of M.P., (2007) 15 SCC 369. After quoting from various decisions, it was held that reference to the word ‘relative’ in Section 498-A IPC would be limited only to the blood relations by marriage.”
It is a well known rule of construction that when the legislature uses the same words in different parts of the Statute, the presumption is that those words have been used in the same sense, unless displaced by the context. Hence, the expression “relative of the husband” in Section 304-B IPC would mean such persons, who are related by blood, marriage or adoption. State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh, (2014) 9 SCC 632.

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Dowry Death vis-à-vis Murder

In Rajbir v. State of Haryana, (2010) 15 SCC 116 the court had directed the addition of a charge under Section 302 IPC to every case in which the accused are charged with Section 304-B. That was not the true purport of the order passed by the court. The direction was not meant to be followed mechanically and without due regard to the nature of the evidence available in the case. All that the Court meant to say was that in a case where a charge alleging dowry death is framed, a charge under Section 302 can also be framed if the evidence otherwise permits. No other meaning could be deduced from the order of the Court.

                It is common ground that a charge under Section 304-B IPC is not a substitute for a charge of murder punishable under Section 302. As in the case of murder punishable under Section 304-B also there is a death involved. The question whether it is murder punishable under Section 302 IPC or a dowry death punishable under Section 304-B IPC depends upon the fact situation and the evidence in the case. If there is evidence whether direct or circumstantial to prima facie support a charge under Section 302 IPC the trial court can and indeed ought to frame a charge of murder punishable under Section 302 IPC, which would then be the main charge and not an alternative charge as is erroneously assumed in some quarters. If the main charge of murder is not proved against the accused at the trial, the court can look into the evidence to determine whether the alternative charge of dowry death punishable under section 304-B is established. The ingredients constituting the two offences are different, thereby demanding appreciation of evidence from the perspective relevant to such ingredients. Jasvinder Saini and others v. State, (2013) 7 SCC 256.

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