Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Supreme Court reserves judgement in a dowry death case

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The Apex Court recently reserved its judgment in an appeal filed by a man and his family members against their conviction and order of sentence for causing death of his wife who was carrying a four month child. 

At the outset, Justice Hima Kohli said, You are lucky that you got away with 7 years. She was carrying a four month baby. 

The present appeal was filed against the High Court order which had set aside the order of acquittal passed by trial court and convicted the three-person for dowry death, cruelty against woman, and criminal conspiracy and sentence them to 7 years, 2 years and one year of rigorous imprisonment respectively for the heinous offence committed by them. 

During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the petitioners/accused submitted that deceased went to cut the grass and slipped and fell down in gorge. 

The CJI NV Ramana took strong objection and said the theory you have proposed, where is it in your statement. You said, lady has gone to cut grass, and she had slipped and fallen from there. Where is this in your defence? Nothing is there in this. 

Justice Hima Kohli opined, It’s a dead silence on that part by three of you. 

Petitioner counsel replied, I argued this defence in the district court. 

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Justice Hima asked, without any statement? You have to discharge the onus to prove your defence. It is not on the prosecution to ask you on assumption. Where is this theory of Sushila went to cut the grass and fell down accidentally in Alaknanda river. Can this come in your cross examination if it’s not there in your defence. 

At this juncture, the CJI asked, Where was the incident took place? How far from your home? 

Petitioner replied, 5-6 KMs away from home. 

CJI asked, So she went to cut grass 5-6KMs away from home? 

Justice Hima Kohli said, Even alone? In hills women don’t go alone to cut grass.

Petitioner submitted kindly consider two points that the accused had opened a bank account and depositing money in her wife’s account till the day she went missing, an amount of Rs 5000 or so was accumulated in the account. Secondly, PW1 mother of deceased did not disclosed that there was any demand for dowry at any point of time. 

Justice AS Bopanna observed, But there was a demand of Rs 2 lac to construct house? 

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Petitioner answered, It was not supported by any corroborated by any evidence. 

CJI asked, What was your profession? 

Petitioner replied, Shopkeeper.

CJI said, then Why there is a need for a wife to cut grass? 

Petitioner replied, it’s normally done in hilly areas. 

Justice Hima Kohli said, Even if it’s done, women don’t go alone to cut grass in hilly areas. 

Petitioner said, husband also encouraged her for education. He had opened an account in village for her too. He never demanded any dowry at the time of marriage. I would like to cite a judgment too, when a matter of acquittal can be heard by the high court, the benchmark. 

Also Read: Supreme Court reserves judgement in a dowry death case

The bench reserved its judgment. 

The High Court had held that the Trial Court has erred in law that there was no sufficient time for the respondents to demand dowry. She (deceased) was pursuing her studies in her ancestral village. There was sufficient time to ask for dowry as and when, she was with them.

Further it the high court had noted, “that the defence of the respondents was that Sushila (deceased) had gone to fetch grass and fell into the Alaknanda River accidentally. The Court can take judicial notice of the fact that generally in villages there is group of girls, who go to forest to bring fodder and fuel wood.”

“PW10 Dr. Digvijay Singh has categorically deposed that deceased Sushila Devi has died due to coma and excessive bleeding due to ante mortem injuries. PW10 Dr. Digvijay Singh has categorically ruled out the death of Sushila Devi by drowning since no water was found in her lungs. What happened in this case is that Sushila Devi was killed by the respondents and thereafter, the dead body was thrown into the river to destroy the evidence”

-noted the High Court in its order. 

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The High Court concluded,

“Sushila Devi has died within seven years of her marriage. She was harassed for bringing insufficient dowry. It is a case of dowry death. The respondents have conspired to kill Sushila Devi by hatching conspiracy to kill her and thereafter, destroyed the evidence by throwing the body into the river.”

Therefore, the High Court relied on catena of judgements wherein the Supreme Court have held that the initial burden to establish the case would undoubtedly be upon the prosecution. In view of Section 106 of the Evidence Act, there will be a corresponding burden on the inmates of the house to give cogent explanation as to how the crime was committed. The inmates of the house cannot get away by simply keeping quiet and offering no explanation on the supposed premise that the burden to establish its case lies entirely upon the prosecution and there is no duty at all on the accused to offer explanation.

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