The Supreme Court’s bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph on Tuesday – 23rd July – ruled that court can convict an accused under Section 304B of IPC only if the alleged cruelty or harassment before death of the woman was for or in connection with demand for dowry.
Court in Girish Singh v State of Uttarakhand acquitted Girish Singh and his father in dowry death allegation as the proved cruelty soon before the deceased committed suicide was not in connection with dowry. Their demand of television and VCR did not lead to her suicide but the mental cruelty faced owing to the father-in-law(second accused) demanding liquor in a glass and then demanding to sleep with her in an inebriated state pushed her to take the fatal step.
The Supreme Court observed:
“Truth in a criminal trial is discovered by not merely going through the cross-examination of the witnesses. There must be an analysis of the chief examination of the witnesses in conjunction with the cross examination and the re-examination, if any. The effect of what other witnesses have deposed must also enter into consideration of the matter.”
Justice Joseph further went on to state, “On the one hand, the laudable object underlying Section 304B of the IPC is not to be lost sight of. On the other hand, it is equally important that the Appellate Court must not be oblivious to the fact what it is duty bound to find is whether an offence is committed or not and such a pursuit also would embrace the duty of the court to apply its mind to the evidence as a whole and arrive at conclusions as to facts and inferences therefrom as well. After all, at stake for the accused are, priceless rights to liberty, reputation and the right to life, not only of himself but also his family members. The Law Giver, has contemplated that the High Court will be the final arbiter of facts and even of law.”
Court also emphasized that the cause of justice and the interest of litigants would be better sub-served if the Appellate Court takes a closer look, in particular of the cross-examination of the witnesses and analyse the same.
Looking into the timeline of dowry demands and the perverse behaviour of the father-in-law in an intoxicated condition, the SC has held that “the evidence is totally irrelevant and foreign to the scope of a trial for the offence under Section 304B of the IPC. It does not relate, at all, to the demand for dowry.” To that extent, appeals have been allowed. However, the SC did not reverse the High Court’s finding as to Section 306(Abetment of Suicide) and the father and son’s guilt is established beyond doubt.
-India Legal Bureau