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Asking money for constructing house amounts to demand for dowry

Asking money for constructing house amounts to demand for dowry

State of Madhya Pradesh Vs Jogendra and anr

Supreme Court



About/from the judgment:

Any demand made on a woman, whether in respect of a property or a valuable security of any nature will amount to dowry as defined in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday while holding that money demanded for the construction of a house will amount to demand for dowry.

A Bench said that when dealing with an offence like dowry death under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, a liberal and expansive interpretation should be given to the word "dowry".

"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 demand. 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," the Court ruled.

The Court, therefore, held that the Madhya Pradesh High Court erred in holding that asking money for the construction of a house cannot be treated as a dowry demand merely because the wife had joined the respondents in demanding the same.

The apex court was hearing an appeal against a Madhya Pradesh High Court judgment which overturned the trial court's conviction of the husband and the father-in-law of the deceased woman under Sections 304B (dowry death) and 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.

The deceased woman had died by suicide by pouring kersoene and setting herself on fire within four years of the marriage.

The allegation was that the respondents had been demanding money from the deceased for constructing a house which the deceased's family members were unable to give.

The trial court convicted the two accused for offences under Sections 304B, 306 and 498A (subjecting woman to cruelty) and sentenced them to imprisonment for life.

The High Court acquitted them of the charges under Sections 304B and and 306 but maintained the conviction under Section 498A. It also reduced the sentence to the period already undergone.

The State them moved the Supreme Court in appeal.

The Supreme Court adverted to its earlier decision in ajinder Singh v. State of Punjab to hold 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”."

Regarding the submission made by counsel for the respondents that the deceased was also a party to such a demand as she had on her own asked her mother and maternal uncle to contribute to the construction of the house, the Court held that the same has to be understood in the correct perspective.

"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," the Court said.

When dealing with cases under Section 304-B IPC, a provision legislated to act as a deterrent in the society and curb the heinous crime of dowry demands, the shift in the approach of the courts ought to be from strict to liberal and from constricted to dilated, the Court emphasised.

"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," the Court further said.

The Court, therefore, overturned the judgment of the High Court as regards acquittal of the accused for dowry death under Section 304B.

It, however, did not interfere with the High Court's decision to acquit them for offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 owing to a lack of conclusive evidence in that regard.

The Court also imposed a sentence of seven years imprisonment.

"The respondents shall surrender before the trial Court within four weeks to undergo the remaining period of their sentence," the Bench directed.

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