Case Analysis: Major Singh v. the State of Punjab

Major Singh

v.

State of Punjab

CitationAIR 2015 SC 2081
CourtSupreme Court of India
Case No.Criminal Appeal No. 1145/2012
BenchCJI T.S Thakur, Justices R.Bhanumati and Amitav Roy
ActsIndian Evidence Act 1872
Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act 1986
Indian Penal Code 1860
SectionsSection 113B, Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872
Section 304B & Section 448A of the Indian Penal Code 1860

Introduction

Karamjit Kaur, daughter of Sukhdev Singh was married to Jagsir Singh, son of Major Singh Jatt. They were the resident of Badiala and were married about 21/2 years back. The case is about the demand for dowry. According to Sukhdev Singh, Karamjit Kaur’s husband and her in-laws were harassing his daughter in the greed of dowry. Deceased Karamjit Kaur informed her father several times about being harassed and ill-treatment by her in-laws. Sukhdev Singh on August 10, 1996, visited his daughter’s village Badiala where he witnessed that Jagsir Singh, his father Major Singh, his mother Mohinder Kaur and his sister Jaspal Kaur all were dragging Karamjit Kaur towards the ‘subat’ while she was struggling to breathe. On seeing Sukhdev Singh and his son Manga Singh all of them ran away and Karamjit Kaur died on the spot.

He returned to his village Balianwali, where he informed his family and panchayat about the unnatural death of his daughter. He gave his statement to the Sub Inspector, Kirpal Singh and based on this statement; F.I.R was registered against Karamjit’s in-laws under Section 304B and 498A of IPC. The body of Karamjit Kaur was sent for autopsy. After investigation, Jagsir Singh and his family members were charge-sheeted for offences under Section 304B and 498A of IPC to which they pleaded not guilty and claimed for trial.

Background

In the trial court, nine witnesses and three defence witnesses were examined by the prosecution. The accused were questioned under Section 313of CrPc about the incriminating circumstances. According to Major Singh’s statement- Sukhdev Singh was not in the position to pay money as he has only 2 acres of land and a large family of 8 members. And therefore there was no question of demand for dowry. On November 27, 1998, the trial court convicted and sentenced the accused Jagsir Singh, Major Singh and Mohinder Kaur under Section 304B of IPC for 7 years of imprisonment and with fine of Rs. 500 each. Jaspal Kaur was acquitted based on the benefit of the doubt. The accused denied their conviction and approached the High Court. Jagsir Singh died during the pendency of the appeal in the High Court and the appeal against him was abated. The appeal survived qua the appellant’s viz., father-in-law and mother-in-law. On August 20, 2010, High Court also convicted the appellants under Section 304B of IPC and sentenced imprisonment. Denying this judgment as well, the appellants are before this court demanding the correction in the judgment.

Facts

The counsel of the appellants claimed that the evidence of father and brother of the deceased cannot be considered reliable as they both are interested witnesses. Secondly, there was no evidence found that the deceased Karamjit Kaur was being harassed an ill-treated by her in-laws. And there was no connection of demand for dowry and the death of Karamjit Kaur.

On the other hand, the counsel of the respondent side claimed that the deceased died within 21/2 years of marriage in the connection of dowry. According to the statements of Sukhdev Singh and Karamjit Kaur was subjected to harassment and cruelty for the demand of dowry. And based on this evidence, the trial court and High Court have rightly convicted the appellants under Section 304B of IPC.

For the conviction under Section 304B of IPC, death of the woman should occur due to burns, bodily injury or any other harm during 7 years of marriage. And she must have been subjected to harassment by her husband and his family. For evidence, such cruelty or harassment should be shown on the body of the woman soon before her death.

According to Sukhdev Singh, his daughter Karamjit Kaur informed him about the harassment and ill-treatment by her in-laws for demanding dowry and were demanding scooter. He further stated that he informed the Panchayat of his village about his daughter being harassed for dowry. He took Panchayat to his daughter’s village Badalia and left his daughter with her in-laws one week before her death. Manga Singh also stated that his sister Karamjit Kaur was being harassed by her in-laws and were demanding a scooter.

On which, Major Singh stated that no one in his family knows how to drive a scooter. Why would we demand a scooter which is of no use for us? There was not any evidence or Panchayatdar as a witness to prove that there was a demand for dowry and Karamjit Kaur was being harassed.

It is commonly considered that a woman is harassed within the four corners of the house and the evidence of harassing Karamjit Kaur was not found in that house. As mentioned by Sukhdev Singh and his son Manga Singh, they saw Jagsir Singh and his other family members were dragging Karamjit Kaur towards the room inside their house and she was facing difficulty in breathing. On seeing Karamjit Kaur’s father and brother, all of them ran away and Karamjit was found dead. But their statements raise serious doubts about their presence in the house during this incidence and not informing and alarming other people of the village or neighbours about the incidence. This looks quite unnatural.

As pointed out earlier, in the case of dowry death, the prosecution should show that harassment or cruelty on the body of the deceased soon before the death. And in the absence of such evidence, the conviction of appellants- Major Singh and Mohinder Kaur cannot be sustained.

Issues

The issue raised in this case was whether Jagsir Singh and his family members were demanding dowry from Karamjit Kaur’s family?

And whether there is any connection between the alleged harassment and Karamjit Kaur’s death?

Related Provisions

  • Section 113B of Indian Evidence Act, 1872

This section of the Indian Evidence Act states that to prove a dowry death of a woman, harassment or cruelty should be shown in any form on the woman’s body soon before her death. The meaning of ‘dowry death’ is considered as same in the Section 304B of Indian Penal Code.

  • Section 304B of Indian Penal Code, 1860

This section of Indian Penal Code defines ‘dowry death’ as- When the death of a woman is caused by burning, bodily injury or any other form of physical harm by her husband and in-laws, and is proven soon before her death that all such harms are the reason of death should be called as dowry death. The meaning of ‘dowry’ will remain the same as mentioned in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.  

  • Section 498A of Indian Penal Code, 1860

The husband or any relative of husband are shall be punished with imprisonment of a minimum three years and with fine under this section, if they subject a woman to cruelty. Under this section, “cruelty” means:-

– any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or – harassment of the woman where such harassment is intending to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

Related Cases

Hira Lal and ors  v.  State (Government of Nct) Delhi

A woman named Sarita committed suicide on April 14, 1999, by consuming poison. The report was filed by her family members of the deceased against her husband Surrender and her in-laws Hiralal and Angoori Devi. She was subjected to cruelty and torture for dowry and led her to suicide. In the trial conducted by learned Sessions Judge, New Delhi, Surrender and his parents were found guilty under Section 304B and 498A. They filed an appeal against this judgement in the Delhi High Court. Where they all were found guilty and sentenced imprisonment for 10 years with a fine of Rs. 10,000.

Kamesh Panjiyar @ Kamlesh and ors.  v.  State of Bihar

Jaikali Devi was married to Duragaman in August 1989. At the time of their marriage, a sum of Rs. 40,000 was demanded as dowry and was fulfilled by Jaikali Devi’s family. Subsequently, Duragaman and his family started demanding a she-buffalo to Jaikali Devi’s family which could not be fulfilled. Several times, Sudhir Kumar Mahto, brother of Jaikali Devi visited her house and requested for a peaceful agreement but the demand by her in-laws was continued. On November 28, 1989, Sudhir Kumar and his other family members went to Jaikali Devi’s house and found her dead body lying in the verandah of the house. After investigation, some marks of violence were found on her body. The trial was conducted and Duragaman along with his family members were found guilty of dowry death under Section 113B of Indian Evidence Act, 1872. They further appeal the High Court against this conviction but were found guilty and sentenced imprisonment for 10 years under Section 304B of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Biswajit Halder @ Babu Halder and ors. v. State of West Bengal

 Rupali was married to Biswajit Halder on March 6, 1992. At the time of marriage Rs. 43,000, gold ornaments and some household articles were given as dowry by Rupali’s family. Subsequently, Dulal Dhandra Halder and Maya Halder, parents of Biswajit started demanding for television, English khat and VIP bag. Rupali informed her father and brother about the demand for more dowry. They visited her house several times and requested not to harass Rupali for non-payment of dowry. On July 27, 1992, Rupali committed suicide by consuming poison. On August 6, 1992, an F.I.R was lodged by Rupali’s father against her in-laws. The learned additional sessions Judge on hearing 17 witnesses, convicted Rupali’s husband and her in-laws under section 304B and Section 498A of Indian Penal Code and under Section 3 and 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act. Questioning this conviction, Biswajit Halder filed an appeal to Calcutta High Court, where they all convicted for dowry death of Rupali and were sentenced the imprisonment of 10 years with a fine of Rs. 1,000 each.

Judgment

The Supreme Court after applying all the above principles to this case said that evidence is absent as to demand of dowry or cruelty on Karamjit Kaur. The prosecution failed to prove dowry harassment ‘soon after the death’ of Karamjit Kaur. And Karamjit Kaur’s death cannot be considered as dowry death as defined in Section 304B of Indian Penal Court. Hence, the conviction of the appellants is liable to be set aside and the appeal is allowed.

Conclusion

Marriage is considered as a sacred bond in India. Marriages bring two persons and their family members together keeping faith in each other. A woman leaves her own parental house and accepts her matrimonial house. But in return, if she is being harassed or ill-treated by her in-laws just in the greed of dowry, it becomes a very tough situation for a woman to tolerate. These incidences should be minimized and should not be hidden anymore. Such families should be punished under the above-mentioned sections. And if false allegations are made to take advantage of these sections, one must be punished by the court.

References

  • Section 304B of The Indian Penal Code
  • Section 113B in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872
  • Section 498A in The Indian Penal Code

Questions

  1. What is dowry death?

 Section 304B of Indian Penal Code defines ‘dowry death’ as- When the death of a woman is caused by burning, bodily injury or any other form of physical harm by her husband and in-laws, and is proven soon before her death that all such harms are the reason of death should be called as dowry death.

  • What are the necessary conditions to prove a dowry death?

A death of a woman is considered as a dowry death if some marks of bodily harm are shown soon before the death. These marks include burns, cuts etc.

  • What are the Sections under which dowry death is punishable?

Section 113B of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and  Sections 304B and 498A of The Indian Penal Code, 1860.

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