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Interpretation of Section 304-B (Dowry Death) - A detail Analysis

A woman is considered to be a commodity that is to be disposed by her parents as early as

possible. She is possessed, transferred from one man (father) to another (husband) like a mere
object. The owner now is the husband who can do anything to her and no interference is
permissible. Hence, the legal systems do not recognize material violence in its myriad forms as
cruelty to wife. This does not mean that when dowry has been mentioned or is the major cause of
violence, the woman has a greater chance of getting justice.

Violence occurs within the four walls of the house, and obtaining proof of violence is very
difficult. The privacy and honour of the husband is respected at expense of his wife. The
members of the society not only accept notion but reinforce it in practical life by not interfering
in others' family matters. Therefore, even if it is the question of violence within the home, no
outsider is interested or permitted to interfere and talk about it. The only concrete proof is the
woman herself who has suffered violence, but her words are not taken into consideration as
being family matter and same indifferent behavior can be observed from the guard of law and
peace of society, Police.

Section 304B is not likely to benefit women to deal with domestic violence, as violence is not
always related to dowry. From the words ‘soon before her death’ one can infer that it does not
take into account the violence committed earlier, or the violence committed on a routine basis
from day one, as a valid cause that may lead someone to commit suicide. Thus abetment to
suicide does not come under the purview of this section. The researcher will have an in depth
analysis of section 304-B i.e. how the court had interpreted section 304B as it is a stringent
provision meant to combat a social evil of alarming proportions. So can it be argued that it is a
penal statue and should, therefore in case of ambiguity in its language, be constructed strictly,
and will try to find out current flaws in the section.
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Sub Headings:


Dowry and related offences is a burning issue of the Indian society since years. It is increasing
day by day due to social inheritance, traditional mentality and life style in the family. Dowry
death is a big challenge to the modern society, moral values, police and forensic experts as well
as legal officers and justice not only to eliminate this social hazard but also to punish the culprits
in effective manner to make the world free from it forever.

Historical Background

The origin of dowry can be traced to concept of ‘Kanyadan’ attached to the institution of
marriage historically. The act of Kanyadan is performed by the parents of the bride. Due to the
religious requirements along with the act of dana, parents are supposed to give something
besides the bride such as jewels, gold, cows, and other valuables to complete the ritual of
Kanyadan. These gifts, including jewellary and presents, were given voluntarily to bride for her
comfort as well as better status in her in-laws’ house. These gifts took shape of dowry or Dahej.

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

The existing Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was inadequate and biased. Along with other
loopholes, this Act excluded presents given to the bride and the groom and the money transacted
after marriage from its purview, and it regarded both the giving and the taking dowry as an
offence. With pressure from women's groups, this Act was amended, first in 1980, and then
again, in 1986, increasing the quantum of fine to Rs 15,000 and making the offence non-bailable.
The onus of proof was shifted to the accused. So the researcher will try to find what the
loopholes of this act are and after the amendment and introduction of section 304B of IPC
whether the problem related to dowry death had came under control.

Interpretation of Section 304-B of IPC

In the section the researcher will analyze how the court had interpreted section 304B during
various occasions with the help of case law. Whether there is any uniform method which was
adopted by the court or it differ from case to case.
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202nd Report on proposal to amend section 304-B of IPC

The Law commission of India had published its 202nd report on proposal to amend section 304-B
of IPC. So the research will put forward what were the recommendations which were put forth
by the law commission and will try to discuss its pros and cons.

Suggestions and Recommendations:

After going through various case law and law commission report, the researcher will try to form
his own opinion and will suggest what can further be done to reduce dowry death.


The researcher in the end will conclude what he understood through the reading.

Review of Literature


Batuk Lal’s Commentary on the, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (3rd Edition) Volume II (Pg: 1760-
61)(accessed at : 2 March 2017)

The author in this tried to make a distinction between section 304B and 498A of IPC and held
that it cannot be mutually exclusive. These provisions deal with two distinct offences. It is true
that cruelty is a common essential to both the sections and that has to be proved. The explanation
to section 498A gives the meaning of “Cruelty”. In section 304B there is no such explanation
about the meaning of cruelty. But having regard to common background to those offences it has
to be taken that the meaning of “cruelty” or “harassment” is the same as prescribed in the
explanation to section 498A under which “cruelty” by itself amount to an offence. Under section
304B it is “dowry death” that is punishable and such death should have occurred within seven
years of marriage. No such period is mentioned in section 498A. A person charged and acquitted
under section 304B can be convicted under section 498A without the charge being there, if such
a case is made out. If the case is established there can be conviction under both the sections.
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This reading is relevant because it tries to define the scope of both the sections i.e. section 498A
and 304B and it is indeed very critical to know because these two sections were introduced
simultaneously so initially there was lot of confusion regarding the scope of both of these
sections and this reading will help the researcher to have a better understanding regarding section
304B scope and how it differs from section 498A

Ram Jethmalani & D.S. Chopra, the Indian Penal Code, Volume-I (Pg: 1391-92) (accessed at
: 2 March 2017)

The author tried to explain the proper way in which section 304B of IPC must be interpreted.
The purpose for which section 304B of IPC was introduced cannot be lost sight of. Legislation
enacted with some policy to curb and alleviate some public evil rampant in society and effectuate
a definite public purpose or benefit positively requires to be interpreted with certain elements of
realism too and not merely pedantically or hyper-technically. The obvious object was to prevent
harassment to a woman who enters into a marital relationship with a person and later on,
becomes a victim of the greed for money. It would be appropriate to construe the expression
“husband” to cover a person who enters into marital relationship and under the color of such
proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerce her
in any manner or for any of the purpose enumerated in section 304 B of IPC, whatever be the
legitimacy of the marriage itself for the limited purpose of section 304B. Such an interpretation
known and recognized as “purposive construction” has to come into play in a case of this

This reading is relevant because it helps the researcher to understand the basic intention of the
legislature to enact section 304B and what can be the proper way to interpret this section so as to
give full effect to legislative intention.

PSA Pillai’s, Criminal Law, Lexis Nexis (12th Edition)(Pg: 603)( accessed at : 2 March 2017)

In this the author throws light on the statutory obligation of a court which is imposed to courts
under section 304B that it shall presume that the accused has committed the dowry death when
the prosecution proves that: (1) death of his wife has occoured otherwise than in normal
circumstances within seven years of her marriage, and (2) soon before her death she was
subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives in connection with demand for
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dowry. If any accused wants to escape from the said catch, the burden is on him to disprove it.. if
he fails to rebut the presumption, the court is bound to act upon it.

This reading is important from the point of view that it assist the reader to understand how the
courts are required to presume certain things in cases relating to dowry death which in a way
would help to provide justice to the affected party.


The Institution of Dowry in India: Why It Continues to Prevail, Sonia Dalmia and Pareena
G. Lawrence, (accessed at : 3 March 2017)
The practice of dowry in India has been theoretically linked to a number of factors natures of
residence and inheritance system, women's role in production, kinship organizations, relative
availability of potential spouses, and social stratification in society. The author in this article
examines dowries in India and provides an institutional and economic rationale for the continued
prevalence of the system. Using data on marriage transactions and on the family traits of marital
partners the article demonstrates that payments of dowry serve the measurable differences in
individual characteristics of the bride's and grooms and their respective households. Thus, dowry
qualifies as the "price" paid for a "good match" in the marriage market. Results also reveal that
the form of inheritance system, the residence of the bride after and the gender ratio of
marriageable women to men have no effect on the incidence dowry.

This article is relevant because it helps the reader to understand that society as a whole also is
responsible for dowry deaths because people do not want to take right initiatives. People who
takes dowry instead of criticizing them people applause them. If people develop the hatred
feeling against those who took dowry then definitely the whole system of dowry will be
abolished from the society.
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Laws against Domestic Violence: Underused or Abused? By Madhu Kishwar, (accessed at: 3 March

As a result of determined campaigning and lobbying by women's organizations, significant
amendments were made to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Indian Evidence Act, and the Dowry
Prohibition Act, with the intention of protecting wives from marital violence, abuse, and
extortionist dowry demands. The most notable ones are sections 304B, 406, and 498A of the
IPC, and Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act. However, the actual implementation of these
laws has left a bitter trail of disappointment, anger, and resentment in its wake, among the
affected families. On the one hand, many victims of domestic violence, as well as many women's
organizations, feel that despite the existence of supposedly stringent laws that enshrine the dual
objective of helping the woman gain control over her stridhan and punishing abusive husbands
and in-laws, in reality most victims fail to receive necessary relief. This is due to the
unsympathetic attitude of the police, magnified by their propensity to protect the wrongdoers,
once they are adequately bribed.

This article is relevant from the point of view that it helps the reader to understand that the
current laws on domestic violence that to especially on dowry death is insufficient despite the
amendments made by the legislature. So the need of the hour is to amend the existing laws and to
make them more stringent so as to curb this crime from the socity.

Protecting Women against Violence? Review of a Decade of Legislation, 1980-89, Flavia Agnes,
(accessed at :3 March 2017)

The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 is a very small act which consists of only eight sections (two
more sections were added later during the amendments), full of contradictions and loopholes.
The act laid down a very narrow definition of dowry as “property given in consideration of
marriage and as a condition of the marriage taking place”. The definition excluded presents in
the form of cash, ornaments, clothes and other articles from its purview. The definition also did
not cover money asked for and given after marriage. Both giving and taking dowry was an
offence under the act. The offence was non cognisable and bailable. In legal parlance this means
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that it is a trivial offence. The maximum punishment was six months and/or a fine of Rs 5,000.
To make matters more complicated prior sanction of the government was necessary for
prosecuting a husband who demanded dowry. Complaints had to be filed within a year of the
offence and only by the aggrieved person. The ineffectiveness of the act was manifested at
different levels. On one level there were hardly any cases filed under this act and there were less
than half a dozen convictions in the period between the enactment and the amendment. So the
purpose of the enactment as a deterrent factor was totally lost.

This article is relevant from the point of view that it helps the reader to know what were the
flaws in Dowry Prohibition Act which lead to the introduction of section like section 304B of
IPC. The definition of the dowry in the Act itself as to narrow as a result of which people
escaped from their liability. And the demand for dowry during that period rises drastically which
resulted in more number of dowry deaths. As a result of which legislature amended the Act and
introduced section like section 304B with intent to remove dowry death from the society.

Criminal Law on Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits, Jayna Kothari, (accessed at : 3 March

Criminalisation of domestic violence in India was brought about in the early 1980s after a
sustained campaign by feminist groups and women activists all over the country. Great impetus
was imported to this movement, especially after the much criticized judgment of the Supreme
Court in the Mathura rape case. The demand for the criminalisation of dowry death and domestic
violence was a culmination of all these struggles ending successfully in the enactment of Sec
498A in the IPC in 1983, Sec 304B in 1986 and corresponding provisions in the Indian Evidence
Act, 1872. These criminal law reforms held great promise at the time of their enactment. The
criminalisation of domestic violence in the form of Sec 498A and 304B (dowry death) sought to
increase the certainty and severity of legal responses, thereby correcting historical, legal, and
moral disparities in the legal protections afforded to abused women. It sought for the first time to
bring the issue of domestic or family violence out of the protected private realm of the family
and into the public domain in India. But despite these legal reforms, societal responses to
domestic violence still largely exclude legal intervention.
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This article is relevant because it throws light on how the domestic violence used to be looked by
the people during early period where they considered it a private issue which had to be solved
among the family only but how this approach was changed over a period of time and how
domestic violence was criminalized, and what were the different approaches taken to reduce
these violence but there are still some loopholes which need to be addressed immediately.

Legal Constructions of Domestic Violence, Sawmya Ray, (accessed at : 3 March 2017)

The author in the paper attempts to understand the existing laws on violence and their
implementation through an analysis of some court cases of domestic violence. It highlights the
ways in which the legal system in India constructs the issue of domestic violence. Although the
Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to women as individuals, women's access to justice
has been severely curtailed in the name of ‘private’ issues. Continuous struggles of women’s
groups have led to several amendments to the existing laws and the introduction of new ones.
Studies, however, show that the implementation of the laws still remains partial and
conservative, and convictions in cases of domestic violence remain minimal.
This article is relevant because it shows how the current laws regarding domestic violence is
inadequate which indeed is a failure of legislation and how the courts through various cases
contradict itself which shows the ambiguity relating to these laws.

Case Laws:

Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, (1981 AIR 1021), (27th Feb. 2017)

The Court observed that it would not be appropriate to lessen the husband’s onus to that of
preponderance of probability as that would annihilate the deemed guilt expressed in Section
304B of IPC, and such interpretation would defeat the intentions and purposes of Parliament.
The Court further observed that there is no doubt that if same word is used in the Section and in
its different segments, then they should be attributed the same meaning unless a contrary
situation is stated in the provision, but the opposite happens when different words of close
proximity occur in the same Section, then in such circumstances it should be presumed that the
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intention of the Legislature was to enumerate different situations with different ramifications.
Further interpreting the words ‘prove’, ‘shown’ and ‘presume’ used in the abovementioned
Sections, the Court stated that the word ‘shown’ in Section 304B of the IPC connotes ‘prove’, in
other words, it is for the prosecution to prove that a ‘dowry death’ has occurred. The Court
further observed that the Parliament intended by using the word ‘deemed’ intended that only
preponderance of evidence would be insufficient to discharge the husband or his family members
of their guilt. Further interpreting ‘shown’ as in Section 304B of IPC the Court stated that the
proper manner of interpreting it is that ‘shown’ has to be read up to mean ‘prove’ and the word
‘deemed’ has to be read down to mean ‘presumed’.
The judgment was delivered by two judge bench consisting of Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice
Kuria Joseph who were of the view that because of insufficiency or unsatisfactory nature of the
facts or circumstances shown by the prosecution, the burden of proving the innocence has not
shifted to the appellant, in the present case and hence they allowed the appeal.
Appasaheb v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721, (27th Feb. 2017)
The Court construed the definition of dowry strictly, as it forms part of Section 304B which is
part of a penal statute. The court held that a demand for money for defraying the expenses of
manure made to a young wife who in turn made the same demand to her father would be outside
the definition of dowry. The Court said: “A demand for money on account of some financial
stringency or for meeting some urgent domestic expenses or for purchasing manure cannot be
termed as a demand for dowry as the said word is normally understood”.
The judgment was delivered by two bench judgment consisting of G.P. Mathur and R.V.
Raveendran where they said that it is well settled principle of Interpretation of Statue that if the
Act is passed with reference to a particular trade, business or transaction knowns and
understands to have a particular meaning in it, then the word are to be construed as having that
particular meaning. The judges have refrained from expressing any opinion as to whether the
appellants in this case could be held guilty of having committed the offence under section 498A
or 306 IPC n the basis of evidence available on record as their acquittal under the aforesaid
charges attained finality and cannot be reversed in the appeal filed by the appellants challenging
their conviction under section 304B IPC, hence appeal allowed.
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Rajinder Singh v State of Punjab, AIR 2015 SC 1359, (27th Feb. 2017)
The court while trying to answer what is true construction of the statue stated that, “The
distinction between a strict and a liberal construction has almost disappeared with regard to all
classes of statutes, so that all statutes, whether penal or not, are now construed by substantially
the same rules. ‘All modern Acts are framed with regard to equitable as well as legal principles.’
‘A hundred years ago,’ said the court in Lyons' case ‘statutes were required to be perfectly
precise and resort was not had to a reasonable construction of the Act, and thereby criminals
were often allowed to escape. This is not the present mode of construing Acts of Parliament.
They are construed now with reference to the true meaning and real intention of the legislature.”
The judgment was delivered by three judge bench consisting of T.S. Thakur, Rohinton Fali
Nariman, Prafulla C. Pant where they stated that the expression “soon before” is not synonymous
with “immediate before” and this indeed would not be the correct reflection of law. So the court
in this case dismissed the appeal.
Surinder Singh v. State of Haryana, (2014) 4 SCC 129, (28th Feb. 2017)
The court explained that the words “soon before” appear in Section 113-B of the Evidence Act,
1872 and also in Section 304-B IPC. For the presumptions contemplated under these sections to
spring into action, it is necessary to show that the cruelty or harassment was caused soon before
the death. The interpretation of the words “soon before” is, therefore, important. The question is
how “soon before”? This would obviously depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.
The cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. It relates to the mindset of people which
varies from person to person. Cruelty can be mental or it can be physical. Mental cruelty is also
of different shades. It can be verbal or emotional like insulting or ridiculing or humiliating a
woman. It can be giving threats of injury to her or her near and dear ones. It can be depriving her
of economic resources or essential amenities of life. It can be putting restraints on her
movements. It can be not allowing her to talk to the outside world. The list is illustrative and not
exhaustive. Physical cruelty could be actual beating or causing pain and harm to the person of a
woman. Every such instance of cruelty and related harassment has a different impact on the mind
of a woman. Some instances may be so grave as to have a lasting impact on a woman. Some
instances which degrade her dignity may remain etched in her memory for a long time.
Therefore, “soon before” is a relative term. In matters of emotions we cannot have fixed
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formulae. The time-lag may differ from case to case. This must be kept in mind while examining
each case of dowry death.
The judgment was delivered by two judge bench consisting of H. Sema and A. Lakshmanan
where they stated that it is well settled Principe of law that every discrepancy in the witness
statement cannot be treated as a fatal to the prosecution case. The discrepancy, which does not
affect the prosecution case materially, does not create infirmity, and hence the appeal was

The legislature ought not to be oblivious to public sentiments and demands. Laws are made to
satisfy the needs of the society in which they operate. Admittedly, having regard to the number
and the manner of dowry deaths, there are widespread public demands for stringent legal
measures to effectively curb this social evil. But, at the same time, the cardinal principles of
penology, especially those relating to sentencing, have to be duly adhered to. It is important that
legal sanctions must be appropriate, pragmatic and effective. Sentence must not be too less or too
harsh and more than what is necessary. The role of courts, under the circumstances assumes
greater importance and it is expected that the courts would deal with such cases in a more
realistic manner and not allow the criminals to escape on account of procedural technicalities or
insignificant lacunae in the evidence as otherwise the criminals would receive encouragement
and the victims of crime would be totally discouraged by the crime going unpunished. The courts
are expected to be sensitive in cases involving crime against women.

Material Refereed (Bibliography):

Primary Sources:
1) Batuk Lal’s Commentary on the, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (3rd Edition) Volume II
2) Ram Jethmalani & D.S. Chopra, the Indian Penal Code, Volume-I
3) PSA Pillai’s, Criminal Law, Lexis Nexis (12th Edition)

Case Law:

1) Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, (1981 AIR 1021)

2) Appasaheb v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721
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3) Rajinder Singh v State of Punjab, AIR 2015 SC 1359

4) Surinder Singh v. State of Haryana, (2014) 4 SCC 129

Secondary Sources (Articles):

1) The Institution of Dowry in India: Why It Continues to Prevail, Sonia Dalmia and
Pareena G. Lawrence, URL:
2) Laws against Domestic Violence: Underused or Abused? By Madhu Kishwar
3) Protecting Women against Violence? Review of a Decade of Legislation, 1980-89, Flavia Agnes,

4) Criminal Law on Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits, Jayna Kothari,

5) Legal Constructions of Domestic Violence, Sawmya Ray,