Read Judgment: DEVENDER SINGH AND ORS Vs. THE STATE OF UTTARAKHAND 

Mansimran Kaur

New Delhi, April 22,2022: The Supreme Court has held that Section 304B IPC read along with Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes it clear that once the prosecution has succeeded in demonstrating that a woman has been subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with any demand for dowry soon before her death, a presumption shall be drawn against the said persons that they have caused dowry death as contemplated under Section 304B IPC.

The larger Bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Hima Kholi partly allowed the appeal in the instant case by observing that after considering all the material on record in the instant case it was established  beyond reasonable doubt that the case under Section 304B of IPC was made against the first appellant-husband of the deceased. 

The appellants in the present case assailed the judgment dated September 14, 2017 passed by the High Court of Uttarakhand wherein the judgment dated April 17, 2010 passed by the Sessions Judge, Rudraprayag was reversed. 

Brief facts of the case were that the first appellant was married to the deceased Sushila. The wedding was solemnized on October 20, 2007. Thereafter the mother of the deceased was apprised of the fact that the deceased was missing from her matrimonial home since April 24, 2008. So, the complainant (brother of the deceased) filed the complaint against the appellants alleging that they made repeated demands for dowry.

Consequently investigation was conducted by the local police and as a result, the body of Sushila(wife of first appellant) was found in the Ganga river. Observing that an unnatural death took place within six months of the marriage and taking into consideration the allegations pertaining to cruelty due to demand for dowry, a case was registered against the appellants under Sections 498A, 304 B and 120 B of IPC. Thereafter, trial was conducted at the Trial Court and on considering the evidence on record, Trial Court acquitted all of them. 

Aggrieved by the same, the State of Uttarakhand instituted an appeal before the High Court. The Court after re- appreciating the evidence in an elaborate manner and after applying the legal principles reached to the conclusion that the said appeal must be allowed. Accordingly, the appellants were convicted under Sections 498- A, 304- B and 120 B of the IPC.  Aggrieved by this judgment of the High Court, the appellants preferred the present appeal.  

The Counsel for the respondents submitted that in  a matter where the death of the wife of the first appellant had occurred within a few months of her marriage when she was residing at the matrimonial home and such a death was an unnatural one, it was for the appellants to have explained the circumstance under which the death had occurred when prima-facie, the prosecution had succeeded in proving the basic ingredients of the section. In that light, it was sought to be urged that the trial Court had in fact completely misdirected itself. 

It was further opined that the High Court while deciding an appeal was required to re-appreciate the evidence which had been meticulously done by referring to the evidence tendered by each of the witnesses. The State counsel contended that on analyzing the evidence brought on record in the context of the legal position, as enunciated in various decisions of this Court which were taken note of, the High Court had arrived at a just conclusion and had found the judgement of the trial Court to be erroneous, resultantly setting aside the same.

The Apex Court reproduced  Section 304B of IPC in order to determine the application of the same in the instant case. The Court submitted that Section 304B IPC when read along with Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes  it vivid that once the prosecution establishes the case that a woman was subjected to cruelty in pursuant to demand for dowry, then a presumption is drawn against the said persons that they have caused dowry death as stated under Section 304B IPC. 

The said presumption can be assailed by the accused on proving that all the ingredients of the said Section were not met. Reliance was placed to rulings made in Bansi Lal vs. State of Haryana, Maya Devi and Anr. vs. State of Haryana, G.V. Siddaramesh v. State of Karnataka and Ashok Kumar vs. State of Haryana. 

While considering the ingredients  under Section 304B of the IPC, the Apex Court observed that in the instant case the deceased Sushila was married to the first appellant on October 20, 2007. Thereafter she was found missing from April 24, 2008 and then her body was discovered after 10 days. The Court noted, that the ingredients of Section 304B of IPC were established in the present case, as the death of the deceased was unnatural, was within 7 years from the date of the marriage and there were allegations of cruelty in pursuance to demand for dowry.

 It was further observed that the phrase “ soon before her death” in Section 304B of the IPC constures that the alleged cruelty should be proximate in order to establish the case under the aforesaid Section and The same does not mean that the same shall be inflicted immediately before the death. The Bench said, “As to the phrase soon before her death, it is well-settled that the same ought to be interpreted to mean proximate and to be linked with but not to be understood to mean immediately prior to the death.”

Thus, in the present case, the Apex Court observed that death was not natural and it occurredwithin 6 months of the marriage. The evidence of the mother of the deceased was taken into consideration wherein she stated that the deceased confessed to her that she was tortured by her in-laws for demand of dowry and was also physically assaulted for the same. 

Therefore, after recording all the evidence on the record, this Court upheld the conviction and sentence pronounced by the High Court against the first appellant. However, the conviction and sentence against the father-in-law and brother-in-law was set aside by the Top Court. 

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