HYDERABAD: If there is no evidence and proof, beyond reasonable doubt, to establish that the incident of death of a married woman (within seven years of her marriage) is a homicide, then the courts will proceed under the provisions of Section 304-B IPC (dowry death) if the ingredients under the section are available. Under this section it is not necessary to establish a homicidal death for proving the offence of ‘dowry death’. It is sufficient if the death is otherwise than in normal circumstances. Any accidental death occurring otherwise than in normal circumstances will come within its ambit.
The Supreme Court had, in Suresh Kumar’s case, held that the initial burden of proving the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage in circumstances that are not normal is on the prosecution. In a case before the Hyderabad High Court, the accused-husband filed an appeal challenging the order of the sessions court, Khammam which held him guilty on charges of murdering his wife (deceased) under Section 302 of IPC and committing the offence of demanding additional dowry under Section 498-A of IPC, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The case of the prosecution is that the marriage of the deceased to the accused was solemnised in 2004 and she died in a water tank in 2008. As she died within seven years of her marriage, a charge under Section 304-B of IPC was framed in relation to ‘dowry death’ as there was a specific charge against the accused for subjecting her to cruelty and his unlawful demands for a motorcycle and cash. After the incident accused fled to his father’s house on his motorcycle and attempted suicide.
Considering the material on record, the sessions court held that there were no major discrepancies in prosecution’s case and convicted accused of both offences. After hearing the case, a division bench of the High Court said that the evidence reflected that there were no eyewitnesses to the incident wherein the deceased went to meet with her death. As per the post-mortem report, no internal injuries were seen and it was certified that the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation. Further, it confirmed that there were no signs of drowning.
Significantly, the parents of the deceased mentioned nothing about the presence of the motorcycle of the accused at that time. While setting aside the order of the sessions court, the bench remitted the matter to the sessions judge concerned with a direction to frame an alternative charge under Section 304-B of IPC and adjudicate upon the charges under Section 304-B (dowry death) and 498-A IPC (cruelty).The bench made it clear to the sessions court to permit the prosecution to adduce additional evidence to prove that it was a ‘dowry death’. The appellant-accused should then be permitted to recall any of the witnesses already examined for further cross-examination. As the appellant-accused was already enlarged on bail, he should remain at liberty until disposal of the case afresh by the sessions court, the bench said.