SC guidelines on Section 304 B of IPC (Dowry Deaths) – UPSC GS1

Facts:
  • Dowry deaths accounted for 40% to 50% of homicides in the country for almost a decade from 1999 to 2018.
  • In 2019 alone, 7,115 cases of dowry death were registered under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.
About Section 304-B:
  • Section 304-B was inserted into the Indian Penal Code(IPC) in November 1986.
  • According to this section, to make out a case of dowry death:
    • A woman should have died of burns or other bodily injuries or “otherwise than under normal circumstances” within seven years of her marriage.
    • A woman should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” in connection with the demand for dowry.
  • Punishment: The section punishes convicts with a minimum of seven years imprisonment extendable up to a life term.
Supreme Court Guidelines on Section 304-B:
  • Avoid Absurd Interpretation:
    • Over the years, the courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B as ‘immediately before‘. This interpretation makes it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
    • On the other hand, the Supreme Court recently said that the prosecution needs to show only a “proximate and live link” between the harassment and her death to make out a case of dowry death.
  • Need broader Reading of the Provision:
    • The lower courts should not take a limited approach in categorising death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in Section 304-B calls for a liberal interpretation of the provision, not the stricter one.
  • Proper examination of Accused:
    • The Supreme Court also raised concern about the casual way in which trial courts examine accused persons in dowry death cases under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
    • The court said that the examination of the accused about the incriminatory material against him should be done fairly.
    • The court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. The accused should also be given sufficient opportunity to give his side of the story.