The Supreme Court has said that for seeking the conviction of a person accused of causing dowry death, the prosecution has to produce evidence that establishes that the demand for dowry was coupled with acts of harassment and cruelty.
For the court to draw the presumption that the accused had caused the dowry death, the “prosecution has to prove, besides the demand of dowry, harassment or cruelty caused by the accused to the deceased soon before her death”, the Supreme court bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya said in a recent judgment.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Patnaik said: “In any case, to hold an accused guilty of both the offences under Sections 304B (dowry death) and 498A (cruelty), IPC, the prosecution is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the accused.”
The court said this while setting aside the judgment of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and that of the trial court by which husband Vipin Jaiswal was convicted for committing cruelty on wife Meenakshi Jaiswal, who committed suicide April 4, 1999 on account of alleged physical and mental torture for her failure to bring Rs.50,000 from her parental home.
The trial court had also convicted Vipin’s parents, but they were let off by the high court.
In our view, the onus was on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt the ingredient of Section 498A, IPC, and the essential ingredient of offence under Section 498A, that the accused, as the husband of the deceased, has subjected her to cruelty as defined in the Explanation to Section 498A, IPC,” the court said.
The Supreme Court said that since the prosecution has not been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt this ingredient of harassment or cruelty, “neither of the offences under Sections 498A and 304B, IPC has been made out by the prosecution”.
The court also referred to the suicide chit that Meenakshi had written of her “free will”, in which she blamed her own parents and family members for harassing her husband and said that she was taking the step as she was fed up with her life and the frequent quarrels.
Vipin had told the court that he had found the chit from the dressing table while cleaning the house.
Instead of “disbelieving” the suicide note, the Supreme Court said that the “trial court and the high court could have recorded a finding, one way or the other, by comparing her handwriting and signature with some of her other handwritings and signatures…” or alternately could have sought an expert opinion.
“But unfortunately, neither the trial court nor the high court have resorted to these provisions of the Evidence Act and instead by their own imaginary reasoning, disbelieved the defence of the appellant (Vipin) that the suicide note could not have been written by the deceased.”