Section 304B Of Indian Penal Code (IPC):
The Supreme Court (SC) has widened the scope of section 304B of Indian Penal Code (IPC) by indicating that there is no straitjacket formula to determine the cruelty against women.
- According to Section 304B, 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.
- She should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” in connection with demand for dowry.
Highlights of the Judgement:
- Section 304B of IPC must be interpreted keeping in mind the legislative intent to curb the social evil of bride burning and dowry demand.
- The court should use their discretion to determine if the period between the cruelty or harassment and the death of the victim would come within the term “soon before”.
- For such determination, an important factor is the establishment of a “proximate and live link” between the cruelty and the consequential death of the victim.
- Over the years, courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304B as ‘immediately before’. This interpretation would make it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
- Even the spectrum of cruelty is quite varied, as it can range from physical, verbal or even emotional. No straitjacket formulae can therefore be laid down to define what exact the phrase ‘soon before’ entails.
- Further, the phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in the section calls for a liberal interpretation.
- Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorising death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental.
- Also, the examination of the accused about the incriminatory material against him should be done in a fair manner.
- However, there is a need to balance other important considerations such as the right to a speedy trial.