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Supreme Court widens the scope of Section 304-B

Supreme Court widens the scope of Section 304-B

  • Supreme Court has called dowry harassment a “pestiferous” crime where women are subjected to cruelty by “covetous” husbands and in-laws.
  • Also, Court indicated in a judgment that a straitjacket and literal interpretation of Section 304-B, a penal provision on dowry death may have blunted the battle against the “long-standing social evil”.

About Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code:

  • According to Section 304-B, 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 the demand for dowry.

The courts have mostly resorted to the narrow view of Section 304-B. For example:

  • Courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B as ‘immediately before’.
  • This interpretation would make it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
  • The phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in the Section also calls for a liberal interpretation.

Judgement also stated that

  • Courts should instead interpret Section 304-B liberally while keeping in mind the law’s intention to punish dowry and bride-burning.
  • Absurd interpretations should be avoided. Instead, courts need to show only a “proximate and live link” between the harassment and her death.
  • The court must also put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response.
  • He should be given sufficient opportunity to give his side of the story.