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Stiffer penalty warning for harasser husbands

New Delhi, Nov. 4: The Supreme Court has increased the punishment of a man who drove his wife to suicide, saying that the penal code and the Evidence Act have made the law more strident to punish offences against married women.

“Such strident laws would have a deterrent effect on the offenders only if they are so stridently implemented by the law courts to achieve the legislative intent. On the facts found and the offence proved to have been committed leading to suicidal death of the wife, imprisonment of two years with fine of Rs 500 (awarded by the trial court) is too light a sentence,” Justices M.B. Shah, K.G. Balakrishnan and D.M. Dharmadhikar said.

The three-judge bench increased the period of imprisonment to five years and the fine to Rs 20,000.

A “sentence of five years would, in our opinion, be a proper sentence for the crime with the amount of fine increased to Rs 20,000 to be paid as compensation to the parents of the deceased”, the judges ruled.

“In this case, the husband is found to have harassed his wife to such an extent as to drive her to commit suicide,” they pointed out. In the event of non-payment of the money to the parents of the deceased, the husband has been ordered to serve another year in prison.

The deceased, Krishna Kumari, was married to Yadla Srinivasa Rao, a branch postmaster in Andhra Pradesh. After three or four months of the marriage, Rao started demanding that his wife execute in his favour a deed of the land and house gifted to her by her parents.

“Refusal on the part of the deceased to meet the demand was the cause of her continuous harassment,” the judges said. They added that the accused, being a branch postmaster, went to the extent of even not delivering an entrance test card for a polytechnic in Kakatiya University sent for his sister-in-law.

In dowry death cases, the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Evidence Act and the Indian Penal Code come into play. The Dowry Prohibition Act defines dowry as any “property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly”.

The judges pointed to Section 113-B of the Evidence Act. They said a court “shall presume” that a person committed “dowry death of a woman” if it is “shown that soon before her death such woman had been subjected to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry”.

“In the instant case, the accused pressurised and harassed the deceased to part with the land received by her from her father as ‘stridhana’. The cruel conduct of the husband led the wife to commit suicide,” the court said.

In such cases, the bench underlined, no leniency should be shown to the accused and strident penal laws have to be implemented to act as a deterrent.

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