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4-point dowry death probe

New Delhi, July 12: The Supreme Court has reversed the acquittal of six members of a family in a dowry death case, saying presumptive evidence was enough for conviction where a woman has died in suspicious circumstances within seven years of marriage.

“In dowry death cases, direct evidence may not be available. Such cases may be proved by circumstantial evidence,” a two-judge bench said in a recent judgment.

Bombay High Court had acquitted the six in 2005, saying there was no direct evidence to prove that they asked for dowry or such demands had led to Ranjana’s death. The apex court disagreed, saying Section 304B (dowry death) of the penal code, read with 113-B of the Evidence Act, “indicates the rule of presumption” of dowry death.

“If an unnatural death of a married woman occurs within seven years of marriage in suspicious circumstances, like due to burns or any other bodily injury, and there is cruelty or harassment by her husband or relatives for or in connection with any demand for dowry soon before her death, then it shall be dowry death.

“We find that the harassment of the deceased was with a view to coerce her to convince her parents to meet (the) demand of dowry,” Justices S.J. Mukhopadhyaya and V. Gopala Gowda said, adding whether such “wilful conduct” drove the deceased to suicide or not “is a matter of doubt” in the absence of specific evidence.

The bench upheld the Maharashtra government’s appeal against the high court’s decision to acquit the victim’s husband, parents-in-law, sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law. A sessions court had earlier held the six guilty.

The court said proving four conditions was essential to presume a case of dowry death under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act: i) that the woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment; ii) by the husband or his relatives; iii) for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry; iv) soon before her death.

The bench said the prosecution, despite lack of direct evidence, had proved that the deceased, who was pregnant, suffered 98 per cent burns early on April 8, 1999, in her matrimonial home after being constantly harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws.