It must be stated forthright that the demand of money for any purpose from the wife can be termed as demand for dowry. The husband would be liable in such cases for demanding dowry even though it may not seem like dowry! This is what the Supreme Court has yet once again reiterated in its latest judgment delivered on December 17, 2019. Very rightly so!

Is demand for financial help to improve business is an offence under 498a i.p.c?

To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this notable judgment titled Jatinder Kumar vs State of Haryana in Criminal Appeal No. 1850 of 2010 authored by Justice Aniruddha Bose for himself and Justice Deepak Gupta wherein it is observed in para 1 that, "The appellant has been found to be guilty by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh, which finding affirms the judgment of the Trial Court convicting him for commission of offences under the provisions of Sections 304-B and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code 1860. The offences were related to suicidal death of his wife, Meenakshi. The High Court, however, set aside his conviction under Section 306 of the Code by the Trial Court.

The appellant was charged for subjecting his deceased wife Meenakshi to cruelty or harassment in connection with demand for dowry coupled with cruelty during the subsistence of her marriage during her stay in her matrimonial home at Mullana in the Ambala district, Haryana. Charge was also framed against him for abetting Meenakshi's suicide. She had committed suicide in the night of 20th September 1991. Her marriage with the appellant was solemnised on 7th March 1991. On 20th September 1991, the deceased victim had come to her parental home to attend "pagree ceremony" of a relative and ultimately returned to her matrimonial home along with the appellant on that very evening. The mother and two brothers of the appellant were also implicated with the same charges and convicted by the Trial Court. The High Court, however, acquitted them."

To put things in perspective, it is then pointed out in para 2 that, "The father of the deceased, Som Prakash (PW-1) received a message on that very night from another relative of his, Parveen Kumar (PW-4) that his daughter, Meenakshi had been taken to the Civil Hospital, Ambala. She was found dead in the said hospital. The cause of death was consumption of aluminium phosphide. In early morning of 21st September 1991 (2.30 A.M.), father of the deceased (PW-1) lodged the First Information Report.

On the basis of statement of P.W.1 recorded by the SHO/SI of Police Station Mullana, Kewal Krishan (P.W.7), said First Information Report was registered. The P.W.1 implicated, along with the appellant, his mother, two brothers Atul Mittal and Anil Kumar of subjecting the victim to various types of torture for not bringing sufficient dowry. In his statement, as recorded, he said that before marriage, Anil Kumar, along with the appellant, made the demand of Rs.1,00,000/- for purchasing a Maruti vehicle. He has also stated in his deposition that he spent a sum of Rs.2,50,000/- in marriage ceremony of his daughter.

He also stated in his deposition that taunting of her daughter continued for bringing insufficient dowry. Moreover, on certain occasions of bereavement in the family, PW-1 stated in his examination-in-chief, that Meenakshi was not allowed to visit her parental home and on other occasions, his relations were not allowed to meet her in the matrimonial home either. Further demand of dowry was made, according to him, to help the appellant in respect of his clinic, in response to which PW-1 gave Rs.20,000/- to his daughter for her well-being. The statement forming the basis of F.I.R. broadly corresponds to the deposition of PW-1 and there has been no major contradiction or discrepancy between the version of the P.W.1 concerning the antecedents and circumstances of Meenakshi's death in the F.I.R. statement and P.W.1's witness statement."

As it turned out, para 3 then observes that, "Charges were framed under Sections 306, 406, 304-B and 498-A of the Code before the Trial Court against all the persons arraigned as accused in the F.I.R., following charge-sheet submitted by the police on completion of investigation. Altogether seven witnesses were examined by the prosecution, of which four were witnesses of fact.

All of these four, however, were near or distant relatives of the deceased. The father of the deceased deposed as PW-1 whereas her paternal uncle, Bharat Bhushan was examined and he deposed as PW-2. We have already referred to Parveen Kumar, who appears to be a relative of the deceased and also the mediator in the marriage. He was examined as PW-4 and one Rajat Kumar, maternal cousin of the deceased, deposed as PW-5. There were two police witnesses, Jeet Ram (PW-3) and Kewal Krishan, the Investigating Officer who deposed as PW-7. PW-6 was Dr. Tarsem Kumar Monga, the Medical Officer of Civil Hospital, Ambala Cantonment who had conducted post mortem of the deceased along with two other doctors, P.S. Ahuja and Mrs Rozy Aneja. The PW-6 confirmed death of Meenakshi on account of aluminium phosphide poisoning."

Truth be told, it is then observed in para 4 that, "So far as the judgment of conviction of the Trial Court is concerned, not much came out from the depositions of the two police witnesses, except that PW-7 stated that dowry articles were produced before him by Bimla Wanti, mother of the appellant.

The Trial Court, primarily relying on the depositions of PW-1, PW-2 and PW-4 convicted all the four persons finding them guilty of offences under Sections 304-B, 306 and 498A of the 1860 Code and awarded sentence of rigorous imprisonment for a period of 10 years to each one of them under Section 304-B and four years rigorous imprisonment under Section 306 of the Code. No separate sentence was awarded under Section 498-A because of sentence having been passed against the accused for major offence under Section 304-B of the Code. Fine of Rs.1,000/- was imposed on each one of them on both counts with direction of six months additional rigorous imprisonment in the event of failure to pay the fine.

As we have already narrated, the High Court however acquitted the mother and two brothers of the appellant and set aside the judgment of their conviction and order of sentence. Conviction of the appellant under Section 306 of the 1860 Code was set aside but conviction and sentence on other counts were sustained. This is the judgment which is under appeal before us, instituted by the appellant-convict."

Needless to say, the Apex Court Bench conceded in para 7 that the view of the Apex Court reflected in Appasaheb & Anr. Vs. State of Maharashtra (2007) 9 SCC 721 that seeking financial assistance would not per se constitute demand for dowry has been rejected by a later judgment of a three-Judge Bench of this Court in the case of Rajinder Singh vs. State of Punjab (2015) 6 SCC 477. Upon considering the case of Appasaheb (supra) and certain other authorities, it was held in the case of Rajinder Singh (supra):-

"20. Given that the statute with which we are dealing must be given a fair, pragmatic, and common sense interpretation so as to fulfil the object sought to be achieved by Parliament, we feel that the judgment in Appasaheb case followed by the judgment of Vipin Jaiswal do not state the law correctly. We, therefore, declare that any money or property or valuable security demanded by any of the persons mentioned in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, at or before or at any time after the marriage which is reasonably connected to the death of a married woman, would necessarily be in connection with or in relation to the marriage unless, the facts of a given case clearly and unequivocally point otherwise.""

Going forward, the Bench then observes in para 8 that, "It was also held in the Rajinder Singh (supra) that the Rajinder Singh (supra) that the expression "soon" is not to be construed as synonymous with "immediate". The observation of the three-Judge Bench on this point is:-

"23. We endorse what has been said by these two decisions. Days or months are not what is to be seen. What must be borne in mind is that the word "soon" does not mean "immediate". A fair and pragmatic construction keeping in mind the great social evil that has led to the enactment of section 304B would make it clear that the expression is a relative expression. Time lags may differ from case to case. All that is necessary is that the demand for dowry should not be stale but should be the continuing cause for the death of the married woman under section 304B.""

Most importantly, it is then held in para 9 that, "So far as present appeal is concerned, the depositions of the prosecution witnesses about torture and demand for dowry made by the appellant have been believed by the Trial Court as also the High Court. Barring the stray remark by P.W.2, both P.W.1 and P.W.2 have narrated facts which would constitute demand for dowry as also inflicting cruelty and torture upon the deceased victim. Such consistent stand of these two witnesses cannot be said to have been overshadowed by the above-referred stray statement of P.W.2 which is not in tune with rest of his deposition. As regards the appellant, it is a finding on fact upon proper appreciation of evidence.

We do not find any major contradiction in the statements made by P.W.1 and P.W.2 on demand for dowry and subjecting the deceased victim to cruelty. They stuck by their statements in cross-examination. From their depositions, a link can be established between such acts of the appellant and death of the deceased victim. Once these factors are proved, presumption rests on the accused under Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The appellant in his statement made in response to his examination under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 attributed suicide of the victim to depression on account of several of her relatives deaths within a short spell of time. Though the factum of several deaths in her family has been established, there is no corroboration of such a depressive state of mind of the deceased.

The other defence of the appellant is that she was a modern urban lady and could not adjust to the life style of Mullana, a small town where her matrimonial home was situated. But both the Trial Court and the High Court rejected this defence. We find no reason to reappreciate evidence on this aspect. Father of the deceased, as also P.W.2 have proved the demand for dowry. This version has run consistently from the statement forming the basis of F.I.R. to deposition stage and we do not think the Trial Court and High Court had come to such conclusion in a perverse manner."

Finally, it is then held in the last para 11 that, "We are not testing the legality of acquittal of the co-accused persons in this appeal. On the basis of the evidence on record, we are satisfied that the judgment and order of conviction and sentence was rightly confirmed by the High Court so far as the appellant is concerned. The factors which the High Court found for convicting the appellant, in our opinion, establishes guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. We find no reason to interfere with the judgment and order under appeal. The appeal is dismissed. We are apprised that appellant, at present, is on bail. The appellant's bail bond stands cancelled. Let the appellant surrender before the Trial Court within four weeks from date and undergo rest of the sentence." Very rightly so!

In conclusion, it may well be said that this latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment has once again reiterated that seeking financial assistance can also constitute demand for dowry. This commendable judgment very rightly quotes the three-Judge Bench ruling of the Apex Court in Rajinder Singh vs State of Punjab (2015) 6 SCC 477 as has been mentioned above also! So no wonder that the appellant's appeal was dismissed!

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