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Understanding Section 489-A IPC

History of provisions regarding Dowry in India

Dowry Prohibition Act, (enacted on May 1, 1961) intended to prevent the giving or receiving of a dowry. Under the Dowry Prohibition Act, dowry includes property, goods, or money given by either party to the marriage, by the parents of either party or by anyone else in connection with the marriage.

The original text of the Dowry Prohibition Act was widely judged to be ineffective in curbing the practice of dowry. Moreover, specific forms of violence against women continued to be linked to a failure to meet dowry demands. As a result, the legislation underwent subsequent amendments. In 1984, for example, it was changed to specify that presents given to a bride or a groom at the time of a wedding are allowed.

The act and relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code were further amended to protect female victims of dowry-related violence. Another layer of legal protection was provided in 2005 under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

The Indian Penal Code was also modified in 1983 to establish specific crimes of dowry-related cruelty, dowry death, and abetment of suicide. These enactments punished violence against women by their husbands or their relatives when proof of dowry demands or dowry harassment could be shown. The main aim is to shield a woman who is being abused by her husband or husband's relatives.

So far as the Indian Penal Code is concerned, section 498-A of IPC was introduced wherein if a woman was subjected to cruelty by her husband or his relative(s), he/they could be convicted under this penal provision.

The law underwent further change with the introduction of Section 304-B in the Indian Penal Code and Section 113 B in the Evidence Act, 18728 by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986.

All of these amended laws target the offenders but offer no relief to the victim, to overcome this loophole in 2005 we got 'The Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act' which was enacted with a view to providing for more effective protection of rights of women who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and provides for prompt relief to the victim in the form of maintenance, residence, restraining orders, custody of children, etc.

Those rights are essential of civil nature with a mix of penal provisions. Section 3 of the Act defines domestic violence in very wide terms. It encompasses the situations set out in the definition of 'cruelty' under Section 498A.

Noorjahan v. State Rep. By D.S.P[1]:

The Supreme Court elaborates on the legislative intent behind the insertion of Section 498 A of IPC, the relevant portion of which reads as:
As clearly stated therein the increase in the number of dowry deaths is a matter of serious concern. The extent of the evil has been commented upon by the Joint Committee of the Houses to examine the work of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

In some cases, the cruelty of the husband and the relatives of the husband which culminate in suicide by or murder of the helpless woman concerned, constitute only a small fraction involving such cruelty. Therefore, it was proposed to amend IPC, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Evidence Act suitably to deal effectively not only with cases of dowry deaths but also cases of cruelty to married women by the husband, in-laws, and relatives. The avowed object is to combat the menace of dowry death and cruelty.

What constitutes dowry demand?

Section 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 talks about what things are to be considered dowry, it reads as:

Definition of dowry.
In this Act, dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly:
  1. by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
  2. by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person;
At or before [or any time after the marriage] [in connection with the marriage of the said parties but does not include] dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.

Explanation II:
The expression valuable security has the same meaning as in section 30 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).

This gives a clear insight into the situation of dowry in India and as to what things can be included in the purview of dowry in India. Despite that, there are many incidences of confusion about certain incidents being included under section 2 of The Dowry prohibition Act or not. To tackle such situations following are some of the incidents courts hadn't considered the particular thing as Dowry.

It was held in Ramesh Chand v. State of U.P[2], that a complaint under Section 498-A could succeed only if it can be proved that there was an unlawful demand by the husband of some money. Mere demand without settlement of dowry at the time of marriage is no offense.[3]

In the case of Mohan Singh & Ors. vs State Nct Of Delhi[4], 2006 court held that demand of Rs. 1 lakh for business and to buy a land which does not amount to the demand of dowry, as held in a catena of decisions.

In the case of Appasaheb and Anr v. State of Mahrasthra[5], it was held that Demand for Domestic expense in exigency is not dowry under section 304b of IPC. In other words "there should be a reasonable, if not direct nexus between her death and the dowry-related cruelty or harassment inflicted upon".[6]

Expanding the ambit of dowry, the court overruled its earlier verdicts in which it had said that demand for money for meeting some urgent domestic expenses could not be termed as dowry demand.

In the case of Jitendra Kumar vs Jaidrath Singh & Ors[7], Supreme Court gave a dissenting view over the situation. A bench of Justices T S Thakur, R F Nariman, and Prafulla C Pant said dowry must be given a pragmatic interpretation to fulfill the objectives of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

The bench further added 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.

However, even after this judgment court has also considered it's the previous reasoning in various cases according to the facts of the cases respectively.

From the above cases, certain context can be drawn that there has to exist a correlation between giving or taking of property/ valuable good and marriage to establish this crime, i.e., to attract the offense of dowry, any property or valuable security should be given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly at or before or anytime after marriage and in connection with the marriage of the said parties.

Which Dowry demands can be considered as cruelty?

Ingredients of the provision are as follows:
  1. The woman must be married;
  2. She must be subject to cruelty or harassment;
  3. Such cruelty or harassment must have been shown either by the husband of the woman or by the relatives of her husband.

Shobha Rani v. Medhukar Reddi[8]:
In this case, the Supreme Court remarked that under Section 498A of IPC a new dimension has been given to the concept of cruelty. Explanation to Section 498 A of IPC provides that any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or likely to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb, or health (whether mental or physical of the woman), and harassment of the woman with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security would constitute cruelty.

In this case, it was held that evidence as to harassment to the wife to meet any unlawful demand for money is necessary to constitute cruelty in criminal law. This is the requirement of the offense of cruelty defined under Section 498 A of IPC. It was further held that the cruelty need not be only intentional, willful, or deliberate. It is not necessary to prove the intention in the matrimonial offense.

That word has to be understood in the ordinary sense of the term in matrimonial affairs. If the intention to harm, harass or hurt could be inferred by the nature of the conduct or brutal act complained of cruelty could be easily established. But the absence of intention should not make any difference in the case, if by ordinary sense in human affairs; the act complained of could otherwise be regarded as cruelty. The relief to the party cannot be denied on the ground that there has been deliberate or wilful ill-treatment.

In another case of Noorjahan v. State Rep. D.SP.[9], the Supreme Court, in this case, attempted to explain the expression cruelty in the following words:
Consequences of cruelty which are likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health, whether mental or physical, of the woman, is required to be established in order to bring home the application of Section 498 A of IPC.

In the case of Ashok Kumar v. State of Haryana[10], the Supreme court states the following regarding what constitutes dowry demand and cruelty:
22. The cruelty and harassment by the husband or any relative could be directly relatable to or in connection with, any demand for dowry. The expression "demand for dowry" will have to be construed ejusdem generis to the word immediately preceding this expression.

Similarly, in connection with the marriage is an expression that has to be given a wider connotation. It is of some significance that these expressions should be given appropriate meaning to avoid undue harassment or advantage to either of the parties. These are penal provisions but ultimately these are the social legislations, intended to control offenses relating to the society as a whole.

Even if they had demanded money then it doesn't show that they did it by subjecting the woman to cruelty.

End-Notes:
  1. Noorjahan v. State Rep. By D.S.P , 2000 cr L J 4264 (Ker
  2. Ramesh Chand v. State of U.P, 2018 (4) TR 3019
  3. Kans Raj v. State of Punjab & Ors., 2000 Crl.L.J. 2993 (SC)
  4. Mohan Singh & Ors. v. State Nct Of Delhi, CRL.REV.P. 681/2009
  5. Appasaheb & Anr. Vs. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721
  6. Harjit Singh v. State of Punjab, I (2006) DMC 11 (SC)
  7. Jivendra Kumar v. Jaidrath Singh & Ors, (2000) 3 SCC 154
  8. Shobha Rani v. Medhukar Reddi , 1988 SCR(1) 1010
  9. Noorjahan v. State Rep. DSP., (2008) INSC 691
  10. Ashok Kumar v. State of Haryana, (2021) 2 MLJ (Crl) 187

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