Supreme Court of India Surinder Singh vs State Of Haryana on 13 November, 2013Bench: Ranjana Prakash Desai, Madan B. Lokur
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1791 OF 2008
SURINDER SINGH â€¦APPELLANT
STATE OF HARYANA â€¦RESPONDENT
J U D G M E N T
(SMT.) RANJANA PRAKASH DESAI, J.
1. In this appeal judgment and order dated 01/11/2007 passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court is under challenge.
2. The appellant is original accused no. 1. He was tried along with Hazura Singhâ€“original accused no. 2, Narata Singhâ€“original accused no. 3 and Kaushalya â€“ original accused no. 4 for offences punishable under Sections 498A and 304B of the IPC by the Additional Sessions Judge Yamuna Nagar in Sessions Case No. 60 of 1994. Appellant is the husband of deceased Anita (â€œthe deceasedâ€� or â€œAnitaâ€�). Accused no. 2 is his father, accused no. 3 is his uncle and accused no. 4 is his mother.
3. The deceased was daughter of Ram Lal. Admittedly, she was married to the appellant on 24/04/1994. According to the prosecution, the accused were not satisfied with the quality and quantity of the dowry given at the time of marriage. They used to taunt and beat the deceased. At times, they used to keep her hungry. She had informed her brothers and father about this ill-treatment and harassment. Her brother Ashok Kumar and his brother-in-law Pawan Kumar went to the house of the accused and protested. At that time the accused told Ashok Kumar that if he had so much affection for his sister he should give Rs.60,000/- for the business of the appellant. Ashok Kumar expressed his helplessness to meet the demand. Ashok Kumar sent his younger brother Satish Kumar to bring the deceased home, but, the accused told him that he should take the deceased home after some days. On 22/07/1994 the uncle of the appellant i.e. accused no. 3 – Narata Singh went to the house of the parents of the deceased and told them that Anita-the deceased had committed suicide by burning herself. Ashok Kumar accompanied by his father, brother Satish Kumar and brother-in-law Pawan Kumar went to the house of the accused. The burnt dead body of Anita was found kept on a cot in the verandah. Ashok Kumar, then, went to P.S. Yamunanagar and lodged FIR Exhibit-PK. On completion of investigation the accused came to be charged as aforesaid.
4. The prosecution examined, inter alia, PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar, who unfolded the prosecution story about the ill-treatment meted out to the deceased. PW-9 Dr. V.K. Nagpal conducted the post-mortem and gave report Exhibit-PH. PW-11 Maharaj Singh, DSP, who conducted the investigation, gave details of investigation.
5. The accused denied the allegations of demand of dowry and harassment to the deceased. The appellant in his statement recorded under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C. stated that the deceased was well looked after. Lot of affection was shown to her. When she was carrying, proper medical treatment was given to her. She developed complications and pregnancy had to be terminated. The doctors told her that whenever she conceives she will have problem of bleeding. The deceased was last examined on 19/07/1994. After her abortion the deceased was in depression and, therefore, she committed suicide. The accused examined three doctors. They are DW-1 Dr. Mrs. Iqbal Kaur, DW-2 Dr. Fitu Mago and DW-3 Dr. C. Vijayendra. DW-4 Anil Kumar, the brother-in-law produced letter Exhibit-DF received by him from the deceased.
6. The trial court by its judgment and order dated 01/08/1998 convicted the appellant and other accused for offence punishable under Section 304-B of the IPC and sentenced them to undergo RI for seven years each. The accused were also convicted for offence punishable under Section 498A of the IPC and sentenced to suffer RI for two years each. They were ordered to pay a fine of Rs.1,000/- each, in default, they were directed to undergo RI for six months. The substantive sentences were ordered to run concurrently.
7. The accused carried an appeal to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The High Court acquitted accused nos. 2 to 4 on the ground that allegations made against them were vague and that they were living separately from the appellant. The High Court, however, confirmed the conviction and sentence of the appellant, hence, this appeal to this Court.
8. Learned senior counsel for the appellant Mr. Nidhesh Gupta submitted that since on the same set of evidence all the other accused have been acquitted the appellant should also have been acquitted because no part of the evidence involves the appellant alone. Counsel submitted that there is nothing on record to establish that the deceased was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the appellant. Counsel submitted that, in any case, the prosecution has failed to establish that the alleged cruelty and harassment was in connection with dowry. The allegations are too general and vague. No specific allegations are made against the appellant therefore Section 304B of the IPC is not attracted. Presumptions under Section 304B of the IPC and Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 also do not arise in this case. The witnesses have made only bald statements. No independent witnesses like neighbours have been examined to prove that the deceased was treated with cruelty. Thus, the conviction of the appellant under Section 304B of the IPC is not sustainable. In this connection counsel relied on Surinder Kaur and anr. v. State of Haryana, Durga Prasad and anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Geeta Mehrotra and anr. v. State of Uttar Pradesh and anr. Counsel further submitted that so far as demand of Rs.60,000/- is concerned, no date of demand is mentioned, therefore, it is not possible to say that this alleged demand was made soon before the death. Moreover, the demand was made for business of the appellant, therefore, it cannot be called a dowry demand. In this connection counsel relied on Vipin Jaiswal (A-I) v. State of Andhra Pradesh represented by Public Prosecutor.. Drawing our attention to letter Exhibit-DF dated 16/07/1994 counsel submitted that this letter was written by the deceased just 15 days before the date of incident to DW-4 Anil Kumar, who is brother- in-law of the appellant. In that letter she has made no grievance about the alleged harassment or cruelty. In fact, she has made fond reference to the members of the appellantâ€™s family. This shows that allegations of harassment and cruelty are false. Counsel also drew our attention to the evidence of the doctors examined by the appellant in support of his defence. He submitted that it is clear from their evidence that while the deceased was pregnant she was bleeding and, therefore, her pregnancy had to be terminated. The deceased was told that she may not conceive a child. Thereafter, the deceased went into depression. She appears to have committed suicide while in depression. In the circumstances, the appellant cannot be convicted under Section 304B and 498A of the IPC. His conviction and sentence deserves to be set aside.
9. Learned counsel for the State of Haryana Mr. Kamal Mohan Gupta submitted that PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar, brothers of the deceased, have unfolded the prosecution case. They are reliable and trustworthy witnesses. They have described the ill-treatment meted out to the deceased and the demand of dowry made by the appellant. Counsel submitted that the demand of Rs.60,000/- related to the appellantâ€™s business. The evidence of PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar makes reference to the specific date of demand and specific amount, which was demanded by the appellant. Counsel submitted that deceased Anita died within 94 days of marriage. There can be no doubt that her death caused by burns was otherwise than under normal circumstances. The conviction of the appellant is legal and perfectly justified and, therefore, the appeal be dismissed.
10. The evidence of PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar, brothers of the deceased, gives us the prosecution story. PW-7 Ashok Kumar is the complainant, hence, we shall first advert to his evidence. He stated that the deceased was married to the appellant on 20/04/1994. The accused were not satisfied with the quality and the quantity of the dowry given by them at the time of marriage. They used to taunt the deceased and the deceased had told him about this many times. The accused used to demand Rs.60,000/- for the business of the appellant or for getting him some job. PW-7 Ashok Kumar further stated that once he and his brother-in-law Pawan Kumar visited the house of the appellant to request the accused to treat the deceased properly. According to him, the accused told him that if he had so much affection for his sister he should pay Rs.60,000/- to them. He expressed inability to do so. On 05/07/1994 the deceased came to their house and even at that time she told them about the demand of Rs.60,000/-. PW-7 Ashok Kumar further stated that on 21/07/1994 they received a message that Anita should be taken home. He sent his brother PW-6 Satish Kumar to bring his sister home but the accused did not send her. On 22/07/1994 Narata Singh, uncle of the appellant, came to their house and told them that Anita had committed suicide. PW-7 Ashok Kumar went to the house of the accused along with his brother PW-6 Satish Kumar, his father and brother-in-law Pawan Kumar. He saw the dead body of his sister kept in a verandah. He, then, lodged FIR Exhibit-PK. It is pertinent to note that in the FIR also PW-7 Ashok Kumar has stated that the accused demanded Rs.60,000/-, for the business of the appellant or for getting him some job. PW-6 Satish Kumar corroborates PW-7 Ashok Kumar. PW-6 Satish Kumar also stated that accused were not satisfied with the dowry and they used to taunt his sister for bringing less and inferior quality of dowry. He stated that the accused used to beat the deceased and keep her hungry and the deceased used to tell them about the misbehaviour of the accused whenever she came home. He further stated that on 05/07/1994 the deceased told him that the accused are demanding Rs.60,000/- for investing in the business of the appellant. They expressed their helplessness to pay the amount. The accused continued to beat the deceased. He further stated that on 21/07/1994 PW-7 Ashok Kumar received a message from his sister that she should be brought to their house. He, then, went to the appellantâ€™s house to bring the deceased home. The accused asked him to fulfill their demand before taking his sister with him to his house. He returned home alone. PW-6 Satish Kumar further stated that on 22/07/1994 Narata Singh, uncle of the appellant came to their house and informed them that Anita had committed suicide. He went to the house of the appellant along with his father and brother and found that the dead body of Anita was kept in the verandah. Thus, the evidence of these two witnesses establishes that the deceased was treated with cruelty. She was subjected to harassment in the appellantâ€™s house because the dowry given in the marriage was inadequate and not of good quality. It is also established that the accused wanted Rs.60,000/- for investing in the appellantâ€™s business or for getting him some job.
11. The fact that the marriage took place on 20/04/1994 is not disputed. Anita died on account of burns in the appellantâ€™s house. Her death was otherwise than under normal circumstances. She died just within 94 days of the marriage. It is true that the relatives of the appellant have been acquitted on the ground that there are no specific allegations against them. It is argued that, therefore, the appellant should also be acquitted because the allegations are general as against him also. We are unable to agree with this submission. There is a great difference between the allegations levelled against the relatives of the appellant and the appellant. The entire prosecution story revolves around the appellant. The demand of Rs.60,000/- relates to the appellant. The witnesses are specific on this point. PW-7 Ashok Kumar has stated so in the FIR also. Therefore, the appellantâ€™s case stands on a different footing.
12. It is further argued that neither PW-7 Ashok Kumar nor PW-6 Satish Kumar have stated the exact date on which they went to the house of the accused when the demand for Rs.60,000/- was made and, therefore, it is not possible to locate the date on which demand for Rs.60,000/- was made. Resultantly, it is not possible to say whether the demand was made soon before the death of Anita. We have no hesitation in rejecting this submission.
13. Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that when the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman, and it is shown that soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, the court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death. Section 304B of the IPC states that where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called â€˜dowry deathâ€™, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death. Thus, the words â€˜soon beforeâ€™ appear in Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and also in Section 304B of the IPC. For the presumptions contemplated under these Sections to spring into action, it is necessary to show that the cruelty or harassment was caused soon before the death. The interpretation of the words â€˜soon beforeâ€™ is, therefore, important. The question is how â€˜soon beforeâ€™? This would obviously depend on facts and circumstances of each case. The cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. It relates to the mindset of people which varies from person to person. Cruelty can be mental or it can be physical. Mental cruelty is also of different shades. It can be verbal or emotional like insulting or ridiculing or humiliating a woman. It can be giving threats of injury to her or her near and dear ones. It can be depriving her of economic resources or essential amenities of life. It can be putting restraints on her movements. It can be not allowing her to talk to the outside world. The list is illustrative and not exhaustive. Physical cruelty could be actual beating or causing pain and harm to the person of a woman. Every such instance of cruelty and related harassment has a different impact on the mind of a woman. Some instances may be so grave as to have a lasting impact on a woman. Some instances which degrade her dignity may remain etched in her memory for a long time. Therefore, â€˜soon beforeâ€™ is a relative term. In matters of emotions we cannot have fixed formulae. The time-lag may differ from case to case. This must be kept in mind while examining each case of dowry death.
14. In this connection we may refer to judgment of this Court in Kans Raj v. State of Punjab where this Court considered the term â€˜soon beforeâ€™. The relevant observations are as under:
â€œâ€¦ â€¦ â€¦ â€œSoon beforeâ€� is a relative term which is required to be considered under specific circumstances of each case and no straitjacket formula can be laid down by fixing any time-limit. This expression is pregnant with the idea of proximity test. The term â€œsoon beforeâ€� is not synonymous with the term â€œimmediately beforeâ€� and is opposite of the expression â€œsoon afterâ€� as used and understood in Section 114, Illustration (a) of the Evidence Act. These words would imply that the interval should not be too long between the time of making the statement and the death. It contemplates the reasonable time which, as earlier noticed, has to be understood and determined under the peculiar circumstances of each case. In relation to dowry deaths, the circumstances showing the existence of cruelty or harassment to the deceased are not restricted to a particular instance but normally refer to a course of conduct. Such conduct may be spread over a period of time. If the cruelty or harassment or demand for dowry is shown to have persisted, it shall be deemed to be â€œsoon before deathâ€� if any other intervening circumstance showing the non- existence of such treatment is not brought on record, before such alleged treatment and the date of death. It does not, however, mean that such time can be stretched to any period. Proximate and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the consequential death is required to be proved by the prosecution. The demand of dowry, cruelty or harassment based upon such demand and the date of death should not be too remote in time which, under the circumstances, be treated as having become stale enough.â€�
Thus, there must be a nexus between the demand of dowry, cruelty or harassment, based upon such demand and the date of death. The test of proximity will have to be applied. But, it is not a rigid test. It depends on facts and circumstances of each case and calls for a pragmatic and sensitive approach of the court within the confines of law.
15. The evidence of brothers of Anita show that after marriage Anita was unhappy in the matrimonial house because of the ill-treatment meted out to her. Anita died otherwise than under normal circumstances in her husbandâ€™s house within three months and four days of marriage. It is, indeed, a very short period. The cruelty was spread over the short period covering the date of her marriage till her death displaying a course of conduct. In her case, in our opinion, cruelty caused to her on any day from the date of her marriage i.e. 20/04/1994 till the date of her death i.e. 22/07/1994 could be cruelty caused â€˜soon beforeâ€™ her death. Therefore, even if date of their visit to the appellantâ€™s house, when the demand was made, is not stated by Anitaâ€™s brothers in the court, that hardly makes any difference. In any case, the brothers have stated that on 05/07/1994 Anita came to their house and told them about the demand. Anita died shortly thereafter.
16. That takes us to the next submission that Rs.60,000/- were demanded after the marriage for the business of the appellant, and, therefore, it is not a dowry demand. In this connection, reliance is placed on Vipin Jaiswal. In that case the appellant therein was married to the deceased on 22/02/1996. The case of the prosecution was that ever since the marriage, the deceased was subjected to physical and mental torture by the appellant and others for not getting sufficient dowry. The trial court convicted all the accused under Sections 304B and 498A of the IPC. The High Court acquitted the relatives of the appellant-husband, but, confirmed his conviction. It is pertinent to note that while acquitting the appellant this Court took note of the fact that the deceased had left a suicide note in which she had stated that nobody from her husbandâ€™s family was responsible for her death. The High Court while noting that the allegations against the appellant were general in nature stated that the demand of Rs.50,000/- was made six months after the marriage and that was for enabling the appellant therein to purchase a computer and for setting- up his own business. This Court held that demand made for purchasing a computer, six months after the marriage, was not a demand in connection with marriage and was not a dowry demand within the meaning of Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Vipin Jaiswal is not applicable to the present case. Explanation to Section 304B of the IPC states that for the purpose of this sub-section, dowry shall have the same meaning as in Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, so far as it is material to this case, states that dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage at or before or at any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said party. Thus, the emphasis is on property or valuable security given â€˜at or beforeâ€™ or â€˜at any time afterâ€™ the marriage in connection with marriage. The amount or things demanded must, therefore, have a nexus with the marriage. In this case both the brothers i.e. PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar, brothers of the deceased, have clearly stated that the accused were unhappy by the quality and quantity of the dowry and the deceased was being taunted and beaten-up for that. The words â€˜insufficient and inferior quality of dowryâ€™ are important. They indicate that the transaction of giving dowry was not complete. Sufficient quantity of dowry was not given and that transaction was sought to be completed by asking for Rs.60,000/- after the marriage for the business of the appellant. This demand has a connection with the marriage. Therefore, in our opinion Vipin Jaiswal is not applicable to the present case.
17. We are mindful of the fact that in Vipin Jaiswal this Court relied upon Appasaheb and anr. v. State of Maharashtra. In that case the accused was convicted under Section 304B read with Section 34 of IPC. The incident had taken place on 15/09/1991. The deceased was married to the accused about 2 ½ years prior to the date of the incident. The deceased consumed poison and died in the house of the accused. The allegations were that there was a demand for money and consequent beating of the deceased. The evidence disclosed that the demand was made for defraying expenses of manure etc. This Court held that a demand for money on account of some financial stringency or for meeting some urgent domestic expenses or for purchasing manure cannot be termed as a demand for dowry as the said word is normally understood. This Court held that being a penal provision Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 will have to be construed strictly.
18. It is true that penal provisions have to be construed strictly. However, we may mention that in Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra this Court was dealing with the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. Speaking for this Court, Krishna Iyer, J. held that any narrow and pedantic, literal and lexical construction of food laws is likely to leave loopholes for the offender to sneak out of the meshes of law and should be discouraged and criminal jurisprudence must depart from old canons defeating criminal statutes calculated to protect the public health and the nationâ€™s wealth. Similar view was taken in Kisan Trimbak Kothula v. State of Maharashtra. In State of Maharashtra v. Natwarlal Damodardas Soni, while dealing with Section 135 of the Customs Act and Rule 126-H(2)(d) of the Defence of India Rules, a narrow construction given by the High Court was rejected on the ground that that will emasculate these provisions and render them ineffective as a weapon for combating gold smuggling. It was further held that the provisions have to be specially construed in a manner which will suppress the mischief and advance the object which the legislature had in view.
19. While we reiterate what this Court has said in Appasaheb that a penal statute has to be construed strictly, in light of Kisan Trimbak and Natwarlal Damodardas, we are of the opinion that penal statute, even if it has to be strictly construed, must be so construed as not to defeat its purport. Harassment of a married woman in an Indian household is a peculiar phenomenon. In most cases it is seen that the husband or the members of his family are never satisfied with what they get as dowry. The wifeâ€™s family is expected to keep fulfilling this insatiable demand in some form or the other for some period of time after marriage. Such demands are also fulfilled by parents of the wife for fear of their daughter being ill- treated. The courts of law cannot lose sight of these realities. The presumption under Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the presumption under Section 304B of the IPC have a purpose. These are beneficent provisions aimed at giving relief to a woman subjected to cruelty routinely in an Indian household. The meaning to be applied to each word of these provisions has to be in accord with the legislative intent. Even while construing these provisions strictly care will have to be taken to see that their object is not frustrated.
20. As stated by this Court in Appasaheb a demand for meeting financial stringency may not fall within the ambit of the term â€˜dowryâ€™ as defined under the Dowry Prohibition Act. Similarly, a demand of money made six months after marriage for setting-up computer business of the husband may not be covered by the term dowry as stated in Vipin Jaiswal. But, in this case, the demand is made to complete and fulfill the demand of dowry made prior to the marriage. The appellantâ€™s grievance was about the inferior and insufficient dowry given by the deceasedâ€™s family and after marriage that was sought to be fulfilled by asking for Rs.60,000/- for setting-up appellantâ€™s business or for getting him some job. Insufficient dowry given to the appellant was sought to be supplemented by the demand of Rs.60,000/- . The present case, therefore, stands on a different footing. Section 304B of the IPC is clearly attracted to this case.
21. It was argued that the evidence of the doctors examined by the appellant show that the deceasedâ€™s pregnancy was terminated, that she was told that she may not conceive a child again and, that, thereafter, she was in depression. It is argued that, therefore, she committed suicide. It is not possible to accept this submission. Even if the pregnancy of the deceased was terminated, that would not necessarily lead to depression. In fact, DW-3 Dr. C. Vijayendra, who terminated the pregnancy of the deceased stated that it is not necessary that a patient may suffer from depression after termination of pregnancy. Neither DW-1 Dr. Mrs. Iqbal Kaur or DW-2 Dr. Mrs. Ritu Mago stated that the deceased was in depression. They stated that there was no imminent danger to the life of the deceased. No medical record was produced to show that the deceased was in depression and she was taking medicine for the same. There is nothing on record to show that the deceased was told that she will never conceive a child. It is not, therefore, possible to say that the deceased committed suicide because she was in depression. Reliance was placed on a letter, allegedly written by the deceased to her husbandâ€™s brother-in-law. It was submitted that this letter does not indicate that the deceased was tortured or harassed. In fact, in this letter the deceased has fondly referred to the members of the appellantâ€™s family. PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar have not admitted that this letter was written by their sister. It is also improbable that the deceased would write a letter to the brother-in-law of her husband. Assuming that she wrote such a letter, she would never complain about the ill-treatment meted out to her in her matrimonial house to the brother-in-law of her husband. In any case, even if this letter is held to be genuine, that does not dilute the evidence of PW-6 Satish Kumar and PW-7 Ashok Kumar. This submission, therefore, does not impress us and is rejected.
22. None of the judgments relied upon by the appellantâ€™s counsel help the appellant. They turn on their own facts. In Surinder Kaur the demand was made 2 ½ years prior to the death of the deceased and, therefore, it was held that allegations were not proximate to the death of the deceased hence, Section 304B of the IPC was not attracted. In that case the appellants before this Court were the relatives of Surinder Kumar, the husband of the deceased. There were no direct allegations against them. Considering all these circumstances they were acquitted. This case will have no application to the present case.
23. In Durga Prasad the appellants were convicted under Sections 498A and 304B of the IPC. This Court acquitted them by giving benefit of doubt on the ground that except for certain bald statements made by the witnesses alleging cruelty and harassment to the deceased-wife no other evidence was produced to prove that she committed suicide because of cruelty and harassment. This case is also not applicable to the instant case because here the demand of Rs.60,000/- specifically relates to the appellant, therefore, it cannot be said that qua the appellant there are no specific allegations. Here the harassment and cruelty is inextricably linked to the appellant.
24. In Geeta Mehrotra the High Court had refused to quash the complaint filed against the appellant(1), who was sister-in-law of the complainant and appellant(2), who was brother-in-law of the complainant, under Sections 498A, 323, 504 and 506 of the IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, on the ground that the question of alleged lack of territorial jurisdiction cannot be decided by it under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. The High Court left it open to the appellants to move the trial court. While quashing the proceedings this Court took note of the fact that the marriage between the complainant wife and her husband was dissolved by an ex-parte decree of divorce. This Court was of the view that in the circumstances proceedings initiated prior to the divorce decree ought not to be prosecuted further. This Court also took into consideration the fact that there were no specific allegations against the appellants, who were relatives of the husband. It appears that in the complaint there was only a casual reference to the appellants. The instant case stands on different footing because here evidence is adduced and the appellant is convicted. The brothers of the deceased have stated on oath that Rs.60,000/- were demanded for the appellantâ€™s business and for that amount the deceased was harassed and treated with cruelty. That cruelty led to her death in unnatural circumstances.
25. Before closing, the most commonplace argument must be dealt with. In all cases of bride burning it is submitted that independent witnesses have not been examined. When harassment and cruelty is meted out to a woman within the four walls of the matrimonial home, it is difficult to get independent witnesses to depose about it. Only the inmates of the house and the relatives of the husband, who cause the cruelty, witness it. Their servants, being under their obligation, would never depose against them. Proverbially, neighbours are slippery witnesses. Moreover, witnesses have a tendency to stay away from courts. This is more so with neighbours. In bride burning cases who else will, therefore, depose about the misery of the deceased bride except her parents or her relatives? It is time we accept this reality. We, therefore, reject this submission.
26. We are, therefore, of the view that the prosecution has successfully proved its case against the appellant. The trial court and the High Court have concurrently held the appellant guilty of offences punishable under Sections 304B and 498A of the IPC. We have no hesitation in endorsing the view taken by the trial court which is confirmed by the High Court. The appeal is, therefore, dismissed. The appellant is on bail. His bail bonds stand cancelled. He shall surrender to the concerned court.
(Ranjana Prakash Desai)
(Madan B. Lokur)
November 13, 2013.
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