Holds that victim had given a false dying declaration to a judicial magistrate

The Madras High Court Bench here has set aside the conviction and life sentence imposed by a lower court on an aged widow for allegedly murdering her daughter-in-law by setting her ablaze at Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur district on January 23, 2007 following dowry harassment.

Allowing a criminal appeal filed by the widow, Justice M. Chockalingam and Justice M. Duraiswamy held that the victim had actually died due to self-immolation but gave a false dying declaration against the appellant to a judicial magistrate. They also disbelieved the theory of the dowry-demand.

The judges said that the dying declaration could not be believed in the wake of evidence adduced by a doctor who treated the victim in the Thanjavur Medical College Hospital immediately after the incident. The victim had reportedly told the doctor that she sustained the burn injuries during a self-immolation attempt.

After a few hours, she gave a completely different statement to a judicial magistrate. “However, when the court is able to see that such a dying declaration is shrouded with doubts or suspicion, then such a statement cannot be acted upon or cannot form basis for any conviction,” the judges said.

They pointed out that the victim's mother had not complained of any dowry harassment. On the contrary, she had stated before the trial court that the relationship between the two families was very cordial from the day of marriage. She had also said that the victim was actually admitted to the hospital by the appellant and latter's son.

The woman further conceded that her daughter had eloped with another person before her marriage. “Under such circumstances, it is highly unsafe to come to the conclusion that the appellant is guilty of the charge under Section 498A (dowry harassment) or Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code,” the Bench observed.

Another appeal

Disposing of another criminal appeal filed by a family of three from Tuticorin district, the Division Bench acquitted an aged couple and confirmed the conviction and life sentence on their son alone for setting his wife on fire on January 18, 2008 — also due to dowry harassment.

The judges agreed with the prosecution that there was a wordy altercation between the victim, a mother of two, and her husband on the day of her death. She went to a nearby shop and purchased kerosene for self immolation. However, when she came back home, her husband poured the kerosene on her and set her ablaze.

The husband was also found guilty of dowry harassment on the basis of two complaints already lodged by her before an All Women Police Station. Nevertheless, there were no materials to prove the guilt of his parents either under the charge of dowry harassment or murder, the Bench said.

Keywords: dowrysocial issue