Silence or not coming forward to settle dowry row will not constitute offence

The conduct of members of a bridegroom’s family in keeping silent and not coming forward to settle a dowry dispute will not constitute an offence of cruelty or dowry death, the Supreme Court has ruled.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and S.J. Mukhopadaya set aside a judgment of the Jabalpur Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which held that such conduct on the part of bridegroom Bharat Bhushan’s brother and the latter’s wife was certainly an act of cruelty and resulted in mental distress to the young woman who committed suicide just two months after marriage.

Chandra Bhushan and his wife were aggrieved that they were convicted of cruelty and dowry death along with the bridegroom and his parents.

Madhuri got married to Bharat Bhushan on June 10, 2003 and on August 5 that year she came to her parents’ house, where she hanged herself on August 17. The trial court convicted Chandra Bhushan and his wife also.

The High Court, which maintained the conviction, held that the deceased would certainly have been in mental agony when her parents were making efforts to call Chandra Bhushan and his wife (appellants 2 and 4) and other appellants to come and settle the dowry dispute. Yet the couple refused to go and settle the matter merely on the ground that they were from the groom's side. This was an act of cruelty towards the newly married woman and they, along with appellants 1 and 3 were jointly and directly liable under Sections 304B and 498A of the IPC, the High Court said.

The Supreme Court allowed the appeal by Chandra Bhushan and his wife. Writing the judgment, Justice Patnaik said: “Criminal liability under Section 304B IPC is attracted not just by the demand for dowry but by an act of cruelty [to] or harassment [of the woman] by her husband or any of his relative in connection with such demand; thus, unless such an act… is proved to have been caused by the accused to the deceased soon before her death…, the accused cannot be held liable for the offence of dowry death under Section 304B IPC or under `cruelty’ Section 498A. We direct that the bail bonds furnished by appellants 2 and 4 stand discharged.”

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