Correlation between giving or taking of property and marriage is essential to establish crime

The act of a man seeking money from his father-in-law to set up a business six months after marriage will not come within the ambit of ‘dowry’, the Supreme Court has held.

To attract the offence 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… A correlation between the giving or taking of property or valuable security and the marriage is essential,” said a Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and S.J. Mukhopadaya.

Writing the judgment, Justice Patnaik said: “Being a penal provision it has to be strictly construed... It is a well settled principle of interpretation of the statute that if the Act [Dowry Prohibition Act] is passed with reference to a particular trade, business or transaction, and words are used which everybody conversant with that trade, business or transaction knows or understands to have a particular meaning in it, then the words are to be construed as having that particular meaning.”

In the instant case, Vipin Jaiswal, who was married to Meenakshi in February 1996, used to work in a Xerox-cum-type institute at Nampally in Hyderabad. Meenakshi, who committed suicide in April 1999, had come to her parents’ house in the sixth month after marriage and told them that her husband asked her to bring Rs.50,000 as he intended purchasing a computer and setting up his own business.

The trial court, however, disbelieved defence and convicted Vipin and his parents under Sections 304B dowry death) and 498A (cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code. The Andhra Pradesh High Court confirmed the conviction of Vipin but acquitted his parents.

Judgment set aside

Allowing his appeal against this judgment, the Supreme Court said both the trial court and the High Court failed to appreciate that the demand, if at all made by the appellant on the deceased for purchasing a computer to start a business, “was not in connection with the marriage and was not really a ‘dowry demand’ within the meaning of Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.” The evidence of prosecution witnesses 1 and 4 “is that the demand for Rs. 50,000 by the appellant was made six months after marriage and that too for purchasing a computer to start his own business.”

The Bench pointed out that Meenakshi, in a note written a day before her death, said she was committing suicide of her own free will and that nobody was responsible for her death. She also said her parents and other family members harassed her husband and she “was fed up with her life and because of her quarrels were taking place.”

The Bench said: “Since the prosecution has not been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the ingredient of harassment or cruelty, neither of the offences under Sections 498A and 304B, IPC has been made out.” It set aside the impugned judgment and directed that the bail bond furnished by the appellant stand discharged.

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