To curb increasing crimes against women
Expressing serious concern at the increasing incidents of crime against women, the Supreme Court has asked trial courts and High Courts to award deterrent punishment in such cases.
“In spite of stringent legislation to curb the deteriorating condition of women across the country, cases of bride burning, cruelty, suicide, sexual harassment, rape, suicide by married women, etc, have increased and are taking place day by day. A complete overhaul of the system is a must in the form of deterrent punishment to the offenders so that we can effectively deal with the problem,” a Bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said, upholding the life sentence awarded to two women who, along with their mother, burnt to death, their sister-in-law.
Vandana died within three years of her marriage, harassed by her mother-in-law Kesharbai and sisters-in-law Ashabai and Kavita (appellants) because of her inability to conceive a child. She was burnt to death, having been doused with kerosene.
The prosecution case was that on March 5, 2003, when Vandana was in her matrimonial home, Kesharbai poured kerosene on her and Ashabai and Kavita instigated her to light the fire with a matchstick. Vandana died of burns on April 18, 2003.
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The entire prosecution case lies on four dying declarations made by the deceased and the oral evidence of four witnesses. She specifically implicated her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law for pouring kerosene [on her] and lighting fire.”
On the appellants’ contention that the version given by the deceased in all the four dying declarations was inconsistent, the Bench said: “The incident took place in the bedroom of the deceased. It is also clear that she was subjected to torture as she had not conceived a child even after three years of marriage and in all the four declarations, she was conscious of mentioning the role of her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law.”
The Bench said: “The insistence on corroboration of a dying declaration is only a rule of prudence. When the court is satisfied that the dying declaration is voluntary, not tainted by tutoring or animosity and is not a product of the imagination…, there is no impediment to convicting the accused on the basis of such a declaration. When there are multiple declarations, each has to be separately assessed and evaluated for its evidentiary value, and one cannot be rejected because of certain variations in the other. It is clear that the statement made by the deceased [Vandana] by way of a declaration is admissible as evidence under Section 32(1) of the Evidence Act.”
The Bench dismissed the appeal and upheld the life imprisonment awarded to Ashabai and Kavitha by the trial court and confirmed by the Bombay High Court. Kesharbai, who also filed a separate appeal, died on February 2, 2012.