J. Venkatesan

No present will be deemed dowry unless given as a consideration

New Delhi: Customary articles given to the bridegroom’s relatives at the time of marriage or during the birth of a child will not come within the ambit of dowry under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, the Supreme Court has held.

A Bench consisting of Justices Arijit Pasayat and P. Sathasivam gave this ruling while acquitting the parents-in-law of a woman, who accused them of harassing her for dowry.

The Bench said: “There are three occasions related to dowry. One is before marriage, second at the time of marriage and third at any time after marriage. The third occasion may appear to be an unending period. But the crucial words are ‘in connection with the marriage’.” Writing the judgment, Justice Pasayat said no present made at the time of marriage to either party in the form of cash, ornaments, clothes or other articles will be deemed dowry unless it was made as a consideration for the wedding.

Similarly “other customary payments, e.g. given at the time of the birth of a child or other ceremonies as are prevalent in different societies are not covered by the expression ‘dowry’,” the Bench said.

In the instant case, a Haryana trial court upheld the dowry harassment charges brought by a woman against her husband, but acquitted her parents-in-law, the married sister and a brother of her husband.

On appeal, the Punjab and Haryana High Court allowed quashing of the charges against her husband’s sister and brother, but said the parents-in-law were also liable to be proceeded against.

High Court should give clear reasons

Allowing the appeal against this judgment, the apex court said that when the trial court held that an attempt had been made by the complainant-woman to rope in as many relatives of her husband as possible, the High Court should have given some reasons while reversing a well-reasoned order. Judicial discipline demanded that the High Court give clear reasons while reversing a trial court order backed by facts.

The Bench said: “Reasons substitute subjectivity with objectivity. The emphasis on recording reasons is that if the decision reveals the ‘inscrutable face of the sphinx’, it can, by its silence, render it virtually impossible for the courts to perform their appellate function or exercise the power of judicial review in adjudicating the validity of the decision.”

The absence of reasons rendered the High Court’s judgment unsustainable, the Bench said and made it clear that it was not expressing any opinion on merits so far as the woman’s husband was concerned.

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