HC awards seven-year jail to three in dowry death case

Trial court verdict acquitting them set aside

Setting aside a lower court’s judgment that had acquitted three accused in a dowry death case in Medak, the Telangana High Court sentenced them to seven-year rigorous imprisonment.

Delivering the verdict in an appeal filed by the victim’s family, a division bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice A. Abhishek Reddy imposed a fine of ₹20,000 each on them. The victim Bhagyalaxmi’s husband, D. Santhosh, and in-laws D. Balamani and D. Narsimulu were also directed to pay a compensation of ₹50,000 to the victim’s mother.

Bhagyalaxmi and Santhosh got married on May 16, 2010, in Narsapur of Medak. Her family received a phone call on September 15, 2011, stating that she had died of self-immolation. Her family lodged a complaint with the Narsapur police, alleging that Santhosh and the in-laws had been demanding additional dowry. The harassment eventually drove her to suicide, they charged.

A case under Sections 302 (murder) and 304-B (dowry death) of the Indian Penal Code was registered against them. After the trial, the Medak III Additional District and Sessions Judge acquitted the three persons. The victim’s family filed an appeal in the HC, challenging the trial court verdict.

Pronouncing the judgment in the appeal petition, the bench said the prosecution successfully established the ingredients required to make out an offence under Section 304-B in the case. Once prosecution established factual foundation, the trial court was required to invoke the presumption under Section 113B of the Evidence Act. In Bhagyalaxmi’s case, the trial court had failed to do so, the bench said.

The trial court had observed that there was no evidence to confirm the dowry demand. However, testimonies by the witnesses proved that there had been dowry demand. By ignoring the evidence available in the form of statements of witnesses, the trial court had erred in not applying the well settled principles for assessing the evidence in a proper perspective, the judgment said.

Counsel for the accused contended that since the dowry demand had been made a month before the death and hence it was not “soon before the death”. The bench said the Supreme Court had observed in a judgment that the phrase ‘soon before her death’ was, no doubt, an elastic expression. It could refer to a period either immediately before her death or within a few days or even a few weeks before it.

The victim’s relatives stated that dowry demand had been made a month before her death. “Therefore, even the element of ‘soon before the death’ exists in Bhagyalaxmi’s case,” the judgment said. The bench noted that the trial court judgment seemed to have been persuaded by minor contradictions in the testimonies of witnesses with regard to the amount of dowry paid at the time of marriage.

The trial court should have realised that minor contradictions with regard to ‘the value of an article” were part of human nature. Such contradictions were so minor that they could never be fatal to the case of the prosecution, the bench said in its judgment.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 2:18:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/hc-awards-seven-year-jail-to-three-in-dowry-death-case/article30882409.ece

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