February 28, 2024


  • The Supreme Court in its recent judgement has widened the scope of Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This section punishes persons accused of dowry deaths.

About Section 304-B:

  • Section 304-B was inserted into the Indian Penal Code(IPC) in November 1986.
  • According to this section, to make out a case of dowry death:
    • A woman should have died of burns or other bodily injuries or “otherwise than under normal circumstances” within seven years of her marriage.
    • A woman should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” in connection with the demand for dowry.
  • Punishment: The section punishes convicts with a minimum of seven years imprisonment extendable up to a life term.

Supreme Court Guidelines on Section 304-B:

  • Avoid Absurd Interpretation:
    • Over the years, the courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B as ‘immediately before‘. This interpretation makes it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
    • On the other hand, the Supreme Court recently said that theprosecution needs to show only a “proximate and live link” between the harassment and her death to make out a case of dowry death.
  • Need broader Reading of the Provision:
    • The lower courts should not take a limited approach in categorising death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in Section 304-B calls for a liberal interpretation of the provision, not the stricter one.
    • Hence, Section 304-B not implies the narrow categorisation of deathas homicidal or suicidal or accidental. Instead, it also includes non-categorised deaths ‘other than under normal circumstances.
  • Proper examination of Accused:
    • The Supreme Court also raised concern about the casual way in which trial courts examine accused persons in dowry death cases under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
    • The court said that the examinationof the accused about the incriminatory material against him should be done fairly.
    • The court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. The accused should also be given sufficient opportunity to give his side of the story.
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