Published On: 22nd March, 2024

Authored By: Prashant Indoriya
Prestige Institute of Management and Research, Gwalior


On November 6, 2008, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh delivered its judgment, dismissing the appeals of the appellants. The Trial Court had previously handed down a conviction sentence, which was upheld by the High Court on December 11, 1997.

The Incident:

The deceased and the accused were married on July 1, 1994. On July 31, 1995, around 4 or 4:30 PM, some individuals informed the complainant that his daughter had been admitted to the hospital. Upon receiving this information, the deceased’s father, along with his son and wife, rushed to the medical facility. They discovered that the deceased had succumbed to burn injuries. The case alleged that the deceased had committed suicide by setting herself on fire, and her death was due to cruelty and harassment for bringing insufficient dowry, as claimed by the accused.

Legal Proceedings:

On December 11, 1997, the appellants were convicted by the Trial Court under Sections 304B and 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The accused were sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment for the offense punishable under Section 304B IPC and five years imprisonment for the offense under Section 306 IPC.

The appellants approached the High Court, seeking to overturn the order of conviction and sentence passed by the Trial Court. The High Court, through its impugned judgment dated November 6, 2008, upheld the order of the Trial Court and dismissed the appeal filed by the appellants. The appellants then filed the present appeals by way of Special Leave, challenging the concurrent findings of the lower courts.

Issues Framed by the Trial Court:

  1. Whether the Trial Court and the High Court were correct in convicting the accused under Section 304B of the IPC?
  2. Whether the Trial Court and the High Court were correct in convicting the accused under Section 306 of the IPC?

Arguments by Learned Counsel:

  1. The learned counsel for the respondent State submitted that the appellants had not been able to show any material that would merit the interference of the court in the concurrent findings of the lower courts.
  2. The counsel specifically emphasized the fact that the suspicious death of the deceased victim occurred within almost one year of the marriage.
  3. The witnesses had consistently stated specific instances of dowry demands.

Defense Counsel’s Argument:

  1. The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellants submitted that the possibility of accidental fire had not been ruled out in the present case. Crucially, the prosecution was unable to substantiate with evidence that there existed any demand for dowry from the accused.
  2. The prosecution had failed to prove that the demand, assuming there was one, was made proximate to the death of the deceased victim.


Section 304B(1) of the IPC defines ‘dowry death’ of a woman. Dowry death is when a woman dies from burns, injuries, or unexplained causes, the woman’s demise occurred within seven years of her nuptial union, and evidence demonstrated that leading up to her death, she faced cruelty or harassment from her spouse or his relatives, relating to demands for dowry. The subsequent sub-section (2) outlines the penal consequences for individuals found responsible for causing a dowry-related death.

The Supreme Court analyzed the case of Major Singh vs. State of Punjab (2015), where a three-judge bench held that to sustain a conviction under Section 304B IPC, the following essential ingredients must be established:

  1. The woman’s demise should result from burns, physical injuries, or circumstances deviating from the normal course.
  2. This fatality must have transpired within the initial seven years following her matrimonial union.
  3. She ought to have faced mistreatment or vexation from her spouse or any of his relatives.
  4. Such cruelty or harassment should be for or in connection with a demand for dowry; and
  5. Evidence must demonstrate that such cruel or harassing behavior was inflicted upon the woman in close temporal proximity to her ultimate death.

The Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “soon before” used in Section 304B IPC. Being a criminal statute, it is generally to be interpreted strictly. Nevertheless, in instances where a strict literal interpretation would yield an irrational outcome or contradict the legislative intent, the courts may, in suitable circumstances, rely on the genuine meaning of the words, interpreted in their ordinary usage, to resolve such ambiguities, as established in the case of Commissioner of Customs (Import), Mumbai v. Dillip Kumar and Company.

Consequently, one can reasonably infer that when the lawmakers employed the phrase “soon before,” their intention was not to narrowly construe it as meaning “immediately” prior. Instead, they left the determination in the hands of the courts. The determination of whether cruelty or harassment occurred is situational and varies across different cases. No rigid formula can therefore be laid down by the court to define the exact meaning of the phrase “soon before.”

The Supreme Court also highlighted the importance of Section 232 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which states that if the court finds that the accused is eligible to be acquitted, it must move on and fix hearings specifically for defense evidence, calling upon the accused to present their defense as per the procedure provided under Section 233.

These events demonstrate a clear and undeniable link between the dowry demands and the tragic death of the deceased.

Regarding the second question of whether the conviction under Section 306 IPC should be upheld, the Court observed that the provision indicates that for the offense under Section 306 IPC, the prosecution must first prove that the death was indeed a suicide. Secondly, the prosecution must also prove that the person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide has played an active role in the same.

In light of the fact that there was insufficient evidence to prove the factum of suicide beyond a reasonable doubt, the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act is not of much help to the prosecution. There is a lack of adequate evidence presented by the prosecution to demonstrate the essential element of the deceased committing suicide. In the present case, the prosecution failed to establish that the death occurred due to suicide.


From the above findings, the evidence available, and the relevant material, it is concluded that the judgment made by the Trial Court and High Court was justified, and there was no error in convicting the appellants under Section 304B of the IPC.

However, regarding the offense under Section 306 of the IPC, the prosecution was unable to provide enough evidence to prove that the deceased committed suicide; therefore, the conviction under Section 306 was set aside.

Consequently, the Supreme Court held the appellants convicted only for an offense under Section 304B of the IPC.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *