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SC on Dowry Deaths

  • Vaid's ICS, Lucknow
  • 29, Dec 2021
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Why in News?

Recently, the Supreme Court has held that Dowry death can be presumed if the wife was harassed, mentally and physically close before her death in the marital home.


  • A Bench led by the Chief Justice of India was interpreting Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (dowry death).
  • The judgment was delivered in the death of a woman in 1997 in Bihar only a few months after her marriage. The few months of her marital life was marred by constant harassment for dowry.

SC’s Stand

  • The cruelty has to be proved during the close proximity of time of death. It should be continuous.
  • Such continuous harassment, physical or mental, by the accused should make life of the deceased miserable which may force her to commit suicide.



  • It is a cultural tradition in which the family of the bride gives cash and presents to the family of the groom.
  • Dowry related death is closely linked to a woman’s age at marriage, her educational level and her exposure to mass media. States with lower female literacy, higher rates of child marriage and less access to mass media generally experience higher rates of dowry deaths.

Section 304­B of IPC:

  • According to it, 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.
  • She should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” inconnection with demand for dowry.

Legislative Action:

    • The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 bans the request and payment of the dowry of form as a precondition for marriage.

Current Status of Dowry deaths

    • Dowry deaths accounted for 40% to 50% homicides in the country for almost a decade from 1999 to 2018.
    • In 2019 alone, 7,115 cases of dowry death were registered under Section 304­B of the Indian Penal Code.
    • As per NCRB report, on average, every hour a woman succumbs to dowry deaths in India with the annual figure rising upward to 7000.

Reasons for Dowry:

    • Economic causes: These include inheritance systems and the bride’s economic status. Dowry gave, at least in theory, women economic and financial security in their marriage.
    • Social factors: The system encourages dowry perhaps due to the exclusion of the bride’s family after marriage as a form of pre mortem inheritance for the bride.

Legal Status in India

  • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: To prohibit giving or taking of dowry
  • Section 304-B of the IPC: It is about the Dowry death of a woman subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband.
  • Section 498-A of the IPC (offence of cruelty): Against the husband or his relative if the wife commits suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage.
  • Section 174 of CrPC was also amended to secure Post Mortem in case of suicide or death of a woman within seven years of her marriage.
  • Section 113A has been introduced in the Evidence Act, 1872 raising a presumption of cruelty as defined under Section.

Issues in Section 304-B

  • Absurd interpretation: Over the years, courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304­B as ‘immediately before’. This interpretation would make it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died.
  • No straitjacket rule: The factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. Even the spectrum of cruelty is quite varied, as it can range from physical, verbal or even emotional. No straitjacket formulae can therefore be laid down by this court to define what exact the phrase ‘soon before’ entails.
  • Liberal Approach is needed: The court further said the phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in the Section also calls for a liberal interpretation. Section 304­B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorising death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental.

Way Ahead

  • Legislation for Violence against Women: Strong legislation is vital for holding the perpetrators account for. Legislation is also essential for addressing structural gender discrimination as well as cultural and social legitimisation of violence against women. Increased funding and strengthened infrastructure are also required.
  • Sensitisation of Police Personnel: Police have little understanding of violence against women legislation. They are often influenced by social structures of gender bias. They often refuse to register a First Information Report in cases of domestic violence and dowry harassment or dowry death.
  • Protocols must be developed so that police officers know how to respond when women report crimes. Gender sensitisation training must become mandatory for all police personnel.
  • Increase in Support Services for Women:  Support programmes can strengthen infrastructure by increasing shelter homes and improving medical facilities. It can also educate women on their rights and the legislation protecting them from violence.
  • Addressing Patriarchy: Engage with local communities and develop education programmes on women’s rights.


Desmond Tutu

Early Life: 

  • He was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. His father was a teacher, and he himself was educated at Johannesburg Bantu High School and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa.


  • He worked as a teacher and recalled how the system of educating blacks infuriated him.
  • He quit teaching in 1957 to join the church and was ordained as a priest in 1961.
  • In 1975 he was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black to hold that position.
  • He was named the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986.
  • He is an honorary doctor of a number of leading universities in the USA, Britain and Germany.


  • He is regarded as a contemporary anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and became the face of the moment outside the country.
  • He was one of the driving forces behind the movement to end racial segregation and discrimination by the white minority government in South Africa from 1948 till the year 1991.
  • He spearheaded grassroots campaigns around the world that fought against apartheid.
  • He has been regarded as an outspoken human rights activist who highlighted and spoke out on a range of issues around the world including climate change, Israel-Palestine conflict, among others.

Kaavi Art

  • Recently, the Prime Minister of India praised a Goan artist’s efforts to revive the centuries-old Kaavi art form.

About Kaavi Art

  • It is a form of painting on the inner and outer walls of the sacred spaces.
  • It covers the ancient history of India in itself.
  • Actually, ‘Kaava’ means red soil. In ancient times, red clay was used in this art.
  • It is found in the Konkan region of the country, especially in temples of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
  • During the Portuguese rule in Goa, people who migrated from there introduced the people of other states to this wonderful painting form.