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Demand after marriage also dowry


New Delhi, July 17: A demand for money even after marriage amounted to dowry-related cruelty, the Supreme Court has said, convicting a man who kept harassing his wife for Rs 5,000 for starting a new business.

A two-judge bench convicted Ashok Kumar under a clause that treats a woman’s unnatural death within seven years of marriage as a dowry-related death, unless shown otherwise, as it made clear that a demand for dowry needn’t only be before or during marriage.

However, customary payments in connection with the birth of a child or other ceremonies didn’t fall within the ambit of the word “dowry”, the court clarified in its judgment on July 8, 2010.

Kumar, whose wife Rekha died of burn injuries within two years of their marriage in October 1986, sold vegetables and wanted to open a shop for which he needed cash.

Rekha’s father Harbans Lal had given her as much dowry as he could for her marriage but her husband, brother-in-law Mukesh and mother-in-law Lajwanti kept harassing her for more and even beat her up. Among their demands were a refrigerator and a television set.

A week before she died, Rekha, who had a son, went to her father in Haryana’s Kaithal village and told him that her husband wanted to set up a new business for which he needed Rs 5,000.

Her father said he couldn’t rustle up the amount. After Rekha returned empty-handed, her husband and in-laws allegedly poured kerosene on her and set her on fire. She died on May 16, 1988.

In January 1989, a trial court held all three — Kumar, Mukesh and Lajwanti — guilty of causing the dowry death of a woman under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.

The court jailed them for 10 years and ordered each to pay a fine of Rs 1,000. If they failed to pay the fine, they would have to serve another three months.

Kumar and the others then filed an appeal before Punjab and Haryana High Court. The high court acquitted Mukesh and Lajwanti but upheld Kumar’s conviction. Kumar then moved the top court.

Kumar argued that every demand by a husband or his family couldn’t be termed a “dowry demand” under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. So his wife’s death couldn’t be termed a “dowry death”.

The court said it was accepted law that cases, where a wife dies after being harassed by her husband who has failed to get his father-in-law to cough up money, would be treated as dowry deaths.

Kumar tried to fall back on an earlier Supreme Court judgment that said demand for money to meet a financial need or urgent domestic expenses couldn’t be termed a dowry demand.

The court rejected his argument, saying in this case there was proof to show the harassment and torture followed the demand for money.

The bench said a reasonable link between a wife’s death and dowry-related harassment was enough to convict a man under the dowry law.

Justices B.S. Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar, however, reduced Kumar’s sentence to seven years on humanitarian grounds.

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