This article is written by Kritika Garg from National Law University Odisha. This is an exhaustive article that explains the important role that medical evidence plays in cases of dowry death.


Dowry death is one of the most heinous forms of crime inflicted on women. The tremendous increase in the proportions of evil compelled the Indian legislature to enact stern laws to curb it. Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is the testimony of the fact. 

In the case of Trimukh Maroti Kirkan v. State of Maharashtra 2006, the apex court observed that the demand for money or dowry from the bride and her parents has shown a tremendous increase in the past few years. The husband and his family members go to the extent of killing the wife if their demands are not met. The act of killing is done so secretly within the four walls of the house that it becomes extremely difficult for the prosecution to prove that it is a case of dowry death. Not only that, but the family members who are the witness of the crime are also reluctant to depose against the perpetrators. The family members of the victim, being away from the scene of the crime are not equipped with the evidence that could incriminate the perpetrator apart from the evidence of demand for dowry. But this shall not result in injustice towards the victim. 

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This is when medical evidence proves to be fruitful. The medical reports play a crucial role in establishing that death has been caused due to ‘unnatural’ circumstances which are an essential element of dowry death. This article focuses on the importance of medical evidence for the purpose of prosecuting the offenders of dowry death.

Dowry in Indian society

The Dowry system has existed in India for ages. The custom of presenting gifts from the bride’s side to the groom’s side is deeply rooted in the Hindu culture. The ritual of ‘Kanyadan’ at the time of marriage is primarily a gift that is presented by the bride’s father to the bridegroom. Additionally, all the presents that are given to the bride by her family, friends, or relatives are termed as ‘Stridhan’ which is considered to be her separate property. 

However, the modern practice of dowry has no resemblance to its original concept as enshrined in Hindu law. The practice which was mainly voluntary has now become a demand from the groom’s side. Women after marriage are considered to be a burden in their new family and are demanded money as compensation for their expenses by the husbands and his family members. This practice is not limited to the women who are not earning but extends to those women as well who are earning and are not financially dependent on their husbands.

Many times, if the demands of the husbands and his family members are not met, women are harassed and even killed in many cases. The killing of women for dowry became so persistent that the Indian legislature enacted stern laws to curb it.

Legislations against dowry

The first step against dowry was taken in 1961 when the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted. The Act was constituted for the prohibition of the practice of dowry. However, even after the enactment of the Act, the practise continued in some communities. Cases of dowry death and bride burning continued to increase at a tremendous rate. 

Therefore, in the case of Paniben v. State of Gujarat 1992, the Supreme Court observed that even though the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 has improved the position of women in the society, it is not enough to control the crime completely. Dowry death is the most barbarous form of crime in which a bride or a daughter-in-law loses her life merely because of somebody’s greed and avarice. It has assumed such a great dimension that there is a need for stringent laws to curb it.  

Thus, to stop this menace, the Parliament inserted Section 304-B and Section 498-A in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Section 113-A and Section 113-B in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Section 304B of IPC 

Before the enactment of Section 304-B, the cases of dowry death were dealt with under Section 302 (murder) and Section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, with the increasing number of cases of dowry death, the Parliament felt a need for a separate law to deal with the menace. Therefore, Section 304B was inserted by the Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 1986 in order to combat the increasing menace of dowry death. 

Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines dowry death as, “If the death of a woman has been caused due to burns or any bodily injury or otherwise than under natural circumstances within the period of 7 years of her marriage and it is shown that prior to her death she was subjected to harassment by her husband or any of his relative for or in connection with the demand for dowry, then such death shall be called ‘Dowry Death’ and such husband and his relatives shall be deemed to have caused the death”.

As per the Section, the offenders shall be punished with imprisonment of a minimum of 7 years which could be extended to life imprisonment.  

Essentials for proving dowry death

In order to establish dowry death, certain conditions have to be fulfilled:

  1. The death must have been caused due to burns, or any bodily injury or otherwise under unnatural circumstances. 
  2. The death must have been caused within 7 years of the marriage.
  3. The woman must have been harassed by her husband or his relatives soon before the death.
  4. The harassment must be for or in connection with the demand of dowry.

Once these essentials are established, then, the accused will be presumed to have committed the crime as per Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Medical evidence in dowry death

Medical evidence plays a crucial role in assisting the courts to establish the cause of deaths, especially in cases when the crime is committed secretly within the four walls of the house and is presented as a case of accidental death.

The foremost condition of dowry death is that the death of the woman must be caused due to burns or bodily injury or otherwise under abnormal or unnatural circumstances, such as by burning, poisoning, strangulating, drowning, etc. If the woman is being compelled by her husband or his relatives to take any step towards ending her life, then it would also be termed as unnatural death. However, accidental death or natural death caused due to any illness would not fall within the ambit of this provision.

Many times cases of dowry death are presented as a case of accidental death which results in acquittal of the accused. Therefore, the medical evidence helps in establishing the fact of ‘unnatural’ death before the court. 

In the case of Prem Kanwar v. State of Rajasthan 2009, it was alleged by the father of the woman that she had been burnt and was being harassed for dowry. As per the medical evidence, the whole body of the woman was burnt and the bones of her skull were broken. It was opined by the doctor that the woman was killed before she was burnt. The court, relying on the medical evidence, held the accused guilty of dowry death. 

Another example is the case of Karnataka v. M.V. Manjunath Gowda & Anr. 2003, where the medical evidence of a woman indicated injuries on her skull and fracture on the right side of her occipital region. However, her husband pleaded that her death was caused due to an accident as she slipped into well while fetching water. The medical reports indicated the main reason for death to be shock and haemorrhage caused due to a head injury. Coupled with the information on torture and harassment which the woman was subjected to before her death, the court held that the husband guilty for dowry death as per Section 304B of the IPC.

Cases of dowry death caused due to Asphyxia

In the case of Trimukh Maroti Kirkan v. State of Maharashtra 2006, a woman was killed by hanging her to death. However, the defence argued that she died due to a snake bite. The medical evidence clarified that she died due to asphyxia caused by compression of the neck and not by snakebite since there was no evidence of poison in her body. Relying on the medical evidence, the court held the accused guilty of dowry death.

Yet another example is the case of State of Karnataka v. Chowdegowda 2007 where a woman named Mahadevamma was killed by her in-laws for dowry. The facts are as follows: When Mahadevamma married, there was an agreement between the families that an amount of 20000 along with 6 tolas of gold would be given as dowry in two instalments. After marriage, she was continuously demanded money by her in-laws. After her death, the defence argued that she had epilepsy and died due to the injuries sustained by falling from stairs. However, the medical evidence was saying something else. As per the medical experts, the woman had severe red congestion around her neck and her chest had small superficial abrasions. 

Further, the medical report clarified that the woman had a contusion on the left temporal region with hematoma. Her thyroid cartilage was broken and the brain matter was shrunken. The main reason for death was asphyxia caused by hanging. Relying on the medical report, the court held the accused guilty of dowry death under Section 304B of the IPC. 

Case of dowry death caused due to head injury 

In the case of Deen Dayal v. State of UP 2009, the body of a dead woman was recovered from a well. The prosecution argued that she was killed and thrown in the well by her husband for not fulfilling the dowry demands. However, the husband pleaded innocence by claiming that she slipped into the well and died as a result of the accident. 

However, the medical evidence revealed that she died because of a coma resulting from an injury on her head. Further, there was no water in her lungs or the windpipe. The medical experts opined that such kind of injury cannot be caused by falling into the well with water in it. 

The court relied on the medical evidence and held the accused guilty of dowry death.


Cases of dowry death with dying declaration

In the case of Rajeev Kumar v. State of Haryana, 2013, a dying declaration of a woman was recorded in which she told how her husband used to harass her and taunt her for bringing inadequate dowry and how she set herself to fire on getting tired of such conduct. The husband, on the other side, argued that her larynx and trachea were burnt and thus, she was not in a condition to make any statement.

The medical experts stated that she was in a condition to speak and clarified that if the larynx and trachea of a person are burnt then that person cannot speak. However, if they are in the process of being burnt, then the person is capable of speaking. Further, if the vocal cord of the larynx is burnt, then the person will be able to speak unclearly. 

The court relied on the medical evidence and upheld the dying declaration of the woman convicting the accused with the charges of dowry death under Section 304B of the IPC. 


Dowry is one such evil practice that has been taking the lives of innocent women for ages. Women are not only killed or forced to commit suicide but the facts of their death are misrepresented in such a way that the offenders get acquitted instead of getting punished. 

Medical evidence, thus, plays a very crucial role in placing the offenders of dowry death in the right place by shedding light on the actual cause of death. As has been emphasized in the above-mentioned cases, it was due to medical evidence that the offenders of the crime were convicted who might have gone undiscovered. Therefore, medical evidence ensures that justice is delivered.  

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  1. great article thankyou for providing such a valuable content, thank you for sharing this.


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