This article is written by Monesh Mehndiratta, of Graphic Era Hill University, Dehradun. This article explains the case of Vismaya Dowry Death in detail. It gives the brief facts of the case, the issues, and the judgment of the court. It further explains the law applied in this case and the opinions of the judges.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Women in our society are considered the most vulnerable section and are prone to the commission of crimes. One of the major reasons is that they have been tortured and dominated since time immemorial. Sati pratha, domestic violence, and other evil practices were prevalent in society even back in the olden days. Though many laws have been made to protect their status and recognise their rights, the fight is far from over
Over the years, the giving and acceptance of dowry in marriage almost became the norm. However, the worst parts of these practices are revealed when a woman dies due to the demand for dowry by her in-laws. This is known as “Dowry Death” and is punishable in our country. The husband and his family members, at times, become so greedy that they start torturing his wife for the demand of more and more dowry. She is ill-treated, beaten, and mostly put to death or driven to death. These kinds of atrocities against women are still prevalent in our society, and women are the victims. We will study one such recent case related to dowry deaths today. The article gives a summary of the Vismaya Dowry Death case, wherein a woman was forced to commit suicide in lieu of dowry demands by her in-laws. The article gives the brief facts of the case, issues, judgment of the court, and law involved in the case.
Details of the case
Name of the case
2022 SCC Online Ker 6614
Name of the Accused
Court giving the conviction
Sessions Court of Kollam in Kerala
Date of judgement
24th May 2022
Judge giving the conviction
Judge K.N. Sujith
Brief facts of the case
Vismaya V. Nair was a Bachelor’s student of Ayurveda Medicines and was married to Kiran Kumar, aged 31, who was a government servant serving as Assistant Motor Vehicle Inspector, in 2020. In 2021, Vismaya was found dead in Kiran’s house at Poruvazhy in Sasthamkotta in the Kollam district of Kerala. According to her father, Kiran was given 100 sovereigns of gold (1 sovereign contains 8 grams of gold), one acre of land, and a car worth ten lakh rupees at the wedding. However, Kiran did not like the car and demanded cash equivalent to ten lakh rupees in place of it. For this, he used to torture and harass Vismaya.
Frustrated by the acts of her husband, Vismaya committed suicide. Her family and relatives accused Kiran of her death and lodged an FIR against him. After the allegations were made against Kiran, he was dismissed from his government service, and departmental action was taken against him according to the Kerala Civil Services Rule, 1960. Meanwhile, an investigation was conducted by the police, wherein evidence was collected and witnesses were examined. This case made the headlines of the news, as a result of which a campaign was started against the social evil of dowry.
Issues involved in the case
- Whether the accused is guilty of the dowry death of his wife or not.
Contentions of the parties
The prosecution argued that the accused, i.e., Kiran was not satisfied with what he had been given at the wedding and wanted a car of his choice or equivalent cash of Rs. 7-10 Lakhs. In order to fulfill his demand, he used to torture Vismaya so that she could ask her parents to give her the money, as a result of which she hanged herself. It was further argued that the present case does not involve a crime against an individual but against society at large. It is related to a social evil prevailing in our society, i.e., dowry. It is no less than murder. The prosecution requested that the court give exemplary punishment for such a heinous crime where the accused is a government officer in order to set an example for others not to repeat such crimes in society.
The defense, on the other hand, argued that his client, Kiran Kumar, has no criminal background. He is the only person in the family who is the breadwinner. He requested that the court take his age into consideration and the fact that his father is suffering from amnesia. It must be noted that, being the only person earning, he has to take care of his family.
Judgement of the court
After hearing both sides and considering the chargesheet filed by the police, the court held Kiran guilty in the present case. He was held liable for the following punishments:
- Under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, he was held liable for abusing his wife for the demand of dowry.
- Further, under Section 306 (Abetment of suicide) IPC, he was given six years imprisonment along with a fine of two lakhs rupees. If he fails to pay the fine, he will be imprisoned for another six months.
- He was also held liable for cruelty and domestic violence under Section 498A IPC and imprisoned for two years along with fine. If he fails to pay the fine of Rs 0.5 lakhs, he will be given imprisonment for three months.
- Under Section 3 (Penalty for giving or taking dowry) of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, he was given six years of imprisonment along with a fine of ten lakhs rupees. In case he fails to pay the fine, he would be held liable for 18 months of imprisonment.
- He was also charged under Section 4 (Penalty for demanding dowry) of the Dowry Prohibition Act, wherein he was held liable for one year imprisonment and a fine of rupees five thousand rupees. Failure to pay would entitle him to another 15 days of imprisonment.
- Thus, he was liable to pay a fine of Rs. 12.55 lakhs in total, and all the imprisonments would run concurrently.
Laws involved in the case
The accused in this case was found guilty under the following sections:
- Section 304B of IPC.
- Section 306 of IPC.
- Section 498A of IPC.
- The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Sections 3 and 4).
Section 304B of IPC
This Section provides the definition and punishment for causing dowry death. If the husband or his relatives cause the death of his wife by burns or other bodily injury that occurs within the time span of seven years of marriage and it is proved that she was subjected to cruelty before her death for the demand of dowry, it will be considered a dowry death. The husband and his relatives who do so will be accused of causing such a death. The punishment under the section is seven years of imprisonment, which may extend up to life imprisonment as well.
Illustration: A husband of B harassed and tortured her for the demand of dowry, along with his father and mother. One day, B died due to injuries caused to her within 7 years of marriage. A, along with his father and mother, would be liable under the section for causing dowry death.
In the case, State of Punjab v. Iqbal Singh (1991), the Supreme Court explained that the period of seven years is kept by the legislature because it is assumed that after seven years, the couple would have settled well in their lives.
Further, in the case of Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana (2005), the court held that once the prosecution establishes the essentials of dowry death, the burden of proof shifts to the defence to show that the accused is innocent.
Essentials of dowry death
The following elements are the essentials or ingredients of dowry death under Section 304B IPC:
- The death of a woman must be a result of burns or injury, except under normal circumstances.
- It must have occurred within seven years of marriage.
- She must be subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or in-laws.
- Cruelty or harassment must be related to the demand for dowry.
A similar incident happened in the present case. Kiran was already given gold and a car at the wedding, but after marriage, he demanded more cash, for which he tortured and harassed Vismaya. As a result of such physical and mental abuse, she hanged herself and committed suicide in the first year of her marriage. During the investigation, the police found that she shared pictures of wounds and injuries caused by Kiran with her family and relatives. This, along with other evidence and witnesses, confirms that she was subjected to cruelty. The husband was thus held liable under the section and punished for causing ‘dowry death.’
Section 306 IPC
This section deals with the abetment of suicide and provides punishment for the same. If any person compels or abets another person to commit suicide, he would be liable for a punishment of 10 years of imprisonment along with a fine. In the present case, the accused, i.e., Kiran, husband of Vismaya was held guilty of abetting suicide by torturing and abusing Vismaya owing to a demand for dowry.
Suicide is a kind of self-murder and the person doing so is beyond the reach of the law, but a person abetting another to do so is a criminal under the eyes of the law. In the past decades, dowry deaths have been increasing rapidly, and to combat the situation, the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 was enacted. This Act made the act of abetting a woman to commit suicide by her husband or in-laws due to a demand for dowry a punishable offence by virtue of the insertion of Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Section 498A IPC
This section punishes the husband or in-laws of a woman for subjecting her to torture and cruelty. The punishment prescribed under the section is three years of imprisonment along with a fine. It also provides a definition of cruelty. According to the Section, cruelty includes any unlawful act or conduct that drives or compels a woman to commit suicide or puts her life, limb, or health in danger. It also means any kind of harassment done to her for the demand of property or valuable things, i.e., dowry, or in case of failure to meet such a demand.
It must be noted that cruelty under the Section does not only cover physical torture but mental torture as well. In the case of Inder Raj Malik v. Sunita Malik (1986), the Delhi High Court held that a person could be liable for punishment under Section 498A IPC and Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 at the same time, and this does not lead to double jeopardy. This is because the latter is only concerned with the demand for dowry and makes it punishable; however, the former makes the existence of cruelty to married women an essential element for the conviction.
Further, in the case of Vijeta Gajra v. State of NCT Delhi (2010), the Supreme Court held that the appellant could not lodge an FIR against the foster sister of her husband for cruelty because of the demand for dowry because a foster sister is not a relative of her husband by blood, marriage, or adoption and so cannot be convicted or tried for the offence.
In the present case, Kiran used to torture Vismaya over the demand for dowry. When her parents were not able to fulfill his demands, he used to abuse her physically and mentally. Even the police confirmed that Vismaya committed suicide due to harassment by her husband.
Difference between Cruelty and Dowry deaths
|Sr. No.||Cruelty||Dowry death|
|Section 498A IPC deals with the offence of cruelty by husband and relatives.||Section 304B IPC deals with the offence of dowry death.|
|There is no limitation period prescribed under the Section which means that if the husband or in-laws subject a woman to cruelty at any stage in a marriage, they would be liable for the same.||According to the section, dowry death must have occurred within seven years of marriage.|
|Only the offence of cruelty is punished under this section. Demand of dowry is not the only reason for cruelty under the Section. If a woman is subjected to cruelty due to any reason, it will be punished.||Acts of cruelty and harassment which result in the death of women due to demand of dowry are punishable.|
|Punishment can extend up to three years of imprisonment and fine.||Punishment for this offence extends to life imprisonment with minimum punishment as seven years of imprisonment.|
|The explanation clause gives the meaning of the word ‘cruelty’.||The explanation clause talks about dowry.|
However, it must be noted that both the sections have a common background and so a person charged under Section 304B IPC can also be convicted under Section 498A.
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The Act has been passed to prevent and reduce dowry deaths in the country and safeguard women against torture for the demand of dowry by her in-laws. This Act provides punishment for giving and taking dowry under Section 3 and for demanding dowry under Section 4.
Any person who takes, gives, or abets the taking or giving of dowry would be punished for imprisonment up to 5 years along with a fine of rupees fifteen thousand or cost of such dowry. Similarly, if a person demands dowry from either the parents or relatives of a bride or a bridegroom would be liable for imprisonment from six months up to two years along with a fine of rupees ten thousand.
Decision of the Kerala High Court
The accused filed a petition in the Kerala High Court requesting to suspend his sentence and release him on bail. As mentioned above, he was convicted under Sections 304B, 306 and 498A of IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. The issue before the court was whether there exists any patent infirmity in the conviction order under Section 304B IPC making it erroneous.
However, the division bench of Justice Alexander Thomas and Justice Sophy Thomas held that there is no need for suspension of sentence in this case and no patent infirmity exists in the order, which makes it erroneous. They considered the nature and seriousness of the offence in this case and the impact it creates on society and so the sentence of the convict was not suspended.
Ratio decidendi in the case
The Court, in this case, referred to the case of State of M.P. v. Jogendra (2022), in which it was held that the most important element for attracting liability under Section 304B IPC is that the death must be a dowry death. Further, it was held that any property or valuable security amounting to dowry under Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 could also be given after the marriage. Relying on the case of State of A.P. v. Raj Gopal Asawa (2004), the court opined that an agreement of dowry is not necessary and that the definition of dowry includes the time period of not only before and during the marriage but also the period after the marriage has happened.
On the argument of the accused that the date of physical assault and harassment has no proximity with the date of death of the victim, the court said that it must be noted that she died within a few months of her marriage and the time period given under Section 304B IPC is seven years. The Court referred to the case of Surinder Singh v. State of Haryana (2014), where it was held that the time period would differ in every case. It must be examined according to the facts and circumstances of each case.
While considering his application for bail and suspension of sentence, the court said that the nature of accusations, seriousness of offence and its impact on society must be considered. In the present case, a young lady has committed suicide due to continuous ill-treatment and harassment by her husband is not normal for her. The court further said that the intention of the legislature is to eradicate the evil of dowry from society and for this, Section 304B and Section 113B have been introduced in IPC and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 respectively. In lieu of this, the application of the accused was dismissed and his conviction was upheld.
Social implications of dowry deaths
Marriages are considered as sacrament in our society and religious importance and values are attached to it. According to Hinduism, it is a dharma to get married. However, certain social evils have affected its sacred nature. Incidents of dowry deaths, murder, bride burning etc, have turned out to be an unfortunate development for our social system. Women in our society are tortured, abused and harassed badly due to the demand for dowry. Sometimes, this greed for dowry increases to the extent that it takes away the life of a woman. During the last few decades, such incidents of dowry deaths increased immensely. Women were not only tortured, beaten, harassed or abused but also burnt alive if their parents were unable to fulfil the demands of their husbands and in-laws.
The condition worsened day by day and grabbed the attention of legislatures. They understood the seriousness and gravity of the issue and to reduce its growth, took several measures. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was the first step in this regard. The object of enacting such legislation was to prohibit the evil of giving and taking dowry. This Act was further amended to curb the evil of dowry and eradicate the menace from society. Offences under the Act were made cognizable, which means that the police officer can now arrest the accused without a warrant and proceedings can be initiated against him. Furthermore, penalties were made stringent and new courts were established to deal with such matters etc.
Apart from this, dowry-related provisions were also recognised and made punishable under the Indian Penal Code. These are:
- Cruelty by husband or relatives (Section 498A).
- Dowry death (Section 304B).
- Murder (Section 302).
- Abetment of suicide (Section 306).
One of the major issues with such offences is that these are committed in private in a home secretly, so direct and independent evidence is hard to find as a result of which, people accused of such offences could escape easily. To deal with such loopholes Section 113B was inserted in the Evidence Act, 1872 where the burden of proof was reversed and put on the husband and the in-laws.
It is a shocking but harsh reality that the evil of dowry deaths has major implications on our society and the institution of marriage. It majorly affects the life of woman who faces torture and harassment, takes away her life and if by chance she is alive, she is not able to gain confidence to lead the rest of her life. It surely leads to gender discrimination, increases crimes and violence against women, declines her social status and self-esteem, affects the sacred nature of marriage etc.
Even today, this evil has not been uprooted from society. This can only be achieved by strict enforcement of laws, empowerment of women, awareness of rights and laws, financial aids and especially reporting of crimes. Since the problem starts at home, its solution also lies there. Proper education must be imparted to children regarding the social issues and evils prevailing in our society. Boys must be taught to respect girls; girls, on the other hand, must be encouraged to raise their voices against any evil or offense faced by them. It is only with the cooperation of law enforcement agencies, the, government, and the people that this social evil can be eradicated from its roots.
Atrocities against women have not come to an end. A survey held in 2021 shows that the reported number of dowry deaths in the country is 6.8 thousand, which is less than that in 2014 but the situation is not better yet. There is a long run to go until this figure turns to zero. Their situations worsened during the lockdown due to COVID-19. They had to face domestic violence in their own houses and were helpless as they couldn’t go out to seek help.
We are living in the 21st century and it’s necessary that we treat women with dignity and respect. Women continue to be victims, despite numerous laws existing for their protection. This means that the lack of legislation is not the problem but the attitude and behaviour towards women is, and such attitude has to be changed. Education channelised in a correct way can be a solution to this problem because when a problem starts from a house, its solution can also be found in that house. The need of the hour is to educate every woman about her rights and empower her to the extent that she can report such acts. They must be given financial help to make them independent enough to lead a good life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Was the accused in the Vismaya dowry death case convicted?
Yes, the husband of the victim was convicted for the offence committed. He was awarded 10 years of imprisonment and made liable to pay a fine for the same.
Who led the investigation in the Vismaya dowry death case?
DySP P. Rajeev Kumar investigated the case and submitted the charge sheet within 80 days.
What was the name of the public prosecutor in the Vismaya dowry death case?
G. Mohanraj was the special public prosecutor in the present case and is a renowned advocate under Kollam Bar Association.
What is the age of Kiran Kumar, husband of the victim in the present case?
Kiran Kumar, aged 31 years was accused and convicted in the Vismaya dowry death case.
What items are excluded from dowry?
The Act does not provide a penalty for giving or taking items:
- Gifts or presents that are given to the bride during marriage without any demand and those are mentioned in a list according to provisions of this Act.
- Presents given to the bridegroom during marriage without any demand must be mentioned in the list. However, these presents must not exceed the financial status of the person giving them.
Who represented the accused in the Kerala High Court in the present case?
Advocates who appeared on behalf of the accused were Adv. Priya Shanavas, Adv. T.S. Sarath, Adv. V.C. Sarath and Adv. Mohapraseed Mohan.
Can there be any agreement for giving or taking dowry?
No, there can be no such agreement. According to Section 5 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 such kinds of agreements are void.
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