MEMORANDUM TO CHIEF JUSTICE ON ORDER REGARDING DOWRY
16 January 2007
Hon’ble Justice K.G. Balakrishnan,
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India,
We are writing to you to express our deep concern regarding a judgment by this Hon’ble Court on dowry in the matter of Appasaheb and Others. V. State of Maharashtra decided on 05.01.07. The judgment is based on a flawed interpretation of the word dowry as defined in The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and exempts all demands of money and other items after the marriage from being considered as dowry. It thus sets a wrong and dangerous precedent and will allow and encourage extortion and coercion of dowry after marriage.
The judgment of this Hon’ble Court allows an appeal from a judgment of the Bombay High Court, convicting the husband Appasaheb and his mother of dowry murder. The deceased wife, Bhima Bai in this case, died within two and a half years of marriage by poisoning and had been harassed to bring money from her parent’s home for household expenses and manure just prior to her death on 15/9/1991. The deceased had also complained to her parents that apart from asking for money, she had also not being given proper food, clothing and even footwear. Prior to this also the deceased Bhima Bai had constantly complained that her husband and mother in-law had been harassing her for money and used to occasionally beat her. Infact, on one occasion the parents of the deceased along with others had to go to the house of the accused and tell them not to ill treat her.
From the facts of the case it is clear that the deceased Bhima Bai was being treated with grave cruelty on account of dowry harassment and otherwise and just before her death had been harassed to bring dowry. For some strange reason however, the accused were not held guilty under Sec. 498 A IPC and only held guilty by the Ld. Sessions Judge under Sec. 304 B IPC.
Though the judgment of this Hon’ble Court accepts the statement of the father and mother that the Appellant No. 1 had asked Bhima Bai to bring money for meeting domestic expenses and for purchasing manure, it goes on to hold that the said demand does not amount to dowry. The judgment cites Sec. 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act which defines dowry as any property etc. given or agreed to be given at or before or at any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the parties. Thereafter, the judgment goes on to hold that “the giving or taking of property or valuable security must have some connection with the marriage between the parties and a correlation between the giving and taking of property or valuable security with the marriage of the parties is essential”. It further holds that a demand of money on account of some financial stringency or for meeting some urgent domestic expenses or for purchasing manure cannot be termed as a demand for dowry.
We feel that the judgment totally misinterprets the definition of dowry by stating that all demands made after the marriage must in some way be shown to be in connection with the marriage. The words “in connection with the marriage” obviously mean that articles, money etc. have been demanded as a result of or because of the marital relationship between the parties. In other words Section 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act stipulates that the demand for dowry can only arise in a marital relationship. We submit that if Section 2 of The Dowry Prohibition Act is not interpreted in this manner no dowry which is demanded after the marriage ceremony will come within the preview of the definition. The history of the legislation will also clearly show that this was also the intention of the legislation. In fact, the women’s movement had demanded changes in the definition of dowry precisely because the earlier definition of dowry stated that only those items which were given in consideration of the marriage will be construed as dowry. This definition was restrictive and apart from a person having to prove that the items were given for a marriage to take place, the definition also excluded dowry articles given prior to and after the marriage.
We further state that every time a person is harassed by a demand in dowry the consequence of non-compliance are usually grave and affect the marriage between the parties. Our organization, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has a membership of over a crore of women and has legal cells in almost every State all over the country. Everyday in AIDWA’s legal cells many women complain of the cruelty and torture that they suffer as a result of the continuing demand for dowry on a variety of occasions and for a variety of excuses. Many dowry deaths and suicides also take place because of the violence and harassment for dowry that women face in their marital homes.
We therefore request the Hon’ble Supreme Court to review the judgment in Appasaheb’s case as it sets a wrong precedent and will allow dowry takers and murderers to go scot free.
Sudha Sundararaman Brinda Karat Kirti Singh
General Secretary Vice President Legal Convener