Under the traditional English legal system, in a criminal case, the jury is directed that “the prosecution should satisfy you beyond any reasonable doubt”. It states on whom the burden lies: on the prosecution; that the burden is a heavy one: beyond reasonable doubt; and that ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ conveys a meaning “to ordinary jurors without any lawyers’ elaboration or without any qualification that might dilute the degree of probability of guilt called for.”
According to S. 113-A, Evidence Act, 1872, if the question is whether a suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or his relatives and it is shown that it was committed within a period of seven years from her marriage and that her husband or the relative had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by the relative. The three essentials in such a case are-
1) The suicide had been committed within a period of 7 years and
2) Her husband or such relative of husband had subjected her to cruelty.
Both the conditions need to be satisfied. The defence will have to prove that seven years of the marriage have elapsed and that the wife had not been subjected to any cruelty. The explanation to the section states that the definition of ‘cruelty’ should be derived from section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.
In the case of State of West Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal & another , the Supreme Court stated that though it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, as soon as it is successfully shown that the suicide was committed within one year and due to cruelty by the husband or any of his relative, the burden of proof shifts on the accused to show that no such cruelty had taken place. In the recent case of Atmaram v. State of Maharasthra , the Supreme Court stated that to draw up presumption in cases of suicide committed by a woman within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage, there must first be evidence to establish that such husband or the relative of her husband committed cruelty of the nature described in clauses (a) or (b) of the Explanation to Section 498A, IPC.
Section 113-B of the Evidence Act states that presumption would be that any person who had cruelly treated a woman in connection to any demands of dowry immediately before the death of the woman would be presumed to have committed dowry death. The explanation to the section states that dowry death under this section would be same as the definition of dowry death under Section 304 B of the Indian Penal Code. The definition of ‘Dowry’ under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 must be referred to.
Merriam Webster defines ‘dowry’ as “the money or property that a wife or wife’s parents give to her husband when the wife and husband marry in some cultures.” Even Section 304-B of Indian Penal Code defines Dowry Death. But, it becomes important to understand the role of evidence in such cases. These two sections play a pivotal role while deciding the case pertaining to the issue of dowry death.
In cases relating to dowry death, there can be various forms of evidences for e.g., Letter by woman to her parents explaining her plight or communicating by any other means, torture by the family members of the husband for dowry etc. But, it has also been seen through the years that the story portrayed by the parents of the deceased is not true, and that there have been various cases where a man or his family members get punishment for an offence which they have not committed. In the case of Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that the accused cannot rely on the phrase ‘soon before death’ as being the interval between cruelty and death of the wife since it denotes a proximate link between the act of cruelty based on dowry demands and the death. In the leading case of Tarsem Singh v. State of Punjab the Supreme Court held in reference to Section 113 A and B of the Evidence Act that the presumption can be raised only when the following criteria are satisfied-
- If the accused is being tried for the offence under Section 304-B of IPC.
- The woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives.
- Such cruelty was in connection with dowry demands.
- Such cruelty was soon before death.
Though the issue of cruel treatment of wife and dowry deaths is a burning issue and needs due consideration, there have been cases where the reports have been false and even more so that the accused has been declared guilty. The judges have been over enthusiastic in certain cases to convict the accused but fail to examine the facts clearly. The presumption against the accused has the basic purpose to protect the women in India who fall prey to such evils as dowry deaths.
As regards the section relating to commission of suicide by a married woman and abetment by husband or any of the relatives of the husband, the provision is not of much use or effective or practical for that matter because it is very difficult to prove that the deceased had been subjected to any cruelty by the husband or by his relatives. The Courts also need to take reasonable care and precaution while handling such cases. For example the High Court was not justified in quashing the charge laid down by the trial court when a suicide note left behind by the wife clearly stated that the torture and cruel treatment by her husband which sometimes led to violence was the reason behind her suicide.
- Sarathi, Vepa P. Law of Evidence. Eastern Book Company, Lucknow. 6th 2006.
- Ratanlal and Dhirajlal’s Law of Evidence. LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa, Nagpur. 24th 2011.
- Law of Evidence. Central Law Agency, Allahabad. 9th edition, 1982.
- All India Reporter
- Supreme Court Cases
- Indian Law Review
- Indian Evidence Act, 1872
- Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Dowry Prohibition act, 1961
- Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- LJ Blom-Cooper, The Modern Law Review, 32, March 1969, pp. 217-220
- Garth Moore, The Cambridge Law Journal, Vol. 26, April 1968, pp. 10-11
- James B. Thayer, Harvard Law Review, 4, May 1890, pp. 45-70
 The Quantum of Burden of Proof in a Criminal Trial, LJ Blom-Cooper, Modern Law Review, March 1969, pp. 217-220
 Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, 1872
 S. 498-A. Cruelty for the purposes of this section means-
(a) any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
 AIR 1994 SC 1418
 Read from: http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgs1.aspx?filename=40031
 Section 304 B, Indian Penal Code. Dowry death.—
(1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called “dowry death”, and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death.
 Section 2, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. In this Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly—
(a) by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
(b) by the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person,
at or before 1 [or any time after the marriage] 2 [in connection with the marriage of the said parties, but does not include] dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies.
 AIR 2009 SC 913
 AIR 2009 SC 1454
 Govt. of Delhi v. Nagesh Tyagi, (2001) 5 SCC 677
About the Author
Soumya Tiwari is pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow and is currently in her third year. Her areas of interest are substantive criminal law and intellectual property rights law. She has a keen interest in research work and has been adjudged as the best researcher at the 7th edition of GNLU International Moot Court Competition, 2015. In her free time, she loves to read and is passionate about singing. She is currently interning with the Model Governance Foundation.