The Allahabad High Court (Lucknow bench) in Rama Shanker and Ors v State of UP, has allowed Ram Shanker’s appeal, who was sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment by the sessions court as it found him guilty of offences under section 304-B, 498-A of IPC.
The judgment delivered by Justice Ranjana Pandya acquitted him of the charges of causing death of his wife on grounds of insufficient evidence. The acquittal came after a long battle of 24 years as the conviction was pronounced in 1992.
The prosecution’s case was that the deceased wife’s father Ram Prasad had lodged a complaint against Rama Shanker and his parents. He alleged that his daughter was mistreated at her matrimonial house and her in-laws kept demanding more dowry from her even though sufficient dowry was given. When the wife’s brother went to Ram Shanker’s home, a demand for around Rs 15,000 for the purpose of starting a business was made. Another major demand for dowry was made during ‘kalewa’ ceremony, wherein a motorcycle was demanded by the in-laws. The wife passed away by suffering severe burn injuries and a case under section 304-B and 498-A IPC was instituted. Ram Prasad alleged that Ram Shanker had burnt his daughter and killed her.
The husband denied all these allegations. The presence of a stove was noted as evidence, and Ram Shanker’s point that it was actually his father Mahavir who had admitted the wife in the hospital and who took her to the police was also noted.
The court appreciated the evidence. It found substance in Shanker’s plea that there was an inordinate delay in lodging of the FIR, which could not be explained. Conviction of the accused under Section 304-B and 498-A in this case was due to circumstantial evidence. As far as the factum of death of the victim is concerned, there was no direct evidence in this case. The demand for motorcycle and TV was not repeated after the Kalewa ceremony during the two years of the marriage. The court said:
“Kalewa” is a custom in the Hindu society where before the bride is being sent to her matrimonial house, the groom sits at a particular place and makes a request for certain things. This type of custom is prevalent in many parts of the country. Hence, if at the time of “Kalewa”, the groom requested for a motorcycle and T.V. as a gift as per the prevalent custom, it would not amount to demand dowry, especially when there is no evidence on record to show that this demand of motorcycle and T.V. was repeated by the husband of the deceased or his family members again after “Kalewa”.”
Thus, charges under Section 498-A IPC could not be substantiated. The ingredients required for punishment under section 304-B IPC are:
(1) The question before the court must be whether the accused committed the dowry death of a woman (This means that the presumption can be raised only if the accused is being tried for the offence under Section 304-B IPC).
(2) The woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives.
(3) Such cruelty or harassment was for, or in connection with any demand for dowry.
(4) Such cruelty or harassment was soon before her death.
Out of this, only first ingredient was fulfilled while the others were not. Thus, the court relying on the judgment in Pawan Kumar and others vs State of Haryana (1998 (3) SCC 309) held that no case could be made out against Ram Shanker due to the presence of only circumstantial evidence. There was a possibility that the deceased could have died due to the stove exploding while she was making tea (the stove presented as evidence). Thus, in the absence of substantial evidence, he was acquitted of all charges and released from prison forthwith.
Read the Judgment here.