Landmark Judgment on Dowry Deaths

To convict for the offence punishable under Section 304-B, the following essentials must be satisfied:

(i) The death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances; “Section 304B IPC does not categorize death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. This is because death caused by burns can, in a given case, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental. Similarly, death caused by bodily injury can, in a given case, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental. Finally, any death occurring otherwise than under normal circumstances can, in a given case, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental.”

(ii) Such death must have occurred within seven years of her marriage;

(iii) Soon before her death, the woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relatives of her husband;  “The expression ‘soon before her death’ used in Section 304B IPC… is present with the idea of proximity test. The determination of the period which can come within the term ‘soon before her death’ is to be determined by Courts, depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However, the said expression would normally imply, the interval should not be much between the cruelty or harassment concerned and the death in question. In other words, there must be existence of a proximate and live link between the effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and the death concerned. If the alleged incident of cruelty is remote in time and has become stale enough not to disturb the mental equilibrium of the woman concerned, it would be of no consequence.”

(iv) Such cruelty or harassment must be for, or in connection with, demand for dowry. “It will not be sufficient to only lead evidence showing cruelty or harassment had been meted out to the victim, but that such treatment was in connection with the demand for dowry. Only then would such death be called dowry death and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused the death of the woman concerned.”

My Lord, Section 304B-Process?

A two-stage process is required to be followed in respect of an offence punishable under Section 304-B IPC. It is necessary to first ascertain whether the ingredients have been made out against the accused; if the ingredients are made out, then the accused is deemed to have caused the death of the woman but is entitled to rebut the statutory presumption of having caused a dowry death.”

– Hon’ble Justice R.K. AgrawalMaya Devi v. State of Haryana [Criminal Appeal No. 1263 of 2011].


Where strict interpretation leads to absurdity or goes against spirit of legislation, Courts may in appropriate cases place reliance upon genuine import of words, taken in their usual sense to resolve such ambiguities. It is safe to deduce, when Legislature used the words ‘soon before’, they did not mean ‘immediately before’. Rather, they left its determination in the hands of Courts. The factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. Even the spectrum of cruelty is quite varied, as it can range from physical, verbal or even emotional. This list is certainly not exhaustive. No straitjacket formulae can therefore be laid down by this Court to define what exacts the phrase ‘soon before’ entails.

Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Justice N.V. Ramana, Satbir Singh v. State of Haryana, [Criminal Appeal Nos. 1735-1736 of 2010] decided on 28.05.2021.