MUMBAI: Observing that dowry deaths are committed in complete secrecy inside the house, the Bombay High Court at the Aurangabad seat overruled the verdict of a lower court and convicted in-laws of a woman, who died in "mysterious circumstances" within two years of her marriage. The HC has granted 10 years of rigorous punishment to the in-laws for causing dowry death of their pregnant bride.
The bench of Justices Vishwas Jadhav and Shrikant Kulkarni noted that the accused Achyut Kale (husband), the father and mother-in-laws of deceased Sunita harassed her mentally and physically because her parents failed to fulfil the illegal dowry demand they (Kale family) made.
Notably, the trial court had acquitted Achyut's parents and sister. But the HC bench convicted even the parents and sister and have ordered them to surrender.
According to the prosecution case, the parents of Sunita had paid Rs one lakh cash to the Kale family at the time of marriage along with 20 grams of gold. However, soon after the marriage, Achyut along with his parents and widow sister, started harassing Sunita and demanded gold rings during the Gudi Padwa festival.
When the parents of Sunita failed to fulfil the illegal dowry demand, Kale attempted to kill Sunita by setting her ablaze, however, she escaped from the spot.
However, in March 2012, when Sunita was four months pregnant, she was found dead in her matrimonial house with several injuries on her neck. She was seen lying in a pool of blood by neighbours and all the members of Kale family weren't found to be there nearby the house.
Subsequently, when Sunita's parents filed an FIR against the Kale family, they were arrested as they just couldn't explain how Sunita died suddenly with injuries on her body.
Considering the material on record, the bench said, "In the case in hand, the prosecution has been successful in proving that the deceased married woman met with unnatural death within two years of her marriage. She was subjected to harassment and cruelty to meet unlawful demand of dowry at the hands of the accused soon before her death."
The bench further said that Sunita's death could be categorised as an "unnatural death" in her matrimonial house when she was cohabiting with her husband and in-laws.
"No plausible explanation is offered by the accused to explain under what circumstances, Sunita met with that. It is a case of dowry death as defined under section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)," the judges said, adding, "Such crimes are generally committed in complete secrecy inside house. Nature and amount of evidence required to establish charge cannot be of same degree as required in other cases of circumstantial evidence."
"Silence of inmates of house about cause of death would become an additional link in chain of circumstances," the bench opined.
The judges further said that this was a custodial death and that she was four weeks pregnant at the relevant time but "unfortunately, met with unnatural death in matrimonial house. The accused are responsible for such custodial death in view of provisions dealing with dowry death".
As far as acquittal of the other members of Kale family is concerned, the judges said, "The trial Judge has acquitted the other accused on same set of facts and evidence without assigning sufficient reasons for carving out them from charge under dowry death."
"The other accused are equally liable to hold guilty for the offence of dowry death. They must be dealt with the same way as like accused Achyut," the bench opined while convicting them.
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