Ram Badan Sharma v. State of Bihar [2006 SC]

Fact as appearing in the FIR

On 20th November 1993, at 4.30 p.m., brother of the deceased Chandra Bhushan Chaudhary, PW2 filed a written complaint at Police Station Chandi alleging that his sister Sanju Kumari (who was married in the year 1989) was poisoned by her husband Surya Kant Sharma, her father-in-law Ram Badan Sharma and mother-in-law Saraswati Devi. It was also alleged that at the time of marriage, Surya Kant Sharma, Ram Badan Sharma and Saraswati Devi demanded a colour TV, Yamaha motorcycle and cash of Rs. 20,000. The informant and his family could not fulfil their dowry demands. The customary ‘Durgaman’ (second marriage) had taken place on 26.10.1993 and at that time, the same demands were repeated by the accused persons.

In the report, it was also mentioned that on 17.11.1993, brother-in-law of the deceased (sister’s husband) Ramakant Chaudhary, PW1, visited Lodipur on the request of the deceased’s mother to meet the deceased. The accused persons told PW1 that no one would be permitted to meet Sanju Kumari unless their dowry demands are fulfilled by the parents of the deceased. On persuasion for sometime, he was permitted to meet Sanju Kumari. She wept before him and narrated that she was harassed and tortured by the accused persons for not getting motor-cycle, colour TV and Rs.20,000 from her parents.

On return from the house of the deceased, PW1 narrated to his mother-in-law and brother-in-law the entire story of harassment of the deceased on account of non-fulfilment of dowry demands. It is further stated in the report that only after a few hours, on the intervening night of 17th and 18th of November, poison was administered to the deceased in the ‘prasad’ and consequently she died.

On 20.11.1993, a barber from Lodipur brought a letter which disclosed that Sanju Kumari had died on the intervening night of 17/18.11.1993. The informant rushed to the village Lodipur where he came to know that the accused persons had killed his sister by administering poison to her.

Defence version

The accused persons denied the allegations and a defence was taken that Sanju Kumari had died due to stomach pain. It was alleged on behalf of the defence that she complained of stomach pain on 16.11.1993 and that she was taken to the clinic where she was treated by Dr. K.N. Singh and Dr. B.K. Jain. It was also stated that the informant and his relatives attended the ‘Shradh’ of Sanju Kumari. The informant wanted to get back all the ornaments given to Sanju Kumari at the time of her marriage but when the accused persons did not agree, this false case was filed against them. It was also asserted that during the relevant period, Saraswati Devi was under treatment at Calcutta.

Prosecution witnesses

The prosecution examined six witnesses, namely, Ramakant Chaudhary PW1, brotherin- law of the deceased, Chandra Bhushan Chaudhary PW2, brother of the deceased, who proved the FIR, Gautam Chaudhary PW3, the cousin of the deceased, Malti Devi PW4, mother of the deceased. Malti Devi proved one letter (Ext.2) written by the deceased Sanju Kumari to her. In the letter, she wrote that she was facing harassment and humiliation by the accused persons because their demands for dowry had not been fulfilled.

Defence witnesses

On behalf of the defence, five witnesses were examined. Sudama Singh DW1 and Ram Chhabila Singh DW2 were examined to support the defence version. Dr. B.K. Jain DW3 proved medical certificates dated 15.11.1993 and 16.11.1993. Jagat Narayan Singh DW4, a Public Relation Inspector of post office Arrah brought one register of Kisan Vikas Patra. Accused Ram Badan Sharma was examined as DW5. He proved the signature of Sanju on the application brought by DW4 from the post office.

Questions before the Court

We are called upon to adjudicate the following questions:

  • Whether the prosecution was able to prove the demands of dowry?
  • Whether the deceased had died because of harassment and cruelty meted out at the hands of the accused persons in connection with the demands of dowry?
  • Whether the death had occurred within seven years of the marriage?

The prosecution had examined Ramakant Chaudhary, brother-in-law of the deceased (sister’s husband), as PW1. He categorically stated that on the request of his mother-in-law, he had gone to the house of the deceased Sanju on 17.11.1993. At that time, Surya Kant Sharma and his father Ram Badan Sharma were present in the house. They clearly stated that nobody would be allowed to meet Sanju unless the demands of colour TV, motor-cycle and cash amount of Rs. 20,000 were fulfilled by the parents of Sanju. PW1 explained the position and on persuasion, ultimately he was allowed to meet Sanju (deceased). Sanju Kumari wept before him and asked him to go and ask her father to send a colour TV and a motor-cycle.

The prosecution also examined Malti Devi, mother of the deceased as PW4. She stated in her statement that after a week of marriage, the deceased returned from her in-laws’ house and she informed that she was beaten by her mother-in-law, father-in-law and husband for not bringing the colour TV, motor-cycle and a sum of Rs.20,000. She further stated that the accused persons tortured her for not bringing dowry articles. She also stated that her son-in-law Ramakant Chaudhary was sent to the house of Sanju to enquire about her welfare. Accused persons also threatened to kill her in case she failed to bring the dowry articles.

She stated that she received a letter (Ext.2) by post, written by the deceased Sanju in her own signature. She also stated that her daughter complained about the torture and harassment by the accused persons. She stated that thereafter they met the accused persons and told them that they would further give Rs.18,000 to them.

The prosecution also examined Pawan Kumar Singh, Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police as PW6. He also stated that he recorded the statement of Chandra Bhushan Pandey, Mukhiya, who had stated that it was wrong to say that the dowry items were demanded by the accused persons. He gave a medical certificate to show that Saraswati Devi, mother-in-law of the deceased had been sick from 5.11.1993 to 3.12.1993 and was under treatment at Calcutta. He also stated that the deceased Sanju was treated by Dr. K.N. Singh and Dr. B. K. Jain of Arrah on 15.11.1993 and 16.11.1993. In his statement, he tried to lay the foundation that there had been no demand of dowry articles by the accused persons.

The accused persons in their defence examined the evidence of Dr. B.K. Jain and Dr. K.N. Singh. Dr. B.K. Jain, DW3, stated that he treated the deceased for the disease of appendix and she remained in his treatment from 15.11.1993 to 16.11.1993. He referred her to a Surgeon but in the cross-examination, he admitted that after 15.11.1993, he had not examined the deceased. The defence failed to give any explanation why she was not examined by any Surgeon after she was referred to by DW3.

Trial Court

The trial court after examining the entire evidence came to the conclusion that the death had not occurred in the normal circumstances. The trial court observed that on the day of ‘chhath’, i.e., on 17.11.1993, the deceased had gone to the house of accused Ram Badan Sharma for taking ‘prasad’. This is indicative of the fact that till then the deceased was physically in good health. DW1 further stated that after taking the ‘Prasad’, she started having acute pain in stomach and thereafter she died.

The deceased’s parents were admittedly not even informed about this unfortunate incident. Only on 20.11.1993, they learnt about it from a barber and then they rushed to Lodipur. On reaching Lodipur, they heard that the deceased was administered poison in the Prasad. DW1 clearly mentioned that the deceased had died after taking the prasad. According to the trial court, immediately after the death, the dead-body was hurriedly disposed of and there was no autopsy of the dead body. This is a very vital circumstance which according to the trial court clearly led to the conclusion that the deceased died in unnatural circumstances.

DW1 also admitted that after giving the prasad, the deceased was not given any medical treatment. The trial court discarded the story of return of ornaments by DW1 and DW2 as being not convincing. The trial court observed that the deceased died in the circumstances narrated by DW1. According to the trial court, either it was a case of homicide or suicide, in both the cases, the accused would be held guilty for the offence under Section 304B IPC.

The trial court observed that admittedly the death had occurred on the intervening night of 17/18.11.1993. The parents and other family members of the deceased learnt about her death from a Barber after three days of the death. The dead body was cremated hurriedly without even giving any information to her parents and this circumstance strengthens the case of prosecution that the death had occurred in suspicious circumstances. According to the trial court, involvement of Saraswati Devi in this case was not established beyond reasonable doubt. She was not present on 17.11.1993 when PW1 visited the deceased. DW1 stated that Saraswati Devi was in Calcutta and there was no evidence that from 26.10.1993 to 17/18.11.1993, she remained in her house. In view of the evidence of PW1 that he remained for two hours on the doors of the accused and only met the accused Surya Kant Sharma and Ram Badan Sharma. Thereafter, he met the deceased Sanju Kumari and he remained there for an hour. He did not state that he even saw Saraswati Devi in the house. The trial court was of the opinion that reasonable doubt arose with regard to the involvement of mother-in-law of the deceased Sanju Devi and, therefore, gave her benefit of doubt.

Supreme Court

When the evidence of the instant case is closely examined, then the conclusion regarding the guilt of the accused persons becomes irresistible. There is an overwhelming evidence to establish that there has been persistent demand of dowry and because of non-fulfilment of the said demand, there was harassment, humiliation and continuous beating of the deceased by the accused persons.

In the instant case, as late as on 17.11.1993, Ramakant Chaudhary, PW1, at the instance of his mother-in-law, PW5, had visited the deceased to enquire about her welfare. When he reached the house of the deceased initially the accused persons did not even permit him to meet the deceased on the ground that until their demands for dowry were fulfilled, they would not permit any one to meet the deceased. On persuasion, Ramakant Chaudhary, PW1, was ultimately allowed to meet the deceased. The deceased narrated to her brother-in-law, PW1, that she was being harassed because the demands of dowry were not fulfilled. Immediately thereafter, PW1 went and narrated the entire story to the brother and mother of the deceased. It is extremely significant that within a few hours, poison was administered to the deceased in the prasad and she died on the intervening night of 17/18.11.1993.

According to the statement of PW1, the deceased died after eating the ‘prasad’ and thereafter, she was neither taken to any doctor nor any treatment was given to her. The most suspicious circumstance which supported the story of the prosecution was that the news of the death of the deceased was not sent to the parents of the deceased who were living only a few miles away from the village of the accused. The accused persons clandestinely, secretly and hurriedly cremated the deceased without informing the factum of death to the parents of the deceased. This circumstance strongly proved and lent immense credibility to the prosecution version.

Only from a barber, on 20.11.1993 (after three days), the parents of the deceased learnt that Sanju Kumari was killed by administering poison to her. The deceased’s brother and other relatives rushed to the village where they learnt that the deceased was killed by administering the poison.

Law relating to section 304B

The appellants were convicted under Sections 304-B and 201 IPC. There are three main ingredients of this offence; (a) that, there is a demand of dowry and harassment by the accused on that count; (b) that, the deceased died; and (c) that, the death is under unnatural circumstances within seven years of the marriage. When these factors were proved by reliable and cogent evidence, then the presumption of dowry death under Section 113-B of the Evidence Act clearly arose. The aforementioned ingredients necessarily attract Section 304-B IPC. Section 304-B is a special provision which was inserted by an amendment of 1986 to deal with a large number of dowry deaths.

If the circumstances of the case are analyzed on the touchstone of Section 304-B, IPC, all the three basic ingredients of Section 304-B I.P.C. are present in the instant case. There has been persistent demand of dowry and harassment, humiliation and physical violence and beating by the husband and her in-laws. The deceased died under unnatural circumstances within seven years of the marriage.

Looking to the seriousness of the matter, we also independently examined the entire evidence on record. On critical examination of the evidence, we also arrived at the same conclusion. The trial court was justified in convicting the accused persons under Section 304-B IPC and the conviction has been rightly upheld by the High Court.

According to the prosecution, the deceased was killed by administering poison to her on the intervening night of 17/18.11.1993. Neither the deceased was taken to any doctor nor any doctor was called to examine her nor any kind of medical treatment was given to the deceased. This is extremely unnatural human conduct. The dead body was secretly and clandestinely cremated causing disappearance of evidence of offence, without even intimating the parents of the deceased who were living only a few miles away from their village. They learnt about the murder of the deceased from a Barber on 20.11.1993 after about three days. The appellants secretly and clandestinely cremated the deceased to wipe out the entire evidence of murder. This clearly attracted Section 201 IPC.

It can therefore be seen that irrespective of the fact whether the accused has any direct connection with the death or not, he shall be presumed to have committed the dowry death provided the other requirements are satisfied.

In cases where it is proved that it was neither a natural death nor an accidental death, then the obvious conclusion has to be that it was an unnatural death either homicidal or suicidal. But, even assuming that it is a case of suicide, even then it would be death which had occurred in unnatural circumstances. Even in such a case, Section 304-B IPC is attracted.