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A person cannot be prosecuted in a dowry death case unless he is related to the victim’s husband by “blood, marriage or adoption,” the Supreme Court held on Thursday.
A bench of Justice CK Prasad and Justice PC Ghose noted that Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), invoked in dowry death cases, exposed the husband of the woman or any relative or her husband for the commission of the offence.
It referred to the dictionary meaning of the word “relative” to give its ruling.
“…in our opinion, the high court did not err in passing the impugned order. We hasten to add that a person, not a relative of the husband, may not be prosecuted for offence under Section 304B IPC but this does not mean that such a person cannot be prosecuted for any other offence,” the SC said, discharging a man, brother of the aunt of victim’s husband, summoned by a trial court in Punjab to face a dowry death case.
The court, however, made it clear that such a person cannot be absolved of an offence such as abetment to suicide in the wake of any evidence against him or her.
The court passed the order while deciding the appeal filed by the Punjab government challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s decision of setting aside the summons issued against a man as an accused in a dowry death case.
The man was summoned as an accused in the case by the trial court which had held that he was a relative of the husband of the deceased woman and was also involved in the said offence.
The SC bench noted that Section 304B of the IPC gives an impression that “when a woman dies by any burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of the marriage, her husband or any relative of her husband shall be deemed to have committed the offence of dowry death if it is shown that soon before the death the woman was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband, or by any relative of her husband”.