A husband cannot be held guilty of dowry death merely if his wife dies an unnatural death within seven years of marriage, unless proved.
Justice JH Bhatia of the Bombay high court, while acquitting 46-year-old John Khandagale from charges of dowry death observed: “It must be established that the death was connected with ill-treatment or harassment on account of or in connection with demand of money.”
John and Urenica were married in 1982 and Urenica’s body with multiple stab wounds was found at Kalyan on December 18, 1987. Urenica’s parents alleged that she often complained about how John illtreated her for money.
The police arrested John on January 7, 1988, under Section 498(A) [husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her cruelty] and Section 302 [murder] of the IPC. The sessions court acquitted John of murder charges in 1992 because there was no evidence against him. However, he was convicted under sections 304(B) [dowry death] and sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment. He was also found guilty for cruelty and sentenced to three years of imprisonment.
The prosecution argued that a knife with which Urenica was stabbed was recovered. Urenica’s father claimed that she often came to their house after quarrelling with John. They also claimed that John demanded Rs500 on two occasions from them.
Observing that the prosecution had failed to prove that John murdered Urenica, justice Bhatia said: “It is possible that accused might have quarrelled and beaten his wife, but that does not mean that every quarrel or beating relates only to demand of money or dowry alone.”
The court further added: “Practically, there is no evidence to establish that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment for or in connection with demand of dowry.”