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Conviction rate in dowry death cases

Posted by iluvshrutiverma on October 11, 2009

This post is for all those who are fighting false cases related to dowry death and harassment.

IPC 304-B (Dowry death) is a much more severe law as compared to IPC 498-A (Dowry harassment).

As per Times of India, the conviction rate in dowry death cases is 0.52%.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-4014265,prtpage-1.cms

CHENNAI: Forty seven years after the demand for dowry was made illegal in the country, Tamil Nadu registered 194 cases of dowry deaths in 2008, according to data collected from the state crime records bureau (SCRB). While proof in the form of charred or partially burnt bodies was available for 57 of these cases, a majority of the other cases had bodily injuries and manifestations of other forms of cruelty as evidence. Till date, however, only one person has been convicted. This gives the state a conviction rate of 0.52%, which is just a shade better than the 0 % conviction rate registered for the year 2007.

Though KP Jain, director general of police, was unavailable for comment, legal and medical authorities ascribe the poor rate of conviction to a host of reasons shoddy investigation, hostile witnesses and multiple and often contradictory versions of the incident given by victims themselves moments before their death.

“Even though there is a proper legal procedure in place, majority of the fatal burns cases get registered or proven as accidental,” says Dr N Srinivasa Ragavan, professor of forensic medicine at government general hospital (GGH). Forensic experts in the city, in fact, say that this is the reason why only a small percentage of fatal burns cases get recorded as dowry deaths.

Statistics from the Kilpauk Medical College (KMC), centre for burns in Tamil Nadu, bear out their concern. For the year 2008 alone, the centre handled a whopping 1,277 cases of fatal burns, of which 68 % (869 ) were female victims. And these were cases from only Chennai city and adjoining districts like Thiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu. “Then how can only 57 cases be registered for an entire state of 31 districts?” says Ragavan. The concern over under-reporting of burns-related dowry deaths coupled with a poor rate of conviction looms heavily over the issue of dowry harassment and the status of women in the state.

Inside white-washed, disinfected rooms, cause of death in post-mortem reports of fatal burns cases read: shock, burns or complications arising from burns. If any of these cases involved the death of a woman married for not less than seven years, a complex legal procedure would follow.

According to Section 304 B of the Indian Penal Code, if the death of a woman who has been married for less than seven years is found to be caused by burns, bodily injury or any other unnatural circumstance, an inquest for dowry harassment has to be conducted by an executive magistrate or a revenue divisional officer. If the inquest establishes that the victim was subjected to dowry harassment before her death, then her demise is termed a dowry death and her in-laws and husband can be held liable. This apart, if a burns victim is in a critical state, a judicial magistrate can be called in to record her version of the incident as a dying declaration’, which can later be used as evidence during prosecution.

“To begin with, we know when a case of fatal burns is accidental, suicidal or homicidal by the distribution of burns suffered by the victim,” says Dr R Selvakumar, professor, forensic medicine, GGH. “There have been numerous instances when we have been told that the woman got burnt while cooking because the stove burst. If this is the case, then the woman should have suffered burns only on the front portions of her body. Her back would have been spared,” he explains. Moreover, if a woman has set herself on fire while standing, then her soles would still remain unaffected, he adds.

The low incidence in reporting fatal burns cases as dowry deaths is not just linked to shoddy investigation but also to attempts by victims and families to hush up the incident to save family honour.

“On numerous occasions, witnesses, usually family members, turn hostile,” says advocate cum human rights activist Sudha Ramalingam. “They don’t want to provide evidence against their own kin. At other times, relatives hush up the issue as they feel the child, which is already motherless, should not be made fatherless too,” she adds.

Another reason why a majority of fatal burns cases are dismissed off as accidental is due to the presence of multiple and contradictory dying declarations issued by victims themselves, which weaken chances of prosecution. Dr Ragavan recalls a 15-year-old case where the victim who admitted to being set fire by her mother-in-law to him, contradicted her own statement in the presence of the magistrate. “The woman had suffered third degree burns. But she didn’t want to go ahead with the complaint as she felt that if she did survive, she would have to live with the same family,” Ragavan says.

Opinions vary over how many fatal burns cases are genuine cases of dowry deaths across medical and investigative authorities. A senior professor with the forensic department says, “In my opinion, less than 5 % of fatal burns cases are caused by dowry harassment. Abetment of suicide forms another 50 % per cent. The rest of the cases are suicidal.” A statement concurred to by a high-ranking police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“These days, men, women and children are driven to extreme action with the slightest of provocations,” the officer says. “The figures thrown up by the SCRB are in keeping with reality. People are socially-aware and it’s only in the rarest of rare cases that dowry harassment goes unreported.”

This year, between January 1 – 15, the corkboards at the four government hospitals registered 49 cases of fatal burns cases. With a conviction rate of 0.52%, only time will tell how many of these will emerge as genuine cases of dowry deaths.

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5 Responses to “Conviction rate in dowry death cases”

  1. v.b.mantri said

    every death of newly married woman is not dowry death,but in case such woman died, then the parents of the woman tries to extort money under threat of filing dowry death case. no doubt evil of dowry should be rooted out but simultaneously it should be born in mind that husband or his relatives should not be rooted out on the basis of false cases. The ratio of false cases is very high.

    • Dharmendra said

      Dear Sir,

      In UP the false cases are frequently lodged by In-laws. If women meet with road accident or suicide due to her illness or job frustation, the cases (304 B & 498A) are considered and police dept blindly filed the case. The police is not investigating properly. They prepare charge sheet according to In-laws (Women side)’s desire to protect them self.
      The young brother/sister, old parents are sent behind the bar without any evidence. What a rubbish system is..

    • gaurav sethi said

      agreed. alot of cases are false and it is legal extortion of money ( probably reverse dowry to some extent) by in laws of girls who have already made up mind to take divorce

  2. karan said

    Its shameful how medical histories of drug abuse are hidden in the courts from the girl side and police helps them to do so, because their job is only to prove that men are guilty of the offence even though they are innocent. I thank this law which puts the innocent next to a hardcore criminal and makes him a criminal for the society. Moreover if you are blessed then media will help you to become very popular by putting u in headlines just because either you are a high profile case or your wife was a professional person. I salute the system who has made a innocent person treated as criminal.. Thank you India should i really love you for doing so ? even after 2 1/2 years i have tears in my eyes for my wife’s death and treatment by the police/judicial system

    Wake up India ! Wake up Police! Wake up Media! Stop punishing the innocent…

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