The Supreme Court said that the demand for “property or valuable security” made by the in-laws of a woman comes within the ambit of dowry, Live Law reported on Tuesday.

A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli observed while adjudicating in a case that asking for money to construct a house should be regarded as a “dowry demand”. It is punishable under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code.

The judges held that the word “dowry” needs to have an “expansive meaning” under the law to include such demands made by in-laws of a woman.

The case pertained to a woman who had killed herself after her husband and father-in-law constantly harassed her by demanding money to construct a house, Live Law reported.

In December 2003, an additional sessions court in Madhya Pradesh had convicted the two men under Sections 304B, 306 (abetment of suicide) and 498A (cruelty against a woman by husband or relatives of husband).

The accused had challenged the verdict in the Madhya Pradesh High Court. In September 2008, it had held that asking for money to construct a house cannot be treated as demand for dowry. The High Court had observed that the accused cannot be held guilty under Section 304B.

However, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court held that the sessions court’s interpretation of the matter was correct, and restored the conviction under Section 304B.

“Interpretation of a provision of law that will defeat the very intention of the legislature must be shunned in favour of an interpretation that will promote the object sought to be achieved through the legislation meant to uproot a social evil like dowry demand,” the judges observed in their order.

The Supreme Court also laid out four prerequisites for the conviction of an accused person under Section 304B. These conditions are:

  • The death of a woman must have been caused by burns or bodily injury or occurred otherwise than under normal circumstance.
  • Such a death must have occurred within a period of seven years of her marriage.
  • The woman must have been subjected to cruelty or harassment at the hands of her husband, soon before her death.
  • Such cruelty or harassment must have been for or related to any demand for dowry.