Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

State of Rajasthan v. Jaggu Ram Supreme Court of India (2008)

Dowry-related violence

A new bride was threatened by her in-laws if her family did not provide a greater dowry. When local villagers protested these threats, the husband’s family killed his new bride by burning her with kerosene. The main issue of the case was to determine how the elements of dowry-death should be proven at trial under amended Indian Penal Code. The trial court acquitted the defendant of dowry-death in taking a narrow statutory view. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a death shall be called dowry-death when a woman dies from burns or bodily injury that would not occur under normal circumstances within seven years of marriage. The Court added it should be in consideration that soon before her death the woman was subject to harassment by her husband or any relative of his or in connection with any demand for dowry. Shifting this burden to the husband’s family and broadening the scope of dowry death provides prosecutors with more powerful tools to convict for dowry-death and is meant to curb the recent rise in dowry-related violence.

Sunita Jain v. Pawan Kumar Jain Supreme Court of India (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Dowry-related violence

Immediately after a woman’s marriage, her husband and his parents harassed her for having an insufficient dowry. She was attacked on two occasions and prevented from seeing her two children. A few years later the husband filed for divorce and the woman filed a police report against her husband and his family for mental torture and dowry demands. The High Court initially allowed the case to continue and then quashed the proceedings and filed a petition against the woman claiming abuse of court. The woman appealed on the question of whether a criminal court can review its prior decisions. The Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s petition stating that the court was wrong to quash the woman’s proceedings when the High Court initially found that there was a prima facie case against the husband and family. Under the Indian Penal Code, a court does not have the power to alter its prior judgment.

Bangaru Venkata Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh Supreme Court of India (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

A husband killed his wife by stabbing her in the abdomen and was sentenced under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code to life imprisonment. He appealed the sentence, claiming that the record clearly establishes that he only delivered a single blow to his wife in a sudden quarrel, and therefore conviction under Section 302 is not proper. The High Court dismissed the appeal but the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the husband’s actions in a sudden fight did not warrant life imprisonment. His sentence should have been brought under the fourth exception of Section 300, accounting for the heat of passion in a sudden fight, and accordingly his sentence was reduced to ten years.

Shivaji @ Dadya Shankar Alhat v. The State of Maharashtra Supreme Court of India (2008)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

A man led a nine-year-old girl to a hill where he raped, strangled and murdered her. The girl’s sister testified that she saw her sister leave with the man and the mother later recovered the girl’s body from the hill and filed the police report against the accused. He was convicted and sentenced to death under Sections 376 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The man appealed, claiming that he should not be sentenced to death on circumstantial evidence alone. The High Court dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that circumstantial evidence establishes the guilt of the accused, forming the conviction, but does not bear any relation to the sentencing. The Supreme Court defers discretion to trial judges in arriving at a proper sentence dealing with the subtleties of each case.

Noorjahan v. State Rep. by D.S.P. Supreme Court of India (2008)

Dowry-related violence

Shortly after a couple wed, the husband and his relatives began treating the wife poorly and demanded dowry from her. The husband and his brother later strangled her with rope and his sisters held the wife’s arms. This led to her death. All of the accused were convicted and sentenced under Sections 302 and 498(a) of the Indian Penal Code. The aunt of the husband was also convicted and sentenced under 498(a) for alleged dowry-related cruelty, which can lead to a sentence of up to three years imprisonment. The aunt appealed her conviction, claiming that if she had been cruel it bore no relation to dowry. The High Court upheld the conviction, yet the Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of Section 498(a) was to combat dowry-related death and cruelty. Because there was no evidence that the aunt had ever made a demand for dowry, rendering her conviction under Section 498 improper.

State of Rajasthan v. Madan Singh Supreme Court of India (2008)

Sexual violence and rape

The Trial Court convicted a man of raping a ten-year-old girl and sentenced him to ten years of imprisonment under Section 376(2)(f) of the Indian Penal Code. On appeal, the High Court reduced his sentence to seven years considering the convicted had already suffered a custodial sentence of six years, was young, and the only breadwinner in a family with two children. The Supreme Court, however, reversed the High Court’s reduction of the sentence because it fell below the statutory minimum. The Supreme Court held that the measure of punishment in a rape case cannot depend on the social status of the victim or the accused. It must depend on the conduct of the accused, the state and age of the victim, and the gravity of the criminal act. Crimes of violence upon women are to be severely dealt with. The proviso to Section 376(2) specifies that the court may, for special and adequate reasons, impose a sentence of less than ten years. However, the Supreme Court in the present case, found there to be no justifiable extenuating or mitigating circumstances available that would justify imposing a less-than-minimum sentence.