Sunday, May 3, 2009

SC: dowry law will apply to live-in relationships

Court: dowry law will apply to live-in relationships also

J.Venkatesan

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has held that the Dowry Prohibition Act will apply to live-in relationships also.

A Bench consisting of Justices Arijit Pasayat and A.K.Ganguly said the object of the Act was to prevent harassment of a woman “who enters into a marital relationship with a person and later on, becomes a victim of the greed for money. Can a person who enters into a marital arrangement be allowed to take shelter behind a smokescreen to contend that since there was no valid marriage the question of dowry does not arise? Such legalistic niceties would destroy the purpose of the provisions.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Pasayat said: “Such hair-splitting legalistic approach would encourage harassment to a woman over demand for money. The nomenclature ‘dowry’ does not have any magic charm written over it. It is just a label given to a demand for money in relation to marital relationship.”

“Legislation enacted with some policy to curb and alleviate some public evil rampant in society and effectuate a definite public purpose or benefit positively requires to be interpreted with a certain element of realism too and not merely pedantically or hypertechnically,” the Bench said.

The absence of a definition of ‘husband’ to specifically include such persons who contracted marriages ostensibly and cohabitated with women, in the purported exercise of their role and status as ‘husband,’ was “no ground to exclude them from the purview of Section 304-B IPC [dowry death] or 498-A IPC [cruelty] viewed in the context of the very object and aim of the legislation introducing those provisions.”

In the instant case, Koppisetti Subbharao alias Subhramaniam challenged an order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissing his petition seeking to quash the proceedings relating to a dowry offence on the file of the third Additional Judicial First Class Magistrate, Kakinada. He contended that Section 498-A had no application to the facts of the case.

“The evils of dowry sought to be curbed are distinct and separate from the persons committing the offending acts and there could be no impediment in law to liberally construe the words or expressions relating to the persons committing the offence so as to rope in not only those validly married but also anyone who has undergone some or the other form of marriage and thereby assumed for himself the position of husband to live, cohabitate and exercise authority as such a husband over another woman,” the Bench said rejecting the appeal.

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