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Lichhamadevi V.

State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CASE :The accused/ appellant Lichhamadevi was charged under Section 302 Indian Penal Code for burning her daughter-in-law Pushpa. The case being triable only by Court of Session( As per Schedule I of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973), the Sessions Court of Jaipur acquitted Lichhamadevi. Upon appeal by the State, the High Court of Jaipur reversed the order of Lower Court and sentenced her to death. The matter then went to the Honble Supreme Court of India unser Article 134(1)(a) of the Constitution of India against the judgment of Rajasthan High Court given on 20th November 1983.

FACTS OF THE CASE:1. Pushpa was the daughter of Sita Ram (PW 9). She was married to Jagdish Prasad s/o Smt. Lichhamadevi (the accused). It is said that the relations between Pushpa and her mother-inlaw (the appellant) had become strained on account of unsatisfied dowry demand. Overbearing mother-in-law appears to be the master of the house. She used to harass Pushpa quite often To avoid harassment, Pushpa left her husband's house and remained with her parents. About 4-5 days before the unfortunate incident she returned from her parents house to her-in law's house. 2. On 29 January 1977, at about 4-5 p.m. Pushpa was cleaning utensils on the roof of the house. It is said that the appellant lifted one pan and struck over the forehead of Pushpa causing injury and expressing at the same time that she felt like burning her alive. In the same night at about 8 O'clock the neighbours saw the flames coming out of tin-shed which was used as kitchen of the house. On 29 January, 1977 she was found with flames in the kitchen. Upon hearing her pathetic cries, the neighbours rushed. None of her relatives of the deceased rushed towards the kitchen to save the deceased. 3. Neighbours also heard a cry 'bachao' 'bachao'. Bhanwarlal (PW 3) who was the next neighbour shouted and attracted others who all rushed and found that the doors of the kitchen were closed with an iron chain fastened from outside. Fums and fire were billowing out of the kitchen. Din Dayal (PW 4), Lalit Kishore (PW 5) and Sushil Kumar (PW 6) tried to enter the room. One of them removed the iron chain and opened the door. They found a woman in flames. They took her outside and found that she was Pushpa. She needed urgent 1

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

medical attention. They called the Lichhamadevi (accused/ appellant) and Jagdish but they refused to associate themselves. Thereupon, Lalit Kishore took Pushpa to Swami Man Singh Hospital and got her admitted in an emergency ward. 4. Dr. Goel (PW 1), who admitted Pushpa in the hospital found that Pushpa was in a critical condition. The Doctor advised that she needed blood transfusion. Lalit Kishore returned home and conveyed to the inmates what the Doctor said. The accused/appellant came out with her barbaric attitude and appears to have told Jagdish not to arrange blood to Pushpa. Pushpa breathed her last at about 10 a.m. on the next day. 5. Pushpa, before her death was, said to have stated at about 5.30 a.m. that her mother-in-law poured kerosene on her and set fire. It was recorded as Ex. P.52 by Sop Singh (PW 14) and attested by two other witnesses. Similar statements were also alleged to have been made by Pushpa to her father and to Dr. Goel. 6. Dr. Goel conducted the post-mortem examination and found the following injuries on the person of the deceased : 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree superficial burns with line of redness and blackening of Skin, signing of the fairs, peeling of the superficial skin involving scalp, face, both upper extremities, neck, chest front, and back of chest, abdomen, back both lower extevities. According to the Doctor, all the burns were ante-mortem in nature. He has opined that the cause of death was severe burns, which were sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT:1. Whether the appeal of Lichhamadevi (accused/ appellant) be allowed and the decision of the Hon'ble High Court of Rajasthan be set aside? 2. If the appeal is disallowed what should be the sentence of imprisonment?

CHARGES:The Sessions Court of Jaipur tried Lichhamadevi (accused/ appellant) for the offense under Section 302 Indian Penal Code, 1860 for the murder of Pushpa, her daughter-in-law. Madan, the elder brother-in-law of the deceased was alleged by Lichhamadevi (accused/appellant) to have committed the murder of Puspha and was also seen by the neighbours behind the 2

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

kitchen and running down stairs at the time when Pushpa was in flames inside. The Police, however, did not prosecute him. Jagdish the husband of Pushpa, was a silent spectator for all the dastardly attack on his wife. He had not even the courtesy to take his wife to the hospital. He did not even make arrangement for securing blood when Pushpa was struggling for life. He positively dissociated himself as if he had nothing to do with Pushpa. His tacit understanding with those who have perpetrated the crime is so apparent that it could not have been ignored. Yet he was not charge-sheeted. Therefore, only Lichhamadevi was prosecuted for the offense under section 302 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. The occurrence being of the year 1977, the only charge of the Indian Penal Code under which the accused/appellant could be prosecuted was Section 302 I.P.C. and not under Section 304B (Dowry Death) as the said provision relating to Dowry Death was added to the Code only in 1986 by virtue of Amendment Act of 1986. After the insertion of Section 304B in the code, all murders of brides and perprated by her husband or in-laws which were earlier covered under Section 302 are now covered under Section 304B.

EVIDENCE LED BY THE PROSECUTION :1. Medical Evidence: PW1, Dr. Goel treated Pushpa when she was taken to the Swami Man Singh Hospital by Lalit Kishore, PW5. The Doctor found that she was in critical condition.Thereafter the doctor conducted the post-mortem and found the following injuries on the person of deceased : 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree superficial burns with line of redness and blackening of Skin, signing of the fairs, peeling of the superficial skin involving scalp, face, both upper extremities, neck, chest front, and back of chest, abdomen, back both lower extremities. According to the Doctor, all the burns were ante-mortem in nature. He has opined that the cause of death was severe burns, which were sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. 2. Statements of the Prosecution Witnesses :-

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

PW9, Sita Ram (Victims Father): The submission of the prosecution that Pushpa (the victim) was subject to constant harassment by the appellant and her husband for satisfying the dowry demands is undisputed. PW9, victims father has testified the events leading to her death. He has stated that' Pushpa left her husband's house and remained with him to avoid cruelty from her in laws's house. Only 4-5 days before the unfortunate incident she returned back from her father's house. PW3, Bhanwarlal : Bhanwarlal (PW 3) ,the next neighbor, after seeing the fumes and flames coming out of the tin-shed, ran towards the doors of the kitchen and found that the door was closed with an iron chain fastened from outside. Din Dayal (PW 4), Lalit Kishore (PW 5) and Sushil Kumar (PW 6) : PW4, PW5, PW6 have testified that they broke the chain used to close the door of kitchen from outside and found a woman in flames. They have also testified that when they took the woman outside and turned her, they realized that she was Pushpa. Thereafter, when they called the appellant and Jagdish to take Pushpa to hospital, they clearly refused to associate themselves. PW5, Lalit Kishore : PW5 took Pushpa to the hospital where she was admitted to the emergency ward. The doctor treating her, PW1 told PW5 to arrange for blood. When PW5 conveyed the same to the appellant, the appellant behaved with her barbaric attitude and appears to have told Jagdish not to arrange blood for Pushpa. PW1, Dr. Goel : PW1 has deposed that upon his questioning, Pushpa told him that her mother-in-law had burnt her. 3. Documentary Evidence : Ex. P.52 : -

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

When the victim was taken to hospital and the doctor questioned him, Pushpa said that her mother-in-law poured kerosene on her and set her on fire. This statement of Pushpa was recorded as Ex. P.52 by Sop Singh, PW 14 and attested by two other witnesses. Similar statements were also made to victims father.

ARGUMENTS BY THE PROSECUTION : The learned counsel for the prosecution has submitted that the fact that Pushpa was being harassed by the accused and her husband for not satisfying dowry demands, is undisputed. Because of the on-going dispute in the family, she had left the house of her in-laws and went to her fathers house. This statement is corroborated by the testimony of the PW9, father of victim. The prosecution has also argued that only neighbors brought Pushpa to the hospital and none of the relatives of Pushpa has accompanied them. The statement of the PW1, Dr. Goel who received Pushpa at the hospital, corroborates this. Furthermore, accused had also blatantly refused to help arrange blood for the victim. Both these facts casts huge doubt on the act and conduct of the accused/appellant. Further, the counsel for the prosecution contented that the fact that the kitchen doors were closed and fastened from outside itself is an indication that the appellant and her family members were solely responsible for this crime. The learned counsel also submitted that, the statement made by Pushpa, the victim that her mother-in-law threw kerosene on her and put her on fire, though is not recorded as a dying declaration, but is one made to the doctor treating her and also recorded by the PW 14, Sop Singh, the investigating officer. The High Court has not rejected it and has placed reliance on it while convicting the accused/appellant.

SHORTCOMINGS IN THE INVESTIGATION : The investigation in this case did not proceed as it ought to and there appears to be soft pedaling of the whole case. During investigation the appellant has herself stated that her son Madan might have burnt Pushpa. He is the elder brother of Jagdish. Madan was also seen by the neighbors behind the kitchen and running down stairs at the time when Pushpa was in flames inside. The Police, however, did not prosecute him. 5

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

Jagdish the husband of Pushpa appears to have no human qualities. He was a silent spectator for all the dastardly attack on his wife. He had not even the courtesy to take his wife to the hospital. He did not even make arrangement for securing blood when Pushpa was struggling for life. He positively dissociated himself as if he had nothing to do with Pushpa. His tacit understanding with those who have perpetrated the crime is so apparent that it could not have been ignored. Yet he was not charge-sheeted. This indifferent attitude of the investigating agency should be deprecated.

DECISION OF THE COURT : ISSUE NO: 1::: Whether the appeal of Lichhamadevi (accused/ appellant) be allowed and the decision of the Hon'ble High Court of Rajasthan be set aside? The Honble Supreme Court after carefully examining the material on record and in the light of the arguments addressed by counsel on both sides held that there cannot be any dispute that Pushpa was subject to constant harassment by the appellant and her husband for not satisfying the dowry demands. Sita Ram (PW 9) the father of Pushpa has testified the events leading to her death. He has stated that Pushpa left her husband's house and remained with him to avoid cruelty from her in laws house. Only 4-5 days before the unfortunate incident she returned back from her father's house. Din Dayal, Lalit Kishore and Sushil Kumar are neighbours of the appellant. Their evidence is mutually corroborating. They have deposed that when they heard the cry inside the kitchen 'bachao-bachao', they rushed to the place along with Bhanwar Lal (PW 3). They found the doors of kitchen were closed with an iron chain from outside. It was Sushil Kumar who removed the chain and opened the doors. Pushpa was taken out. She was found to be in a critical condition. The neighbours requested the appellant and her relatives to take Pushpa to hospital but none came forward to extend any assistance. It was Lalit Kishore who took Pushpa to the hospital and got her admitted. Dr. Goel who received Pushpa and admitted her in the emergency ward has testified that neighbors brought Pushpa and no relative accompanied her. He has stated that Pushpa was in a serious condition. He has deposed that upon his questioning, Pushpa told him that her mother-in-law had burnt her. It is true that Dr. Goel has not recorded this statement in the medical register but that is no ground to disbelieve him. Dr. Goel is a disinterested person. The High Court 6

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

has accepted his version and we have no reason to reject it. Dr. Goel himself has treated the victim. Therefore, there was no question of finding out from the Doctor whether Pushpa was in a position to give her statement or not. Moreover, the statement before the Doctor was not recorded as a dying-declaration. It was a communication by the patient to the Doctor who treated. He is a Government Doctor on duty in the hospital at that time. Nothing has been elicited from his cross-examination that he was interested in or enemically disposed towards the appellant. The statement of Dr. Goel is corroborated by the Ex.P2 recorded by Sop Singh (PW 14). Sop Singh was the first Investigating Officer. He has stated that Pushpa was not found to be conscious when he first observed her at about 10 O'clock and again at 2.30 in the night. He remained nearby the hospital throughout that night. At about 5 a.m. in the morning when he reached the hospital he found Ramesh Chandra (PW 2) and Lallu Lal (PW 13) were sitting beside Pushpa and trying to awake her. When they called 'Pushpa Pushpa' she became conscious and when questioned she replied that her mother-in-law after pouring kerosene oil lighted fire on her. He recorded that statement and obtained the signatures of PW 2 and PW 13. That in fact formed the basis of the FIR in this case. There is no reason to discard the testimony of Ramesh Chander and Lallu Lal. The evidence of these witnesses clearly indicates that Pushpa was conscious at the time when she uttered those words which were recorded by Sop Singh. Their evidence receives full corroboration from Sita Ram, the father of Pushpa. He rushed to the hospital and saw his daughter struggling for life. He called 'Pushpa'-Pushpa-Pushpa'. She once responded and asked for water. He tried to take water from a nearby patient. But the patient told him that the Doctor has advised not to give water. He saw Pushpa with restlessness. He assured Pushpa that water would be brought to her. He has stated that on his further enquiry, Pushpa told him that her mother-in-law had put kerosene and burnt her. It is true that there is no dying declaration properly recorded in this case but the statement Ex.P. 2 recorded by Sop Singh and proved by the testimony of Ramesh Chander and Lallu Lal can be taken for the purpose of corroboration of the prosecution version. The evidence of Dr. Goel cannot be doubted and indeed it is worthy of acceptance in to. The evidence of Din Dayal, Lalit Kishore, Sushil Kumar practically remains unchallenged. There is equally no reason to disbelieve the evidence of Sita Ram. The Honble Court reached to the conclusion that it was undoubtedly a dastardly and 7

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

diabolic murder. The fact that the kitchen doors were closed and fastened from outside itself is an indication that the appellant and her family members were solely responsible for this crime. Therefore, the Court held that the appellant has been rightly convicted.

ISSUE NO: 2 ::: If the appeal is disallowed what should be the sentence of imprisonment? After the Court reached the conclusion that the appellant has been rightly convicted, the next question before it was as to what sentence should be awarded to the accused/appellant. The Court made the following observations : The Supreme Court discussed landmark cases such as Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab etc. wherein it had discussed very comprehensively as to which case fits under the category of rarest of rare so as to attract death penalty for the accused. The Court finally reached the conclusion that the present case is not a fit case for awarding death penalty. There are a no of reasons for the same. Firstly, there is no direct evidence that the appellant threw kerosene on the victim and put fire on her. Secondly, there must have other people besides the appellant who were involved in the act, but unfortunately they were not present before the Court. The Supreme Court also held that from the judgment of the High Court, it is apparent that the decision to award death sentence is more out of anger than on reasons. The judicial discretion should not be allowed to be swayed by emotions and indignation. Therefore, the Court allowed the appeal in part, set aside the death sentence awarded to the appellant, and instead sentenced her to imprisonment for life.

CRITICAL APPRAISAL : The Division Bench of Justice G Oza and Justice K J Shetty has rightly convicted the accused/appellant. The bench has appreciated all the evidences put before it. The bench found the statements of all the prosecution witnesses corroborating with each-other. Furthermore, the bench also paid heed to the statement made by the victim to the doctor, even though it was not recorded as a dying declaration. Furthermore, when the bench had to decide the quantum of punishment, landmark judgments such as Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab and reached the conclusion that the present case does not fall under the category of 8

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

rarest of rare cases and hence awarding death penalty to the accused/appellant is not proper and therefore awarded life imprisonment

LATEST JUDGMENTS : Brajnandan Choudhary v.State of Bihar, 2012(7) R.C.R.(Criminal) 1228 (Patna) (D.B) FACTS OF THE CASE: -

The accused persons were convicted under Section-302 and Section-304B by the Sessions Court for killing the bride for not satisfying dowry demands. They were also charged under Section-201for causing disappearance of the body of the victim. The case then went to the High Court for appeal against conviction. JUDGMENT OF THE COURT : -

The Honble High Court held that the conviction under Section 304B Indian Penal Code is not proper and the said Section was not on the statute book at the time of commission of the offence and hence the conviction be set aside. The High Court then remanded the case back to the lower Court to frame charges under Section-302 and Section-34 of the Indian Penal Code. Smt. Darshana Rani v. State of Punjab 2011(2) RCR Criminal 521 P&H FACTS OF THE CASE : -

The victim stated in her dying declaration that she has been burnt by throwing kerosene on her and then putting her on fire. But nowhere in the declaration, the names of people who burnt her were mentioned. The Sessions Court convicted all the members of family to life imprisonment. The case then went in for appeal to the High Court and the prosecution demaned death penalty to be awarded to the accused members of the family.

Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

JUDGMENT OF THE COURT : -

The High Court held that awarding death penalty is not proper in this case and awarding life imprisonment is proper because there is no direct evidence against all the members of the family and they are being convicted because they could not dicharge the onus upon them by virtue of Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code.

ENACTMENT OF NEW LAW : Before the Amendment Act of 1986, all murders whether involving any newly wedded bride or any other person were covered under Section 302, Indian Penal Code. The Code before the year 1986 had no special provision for the death of brides at the hands of her husband or in-laws and as such they were considered like any other murder. But the 91 st Law Commission Report, 1983 provided for insertion of a special provision in the Indian Penal Code relating to the death of married woman at the hands of her husband and in-laws. The report was prepared owing to the considerable increase in the murder cases involving married women. Though the Code before the amendment had provision under Section 302 to prosecute the person accused of murder, but still a no of them were acquitted because of the shortcoming in the existing law. Therefore, need was felt to insert a special provision in favor of women to curb the immoral act of dowry death. Section 304B reads as : 1) Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called" dowry death", and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death. Explanation- For the purposes of this sub- section," dowry" shall have the same meaning as in section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961 ). 2) Whoever commits dowry death shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life.

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Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

STATISTICS : Women have been victim of a number of crimes since ages. Besides petty crimes, she has suffered barbaric crimes too such as murder, theft, robbery, dowry death etc. The Legislature has tried to enact new laws and amend the existing laws to bring them in pace with the changing circumstances to favor women. But this has done no good to the fairer sex. The no. of reported crimes against women have increased every year, irrespective of the huge steps taken by govt to curb them. A total of 2,28,650 incidents of crime against women (both under IPC and SLL) were reported in the country during the year 2011 as compared to 2,13,585 incidences in the year 2010 recording an increase of 7.1% during the year 2011. These crimes have continuously increased during 2007 -2011 with 1,85,312 cases in the year 2007, 1,95,856 cases in the year 2008, 2,03,804 cases in the year 2009 and 2,13,585 cases in the year 2010 and 2,28,650 cases in the year 2011. The author here is trying to throw some light on the cases of dowry deaths against women reported in the year 2011. The pie-chart1 below depicts the no. of reported cases of dowry deaths in India in the year 2011.

Data taken from the National Crimes Records Bureau: Ministry of Home Affairs.

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Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

The above pie-chart clearly depicts that in the year 2011 alone out of total crimes against women, dowry deaths have contributed to the tune of 3.8% and the majority contribution is by Cruelty by husband and his relatives. The latter part is dealt in by Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. Actually, the cases of dowry deaths are preceded by cases of Cruelty by husband and his relatives. It is because of the efforts of the government that most of the incidents against brides do not end up in dowry deaths and the government agencies come to the rescue of brides at the earlier stage itself.

REPORTED INCIDENTS OF DOWRY DEATHS- STATEWISE


The following table shows the no of reported incidents of crimes in 3 different states of India namely : Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh. State/U.T. Chandigarh Punjab Haryana 2009 2 126 281 2010 5 121 284 2011 2 143 225

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Lichhamadevi V. State Of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 1785

The cases of Dowry Deaths have increased by 2.7% during the year 2011 over the previous year (8,391cases). 26.9% of the total such cases reported in the country were reported from Uttar Pradesh (2,322 cases) alone followed by Bihar (1,413 cases) (16.4%). The highest rate of crime (1.4) was reported from Bihar as compared to the National average of 0.7.

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