In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has held that a man would not be entitled to claim properties and stridhan gifted to his wife if she dies under mysterious circumstances within seven years of marriage.
A bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur, Justices AK Sikri and R Bhanumathi clarified that in case of natural death, the heirs of the woman would be entitled to claim the properties but in case the woman dies under mysterious circumstances within seven years of her marriage, the properties would be handed over to her children or her parents in case the couple has no children.
Enumerating Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, the bench said the dowry articles must be handed over to the woman within three months after the marriage and the husband or in-laws could be prosecuted for not giving back the movable and immovable properties within the stipulated time.
“If the dowry amount or articles of the married woman was placed in the custody of her husband or in-laws, they would be deemed to be trustees of the same. The person receiving dowry articles or the person who has dominion over the same, as per Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, is bound to return the same within three months after the date of marriage to the woman in connection with whose marriage it is given,” the bench said.
The bench said the husband and in-laws would be guilty of a dowry offence punishable up to a two-year jail term if they refuse to hand over the dowry property and the Act also laid down that even after conviction they would have to return the property to the woman.
The court passed the order on a plea filed by a man and his family members facing prosecution for returning the dowry article to parents of his wife who died under suspicious circumstances 15 months after marriage.
The court quashed the proceedings against the in-laws but allowed the case against husband on the ground that dowry articles were in possession of the couple and her in-laws could not be prosecuted for not handing over the properties.
“Giving of dowry and the traditional presents at or about the time of wedding does not in any way raise a presumption that such a property was thereby entrusted and put under the dominion of the parents-in-law of the bride or other close relations so as to attract ingredients of Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act,” the bench said.
“In respect of ‘stridhana articles’ given to the bride, one has to take into consideration the common practice that these articles are sent along with the bride to her matrimonial house. It is a matter of common knowledge that these articles are kept by the woman in connection with whose marriage it was given and used by her in her matrimonial house,” it said.