HOW HUSBAND OR IN-LAWS WILL BE GUILTY OF A DOWRY OFFENCE
Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act lays down that where the dowry is received by any person other than the bride, that person has to transfer the same to the woman in connection with whose marriage it is given and if he fails to do so within three months from the date of the marriage, he shall be punished for violation of Section 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
Section 6 reads as under:-
# 6. Dowry to be for the benefit of the wife or her heir
(1) Where any dowry is received by any person other than the woman in connection with whose marriage it is given, that person shall transfer it to the woman-
(a) if the dowry was received before marriage, within [three months] after the date of marriage; or
(b) if the dowry was received at the time of or after the marriage, within [three months] after the date of its receipts; or
(c) if the dowry was received when the woman was a minor, within [three months] after she has attained the age of eighteen years; and pending such transfer, shall hold it in trust for the benefit of the woman.
[(2) If any person fails to transfer any property as required by subsection (1) within the time limit specified therefore, [or as required by Sub-section (3),] he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months, but which may extend to two years or with fine [which shall not be less than five thousand rupees, but which may extend to ten thousand rupees] or with both.]
(3) Where the woman entitled to any property under sub-section (1) dies before receiving it, the heirs of the woman shall be entitled to claim it from the person holding it for the time being:-
[Provided that where such woman dies within seven years of her marriage, otherwise than due to natural causes, such property shall,-
(a) if she has no children, be transferred to her parents; or
(b) if she has children, be transferred to such children and pending such transfer, be held in trust for such children.]
If the dowry amount or articles of married woman was placed in the custody of his husband or in-laws, they would be deemed to be trustees of the same. The person receiving dowry articles or the person who is 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. If he does not do so, he will be guilty of a dowry offence under this Section. The section further lays down that even after his conviction he must return the dowry to the woman within the time stipulated in the order.
In Pratibha Rani vs. Suraj Kumar & Anr. (1985) 2 SCC 370
the Apex Court observed that the mere factum of the husband and wife living together does not entitle either of them to commit a breach of criminal law and if one does then he/she will be liable for all the consequences of such breach. Criminal law and matrimonial home are not strangers. Crimes committed in matrimonial home are as much punishable as anywhere else.
In the case of stridhan property also, the title of which always remains with the wife though possession of the same may sometimes be with the husband or other members of his family, if the husband or any other member of his family commits such an offence, they will be liable to punishment for the offence of criminal breach of trust under Sections 405 and 406 of the IPC.
After all how could any reasonable person expect a newly married woman living in the same house and under the same roof to keep her personal property or belongings like jewellery, clothing etc., under her own lock and key, thus showing a spirit of distrust to the husband at the very behest.
Even if the personal property of the wife is jointly kept, it would be deemed to be expressly or impliedly kept in the custody of the husband and if he dishonestly misappropriates or refuses to return the same, he is certainly guilty of criminal breach of trust, and there can be no escape from this legal consequence.
In Bobbili Ramakrishna Raju Yadav Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, (2016) 43 SCD 250
the Apex Court observed that 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.
In the absence of specific allegations of entrustment of the dowry amount and articles to husband or in-laws continuation of the criminal proceeding is not just and proper and the same is liable to be quashed.