An Indian court has held that live-in spouses too are liable for conviction in dowry-related crimes. That they are not legally wedded would not in anyway mitigate the gravity of the charges, it said.
The case related to the death of a woman who said in her dying declaration that her live-in partner had set her on fire. The two had been living together - while she had separated from her husband, the man was only two-timing.
The woman finally obtained divorce, and then the problems started. The live-in 'husband' wanted Rs.20,000 from what she had received as part of her divorce settlement.
But she won't oblige. An enraged partner doused her with kerosene and set her on fire. She took her revenge by naming him in her dying declaration.
In India dowry-related harassment is common. In many cases, the husband and the in-laws collude to kill the hapless girl - invariably they set her on fire, and later claim it was a case of stove explosion.
Stringent laws have been enacted to stem the crime and many hauled up. But this is the first time that any court has held a live-in partner too can be indicted on dowry-related charges.
In the instant case, the man stressed that he was not legally wedded to the victim and that he was already married to somebody else.
But married or not, he had committed the horrendous act. Such was the dying declaration, and nobody lies while dying, additional sessions judge Arun Kumar Arya held.
Besides the prosecution could show that the man had been harassing her for the money she had received from her divorced husband, and that could be treated as a demand for dowry, the New Delhi judge said.
Interestingly the man's legally wedded wife rallied behind him, claiming they had had a cordial relationship and that he did not exactly live away from her.
The man also argued there was no divorce proceeding on either. Still the judge held such arguments did not hold water as it was a case of clandestine relationship with the now dead woman.
Judge Arya also cited previous judgements of the Indian Supreme Court to show that a live-in relationship would not save a partner from conviction for cruelty in marriage.
If anything, the claims of not having married the dead woman only boomeranged on the man. Instead of convicting him under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code - dowry death, the court held him guilty under the harsher penal provision of Section 302 IPC - murder. But Section 498A - dowry harassment subsisted in the conviction.