Battle won for daughter in 34-yr dowry fight

FP

Thirty-four years after the death of 20-year-old Kanchanbala from 100 per cent burn injuries, and 27 years after her case led to changes in the dowry law, the Delhi High Court has upheld the conviction of her husband for abetment to suicide.

In a verdict on the eve of Women's Day earlier this month, the court linked it to his demand for a scooter made two days before Kanchanbala's death. Subhash Chandra now faces a non-bailable warrant and has been asked to surrender by March 19.

Kanchanbala's mother Satya Rani Chaddha is in her 80s now, battling cancer and barely able to understand that her fight for justice may finally be nearing end. However, perhaps she lives with the satisfaction that during that fight — that reverberated in courts and Parliament — she brought about two vital amendments in the anti-dowry law that have gone a long way towards preventing cases like her daughter's.

The first amendment, made in 1983, changed the definition of dowry in the law to include any demand for gifts at any time during the marriage. A police investigation had earlier cleared Chandra of charges under the anti-dowry law on the ground that the demand for a scooter had been made post-wedding (specifically, during Kanchanbala's pregnancy; she was six and a half months pregnant at the time of her death). The high court has now termed the police probe "tainted".

The second amendment that owes itself to Chaddha's perseverance is Section 113 A of the Indian Evidence Act (of 1986), under which abetment to suicide is now presumed if a married woman kills herself within seven years of marriage and if her husband/in-laws had subjected her to cruelty.

Apart from fighting to have Chandra convicted in court, Chaddha also formed NGO Shakti Shalini to fight for women's rights, along with Jahanara Apa who had similarly lost her daughter to dowry.

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