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Assam’s Session Court sets example against legal maxim ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’

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In a landmark judgment that is expected to give new hope of justice to victims of social evils prevalent in the society, four members of a family in Nalbari district of Assam have been convicted to ten years of rigorous imprisonment for being found guilty of a dowry-related death.

The convicts are Uttara Barman (W/O: Lt accused Prabhat Barman), Ashok Barman (S/O: Lt accused Prabhat Barman), Binod Barman (S/O: Lt accused Prabhat Barman) of the village Kaithalkuchi of Nalbari, and Nijora Barman (W/O: Sri Rajib Talukdar) of Rangia of Kamrup. They were found guilty under section 498(A) and 304(B) of IPC(Indian Penal Code) and Section 3 and 4 of the ‘Dowry Prohibition Act’.

On July 05, the bench of Nalbari Session Judge S Bhuyan announced the quantum of punishment.

The case dates to 2008 when the convicted four family members were accused of murdering Sumita Deka, daughter of Shri Umesh Deka for dowry-related violence.

Late Sumita Deka was married to Ashok Barman of Kaithalkuchi village of Nalbari district on January 18, 2008, and immediately after marriage, the family members of the in-laws of Sumita started physical and mental harassment on Sumita demanding an amount of Rs 3 Lacs. This finally culminated after 7 months when Sumita was found dead in her matrimonial home, which was finally proved to be a dowry-related death after eleven years of rigorous judicial battle.

Noted Advocate Bijan Mahajan stood on behalf of the accused and senior Advocate Dhirendra Nath Barman stood as the Public Prosecutor.

THE CASE
On the very morning of August 09, 2008, Sumita Deka’s parental home received several phone calls from the people of Nalbari district’s Kaithalkuchi village informing that Sumi (nickname) is no more. After receiving such disastrous information, parental members of the deceased broke down mentally and were rushed to the village Kaithalkuchi.

After reaching the house of Ashok Barman, Sumi’s parental members found her body was laid on a mat on the outside of the house and witnessed visibly clear injury mark at Sumi’s forehead. Looking at the injury mark, Sumi’s family members declined her matrimonial members’ claim as she committed suicide. The parental members of the deceased broke down as they were in preparation of the arrangement of the money demanded by the Sumi’s in-laws.

At the afternoon late Sumi’s younger brother filed a complaint at the concerned police station, i.e. Belsore Police station under the Nalbari district.

INITIAL PROBE BY POLICE
Accepting the complaint filed by late Sumi’s brother, the Belsore Police Station registered a case as 94/2008 under sections 304(B), 498(A) and 34 of Indian Penal Code and the then Inspector Dilip Kumar Medhi was appointed as the Investigative Officer for the case.

The Belsore police arrested Ashok Barman and his father Prabhat Barman as mentioned as accused in the complaint. The other accused Binod Barman, his mother Uttara Barman and their nephew Nijora Barman evaded arrest and remained absconding until the trio got anticipatory bail from the Gauhati High Court.

The initial investigation was not going proper way and the then ASP (Additional Superintendent of Police) Anand Prakash Tiwari (IPS) of Nalbari district was closely monitoring the case.

INTERVENE AND NEW PROBE PANEL
Within 3 days of the incident, the then ASP Anand Prakash Tiwari found that IO (investigative officer) Dilip Kumar Medhi was not investigating the case as it should be, Mr. Tiwari took the case seriously and formed new probe panel under Circle Inspector Younus Ahmed. ASP Mr. Tiwari himself went to investigate at the place of occurrence and did a video recording of the investigation. The investigation team also seized the ‘pillow’ that the ASP strongly believed as the murder weapon as he witnessed a ‘crawl mark’ of the ‘Sindoor’ of deceased Sumita. The seized pillow had the stained of mark of like vermilion.

Before Mr. Anand Prakash Tiwari finishes the investigation completely, he got transferred to Udalguri district by promotion as the Superintendent of Police. Surprisingly, soon after Mr. Tiwari’s transfer, the investigative officer Younus Ahmed was also transferred and a new investigative officer was assigned to probe the case.

As said by late Sumita Deka’s brother, it is not only mysterious but fishy that there was a political influence to soften the case in favor of the accused as accused Binod Barman was a leader of Asom Sena‘s (a unit of AASU) Dharmapur Anchalik Committee.

PUBLIC OUTRAGE AND JUDICIAL INQUIRY
Looking everything softened by police investigation after Anand Prakash Tiwari and Circle Inspector Younus Ahmed (assigned as IO by ASP Mr. Tiwari), there was a protest rally by the ladies of Nalbari town shouting demands of capital punishment and action against the doctor who performed the autopsy.

The protest rally by the ladies compelled the district administration to order a ‘Magistrate Inquiry’ by an Additional Deputy Commissioner.

The ‘Magistrate Inquiry’ took all countable notes from every person known or connected with the case.

MEDIA ROLE
The incident attracted the attention of all media houses of the state as the case revealed several loopholes in police administration and investigation procedure. All media covered the incident up to the level of “Journalism for Justice”.

THE TRIAL
As the chargesheet was filed by the Belsore police station, the Magistrate took cognizance on January 07, 2010 and the trial started at the District Session Court. All 5 accused were charged under section 498(A), 304(B) and 34 of IPC(Indian Penal Code) with section 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

The trial of the case started on September 06, 2011 and the Court delivered the verdict on June 29, 2019.

At the mid of the trial, in 2014, accused Prabhat Barman died in a private hospital suffering from cardiac failure.

CONVICTION AND THE JUDGMENT
After going through prolonged legal proceedings, the court convicted all accused beyond all reasonable doubt and held them guilty under section 498(A) and 304(B) of IPC and section 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

Appearing for the accused, noted advocate Bijan Mahajan, in his argument plead to consider the case under section 306 of IPC which was rejected by the Session Judge.

Public Prosecutor and senior advocate Dhirendra Nath Barman plead before the court to take action ‘as per the Law’.

On July 5, the Session Judge S. Bhuyan announced all 4 convicts namely Uttara Barman, Ashok Barman, Binod Barman and Nijora Barman to undergo rigorous imprisonment of 10 years under 304(B) and 2 years under 498(A) of IPC, 5 years under Section 3 and 2 years under Section 4 of the “Dowry Prohibition Act”. The court also imposed fines of Rs. 5,000, Rs. 3,000, Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 5,000.

The judgement also reads that the Court found the case is not a fit case to consider accused leniently after hearing Counsel for both sides and accused on the point of the sentence, going through the material on record and considering the nature of the offense which accused persons has committed and further taking into account the increasing number of offenses of like nature in the society.

THE JUDGEMENT MEANT AS A MESSAGE FOR SIMILAR INCIDENTS
This judgment from the Nalbari District Session Court maybe just one more case of conviction on papers, but this one is more than a judgment.
It is a hope for victims of social evils, especially dowry prevalent in society.
In Assam, although the number of dowry cases and dowry-related deaths are at a record high, the society is still giving this menace a blind eye and claiming that dowry does not exist in the state.

But more importantly, this judgment coming after eleven years of judicial battle proves one most important aspect – that the legal maxim “Justice delayed is Justice denied” is not always true.

Justice does prevail and karma does hit back, – it’s a matter of time and perseverance to attain justice that makes this happen.

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Assam’s Session Court sets example against legal maxim ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’

By: Times of Assam Bureau Read time: 6 min