Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and SK Kaul, JJ delivered a very important judgment today where it held,

“the courts at the place where the wife takes shelter after leaving or driven away from the matrimonial home on account of acts of cruelty committed by the husband or his relatives, would, dependent on the factual situation, also have jurisdiction to entertain a complaint alleging commission of offences under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.”

Section 498A IPC and related provisions

Section 498A IPC was introduced by the Criminal Law (second amendment) Act, 1983. In addition to the aforesaid amendment in the Indian Penal Code, the provisions of Sections 174 and 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 relating to inquiries by police in case of death by suicides and inquiries by magistrates into cause of such deaths were also amended. Section 198A was also inserted in the Code of Criminal Procedure with regard to prosecution of offences under Section 498A. Further by an amendment in the first schedule to the CrPC the offence under Section 498A was made cognizable and non-bailable. Of considerable significance is the introduction of Section 113A in the Evidence Act by the Criminal Law (second amendment) Act, 1983 providing for presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman to be drawn if such suicide had been committed within a period of seven years from the date of marriage of the married woman and she had been subjected to cruelty.

“The object behind the aforesaid amendment, undoubtedly, was to combat the increasing cases of cruelty by the husband and the relatives of the husband on the wife which leads to commission of suicides or grave injury to the wife besides seeking to deal with harassment of the wife so as to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property, etc.”

Cruelty at Matrimonial Home vis-à-vis Parental Home

Earlier Rulings

The Court had, on earlier occasions, held that the offence of cruelty having been committed in the matrimonial home the same does not amount to a continuing offence committed in the parental home to which place the aggrieved wife may have later shifted. It has been held that:

“if on account of cruelty committed to a wife in a matrimonial home she takes shelter in the parental home and if no specific act of commission of cruelty in the parental home can be attributed to the husband or his relatives, the initiation of proceedings under Section 498A in the courts having jurisdiction in the area where the parental home is situated will not be permissible.”

Ruling in the present case

The Court said that the provisions contained in Section 498A IPC, undoubtedly, encompasses both mental as well as the physical well-being of the wife. Even the silence of the wife may have an underlying element of an emotional distress and mental agony. Her sufferings at the parental home though may be directly attributable to commission of acts of cruelty by the husband at the matrimonial home would, undoubtedly, be the consequences of the acts committed at the matrimonial home. Such consequences, by itself, would amount to distinct offences committed at the parental home where she has taken shelter.

It, hence, noticed,

“The adverse effects on the mental health in the parental home though on account of the acts committed in the matrimonial home would, in our considered view, amount to commission of cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A at the parental home.”

[Rupali Devi. State of Uttar Pradesh,  2019 SCC OnLine SC 493, decided on 09.04.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: The Bench of S. Talapatra, J. reversed the order of the trial court convicting the appellant for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC and sentencing him to suffer 3 years rigorous imprisonment.

Father of the deceased alleged that the appellant (husband of the deceased) tortured her and subjected her to cruelty for not fulfilling the unlawful demand of Rs 20,000 cash and gold ornaments. Finally, on 22-12-2012, the deceased committed suicide by hanging herself. An FIR was lodged and the appellant was put to trial after pleading not guilty. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court convicted the appellant for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC (cruelty to woman). Aggrieved thereby, the appellant preferred the present appeal.

The High Court perused the witness evidence and noted that from a conjoint reading of testimonies, it emerged that the witnesses were greatly influenced by the shocking death of a young woman. It was pointed out that in the first instance, the witnesses failed to reveal material facts to the Investigating Officer, but when such facts were revealed in trial, their testimonial value was substantially reduced as they appeared to be improvements and become prone to be doubted. Moreover, it was observed that such improvements were made by related witnesses which made it all the more doubtful because as per the normal rule the court scrutinizes evidence of related witness with greater caution. In such circumstances, it was held that the prosecution failed to establish the charge under Section 498-A beyond a reasonable doubt.  Therefore, the impugned order was set aside and the appellant was acquitted on benefit of doubt. [Sanjit Das v. State of Tripura, 2019 SCC OnLine Tri 27, dated 09-01-2019]