27 Sep 2023 10:17 AM GMT
While setting aside the acquittal of a man in a case involving death of his wife by self-immolation, the Madras High Court has observed that the husband’s illicit relation with his elder brother’s wife would amount to cruelty on the wife within the meaning of Section 498A of IPC. The appellant, who was the mother of the victim, had contended that the victim had committed...
While setting aside the acquittal of a man in a case involving death of his wife by self-immolation, the Madras High Court has observed that the husband’s illicit relation with his elder brother’s wife would amount to cruelty on the wife within the meaning of Section 498A of IPC.
The appellant, who was the mother of the victim, had contended that the victim had committed suicide by self-immolation after being subjected to cruelty in her matrimonial home as her husband was having an illicit relationship with his sister in law. Though the husband and the sister in law were charged with Section 498A, 306 and 304 (B) IPC, the trial court had acquitted them.
The High Court disagreed with the view taken by the trial court that such relation was only immoral and did not amount to cruelty. The court added that when such illicit relationship was happening inside the house under the pretext of “motherly affection” and which was witnessed by the victim herself, the trial court had erred in rendering such a find.
“If the husband is immoral and his activities are outside his house, the effect on the wife is lesser as it can happen clandestinely but in the instant case it has happened inside the home and under the pretext of 'motherly affection' and she (victim) has seen it. The word cruelty in Section 498(A) can manifest itself into multiple offensive forms including indulgence in 'extramarital relationship'. The word 'cruelty' has been deliberately kept open ended in order to accomodate any new development of what may amount to cruelty in our understanding. The trial court in my opinion has definitely erred on it,” the court observed.
Also Read: Extramarital Affair May Amount To 'Mental Cruelty' U/s 498(A) IPC Depending On Facts & Circumstances Of Case: Madras High Court
The court also refused to accept the submission of the husband that the victim had misconstrued the motherly affection usually shown by wives of elderly brothers which was prevalent in the joint family system of his community. The court observed that the victim also belonged to the same community and had no reason to invent the illicit relationship. The court also opined that a woman had a “seventh sense” to know anything unusual in her husband’s behaviour.
The court also noted that the trial court had acquitted the husband and the sister-in-law (co-accused) of charges under Section 306 IPC (abetment of suicide) by merely observing that the prosecution had failed to prove direct and active act by the accused. The court opined that there is no straightjacket formula to prove instigation and when there was no direct evidence, inference had to be drawn from the circumstances.
The court added that in cases where harassment and cruelty was meted out to a woman within the four walls of matrimonial home, it was difficult to get an independent witness and if the deposition of the parents and relatives of the woman, to whom she may have deposed is also brushed aside, there would be no way to get into the truth of the matter. Thus, the court said that when a soft approach was taken by the court, the very purpose of law was defeated.
“In my opinion whatever be the intensity of inaction by the investigating officials, the court has a bigger responsibility of sifting through the various available evidence and separating grain from chaff thereby rendering justice and not merely relying on technicalities and trying to find the escape route thereby indirectly facilitating the culprit. If such soft approach resorted to by the courts then the very purpose of Section 498(A), 304(B) IPC would be defeated that too in a society riddled with inequalities and male chauvinism. The settled law is that the accused cannot take advantage of poor investigation,” the court said.
The court also came down heavily on the Police over the manner in which the investigation was carried out and the indifferent attitude revenue divisional officer and even the trial court had shown while dealing with the case. The court also noted that while the victim was in the hospital struggling for life, the police was nowhere to be seen and only visited the hospital after getting a complaint from the victim’s brother. Thus, the court observed that the police had deliberately done a poor investigation and there was no conscious effort to have a dying declaration and the police even showed lethargy in sending the FIR to the jurisdictional magistrate.
The court also noted that the Revenue Divisional Officer had not bothered to perform his duty properly and failed to examine the victim’s husband (the accused) by merely saying that he was not produced by the police. Further, the court noted that the trial court had also taken an easy route of filling the judgments with High court rulings instead of exploring the judicial possibility of rendering justice to the victim.
The court noted that though the prosecution case was manipulated by the police and the RDO by not examining certain witnesses, the three prosecution witnesses- mother and brothers of the victim, had compensated for the lacunae and there was no reason to disbelieve the versions of the prosecution witnesses especially when it was not rebutted during cross-examination.
Noting that the trial court had focused on the rule of benefit of doubt and had made the justice system futile. The court observed that reasonableness of doubt had to be commensurate with the nature of offence.
“The trial court by showing excessive devotion to the rule of benefit of doubt nurtured unwarranted doubts and suspicion and made the justice delivery system futile. Reasonableness of doubt must be commensurate with the nature of offence to be investigated. This is not a case where two views are reasonably possible. But the trial court without mentioning what are the two possible views, held that the charge was not proved against the accused,” the court said.
Thus, the court found the accused guilty of offences under Section 306 and Section 498A of IPC. However, with respect to the offence under Section 304(B) IPC, since there was nothing to show a demand of dowry, the court said the offence would not be attracted.
Counsel for the Appellant: Mr.R.Vijayaraghavan
Counsel for the Respondent: Mr.S.Sugendran Additional Public Prosecutor, Mr.A.Sasidharan for Mr.S.M.Nandhie Devan
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 287
Case Title: Mrs. Pista Kanwar v The Inspector of Police and Others
Case No: Crl.A.No.211 of 2022
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