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Extramarital Affair May Amount To 'Mental Cruelty' U/s 498(A) IPC Depending On Facts & Circumstances Of Case: Madras High Court

Sebin James
1 Feb 2022 4:40 AM GMT
Extramarital Affair May Amount To Mental Cruelty U/s 498(A) IPC Depending On Facts & Circumstances Of Case: Madras High Court
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In a pertinent judgment, Madras High Court has observed that extramarital affairs can cause grave mental trauma and mental health issues leading to serious consequences in the matrimony, and that in turn, would amount to mental cruelty under Section 498(A) IPC. Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarty however added that when deciding whether a conduct amounted to cruelty, the Court has to look at...

In a pertinent judgment, Madras High Court has observed that extramarital affairs can cause grave mental trauma and mental health issues leading to serious consequences in the matrimony, and that in turn, would amount to mental cruelty under Section 498(A) IPC. 

Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarty however added that when deciding whether a conduct amounted to cruelty, the Court has to look at the facts and circumstances of the case.

The observation was made while confirming the conviction of a husband accused of engaging in an extramarital relationship with another woman while the marriage with the respondent wife was still valid.

In its order, the Bench noted that the evidence on record proves the existence of an extramarital relationship that has gone to the roots of the marriage and severely affected the mental health of the wife. This ultimately resulted in the wife leaving the matrimonial home.

Relying on the dictum in K.V. Prakash Babu v. State of Karnataka, the court noted as below:

"This Court has to read the evidence of PW.1, PW.7 & PW.8 as a whole and a proper reading would convey the essence that cruelty, predominantly mental cruelty, was unleashed on PW.1 (Wife), on account of the extramarital affairs developed by the petitioner herein...But the perusal of the above dictum (K.V Prakash Babu's case) would itself make it clear that the Court has to take into consideration the said abnormal behaviour with the facts and circumstances of the case and it has to be decided whether the conduct amounted to cruelty. Therefore, looking at the evidence of PW.1, PW.7 & PW.8, which is on record, it is clear that there was extramarital relationship. It has caused such an effect on the mental health of PW.1, which resulted in serious domestic discord and her leaving the matrimonial home. As a matter of fact, as per the evidence on record, PW.1 went out of the matrimonial home on 16.11.2005"

'Cruelty', as given in Section 498(A) IPC would mean either of the following:

(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

In K.V Prakash's case, the apex court had held that mental cruelty cannot be given a generalised meaning and can only be ascertained based on the facts and circumstances of each case. The court had also mentioned that one out of the two opposing outcomes are probable while answering if an extramarital affair can amount to mental cruelty.

"Extra marital relationship, per se, or as such would not come within the ambit of Section 498(A) of IPC. It would constitute a criminal offence. There is no denial of the fact that the cruelty need not be physical but a mental torture or abnormal behaviour that amounts to cruelty or harassment in a given case. It will depend upon the facts of the said case", the court had noted in this judgment.

The court had further stated that the concept of mental cruelty also depends on the individualistic perception regard being had to one's sensitivity and endurance as well as the social strata from which each individual comes. 

The court further noted in K.V Prakash Babu that the husband being in an extramarital relationship and the wife having some suspicion about it won't normally constitute mental cruelty when read in tandem with the offence of abetment to suicide under Section 306 IPC.

Coming back to the case before Madras High Court, the bench also perused the birth certificate of the child born to the husband in the extramarital relationship.

"During the course of the hearing of the learned Government Advocate (crl.side) appearing for the first respondent, also produced the Birth certificate, evidencing the birth of a child for the petitioner/accused and the said A6, which was born on 17.09.2006 itself. Therefore, the Court cannot close its eyes to the hard evidence and the facts of this case"

The court concluded that there was no illegality committed by the trial court or the lower appellate court while convicting the accused of mental cruelty. However, the court deemed it fit to modify the sentence so as to reduce the term of imprisonment from one year to six months.

The counsel for the petitioner/ accused had previously argued that Trial Court and the lower Appellate Court erred by considering the evidence in a perverse manner, warranting the High Court's interference by exercising its revisional jurisdiction. The counsel made special reference to the lower appellate court judgment that confirmed the conviction of the trial court in one sentence as a glaring example of such illegality. The counsel for the victim and the government argued that the court's revisional powers only permit limited judicial review and the conviction by the lower courts should not be interfered with by initiating a full reappreciation of evidence.

Before the trial court, the respondent wife had accused the husband, his family members and the woman alleged to have been involved in the extra marital relationship of offences under 406, 494 and 506(ii) IPC along with 498(A ) IPC.  Though the wife argued that the husband contracted a second marriage and neglected the her which constitutes the offence of bigamy, it was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the trial court convicted petitioner husband alone for the offence of mental cruelty under Section 498(A) and acquitted all others in toto with regards to all other offences.

Additionally, the counsel for the respondent wife had pointed out three angles to prove that mental cruelty was committed against her by the husband. Firstly, she submitted that she was subjected to physical and mental torture during 2000-2005 in demand of more dowry. However, the court noted that the wife herself has specifically averred that the petitioner/ accused and the respondent wife was living happily during the said period.

"Ex-D1 (legal notice), is caused by the PW-1 and therefore, once she admits in the cross-examination that the notice is given on her instructions and the same being marked, it throws doubt on the allegations leveled", the court noted about the same.

The second angle relied upon by the respondent wife was a specific incident that occured in 2012, which was later admitted by her as not happened in her cross-examination.

It was on the submission about the husband's extra marital relationship that the court was convinced about the mental cruelty meted out to her so as to meet the requirements of Section 498(A) IPC.

While upholding the conviction, the court also refused to consider the petitioner's baseless allegations levelled against the wife about her having an extra marital affair with another man.

Considering all the factors cumulatively, I hold that the action of the petitioner/accused in having extramarital relationship, which has further caused grave mental trauma and affected the mental health of PW.1, leading to serious circumstances, in conjunction with the act of PW.1 being forced to leave the matrimonial home, would amount to cruelty to her within Section 498(A) of IPC", the court iterated again while partially allowing the criminal revision petition.

Case Title: Nakkeeran @ JeroanPandy v. State & Anr.

Case No: Crl.R.C.No.333 of 2014

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 40

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