‘It cannot be said that the appellant’s act of having illicit relationship with another woman would not have affected to negate the ingredients of Section 306 I.P.C.’
The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a man whose illicit relationship with another woman allegedly ‘abetted’ his wife’s suicide.
Kavita had committed suicide by jumping into well within four months of her marriage with Siddaling. The reason for the suicide, according to the prosecution, was stated to be harassment due to alleged dowry demand and also cruelty meted out to her as Siddaling was having an illicit relationship.
The prosecution had also produced before the court an agreement executed by Siddaling before the panchayat in which the accused admitted to be living with another woman and that was seen by his wife.
The trial court convicted Siddaling and his father under Sections 498-A and 304-B r/w 34 IPC and Sections 306 r/w 34 IPC and Sections 3, 4 and 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act. The high court partly allowed the appeal sustaining conviction under Sections 498-A and 306 of the husband.
Although Girish Ananthamurthy, the counsel for the accused, relying on apex court judgments on this aspect, contended that abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or in any manner aiding that person in doing of the thing, the apex court bench comprising Justice R Banumathi and Justice Vineet Saran was not inclined to interfere with the concurrent convictions.
Upholding the high court judgment, the bench said: “In the case in hand, the witnesses - PW-1, PW-6, PW10 and PW-22 have clearly in their statement stated that the appellant continued his relation with another woman. The appellant’s illicit relation with another woman would have definitely created the psychological imbalance to the deceased which led her to take the extreme step of committing suicide. It cannot be said that the appellant’s act of having illicit relationship with another woman would not have affected to negate the ingredients of Sections 306 I.P.C.”
The bench also refused to reduce the sentence imposed on the accused. The bench said: “Keeping in view the fact that within four months of her marriage, the deceased-Kavitha has taken the extreme step of putting an end of her life and also within three months of convening the panchayat, the deceased Kavitha has committed suicide, showing any leniency would be a misplaced one.”
Apparent contradiction with earlier SC judgments
This judgment is in apparently contradictory to a 2015 judgment by the Supreme Court in a similar factual setting, which had held that mere evidence of extramarital relationship cannot amount to cruelty.
The bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra, in the said case had observed, “Mere extra-marital relationship, even if proved, would be illegal and immoral, as has been said in Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal (supra), but it would take a different character if the prosecution brings some evidence on record to show that the accused had conducted in such a manner to drive the wife to commit suicide.”
The bench had relied on another judgment in Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal vs. State of Gujarat to arrive at this conclusion. In the said judgment, Justice KS Radhakrishnan had observed thus: “We are of the view that the mere fact that the husband has developed some intimacy with another, during the subsistence of marriage and failed to discharge his marital obligations, as such would not amount to “cruelty”, but it must be of such a nature as is likely to drive the spouse to commit suicide to fall within the explanation to Section 498A IPC. Harassment, of course, need not be in the form of physical assault and even mental harassment also would come within the purview of Section 498A IPC. Mental cruelty, of course, varies from person to person, depending upon the intensity and the degree of endurance, some may meet with courage and some others suffer in silence, to some it may be unbearable and a weak person may think of ending one’s life. We, on facts, found that the alleged extramarital relationship was not of such a nature as to drive the wife to commit suicide or that A-1 had ever intended or acted in such a manner which under normal circumstances, would drive the wife to commit suicide.”
In the facts of that case, it was also observed: “But for the alleged extramarital relationship, which if proved, could be illegal and immoral, nothing has been brought out by the prosecution to show that the accused had provoked, incited or induced the wife to commit suicide.”
In another judgment in 2016 (KV Prakash Babu v. State Of Karnataka), the Supreme Court reiterated this position observing thus: “Extra-marital relationship, per se, or as such would not come within the ambit of Section 498-A IPC. It would be an illegal or immoral act, but other ingredients are to be brought home so that 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. To explicate, solely because the husband is involved in an extra-marital relationship and there is some suspicion in the mind of wife, that cannot be regarded as mental cruelty which would attract mental cruelty for satisfying the ingredients of Section 306 IPC.”
The judgment in Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal (supra) is clear. That for conviction of a husband under Section 306 IPC, the prosecution has to prove that he had provoked, incited or induced the wife to commit suicide and mere proof of illicit/extramarital relationship of husband would not suffice. In this judgment delivered by Justice Banumathi, the whole focus is on the proof of illicit relationship.