9 April 2019 5:39 AM GMT
Answering a reference pending for about seven years, the Supreme Court has held that 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...
Answering a reference pending for about seven years, the Supreme Court has held that 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
The Three Judge bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul considered the following question:
"Whether in a case where cruelty had been committed in a matrimonial home by the husband or the relatives of the husband and the wife leaves the matrimonial home and takes shelter in the parental home located at a different place, would the courts situated at the place of the parental home of the wife have jurisdiction to entertain the complaint under Section 498A, in a situation where no overt act of cruelty or harassment is alleged to have been committed by the husband at the parental home where the wife had taken shelter."
The consequences of the cruelty committed at the matrimonial home results in repeated offences being committed at the parental home.
To answer this question, the bench noticed that the object and reasons for enacting Section 498A 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.
The court also noticed that under Section 179 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, if by reason of the consequences emanating from a criminal act an offence is occasioned in another jurisdiction, the court in that jurisdiction would also be competent to take cognizance. The bench observed:
"Even if the acts of physical cruelty committed in the matrimonial house may have ceased and such acts do not occur at the parental home, there can be no doubt that the mental trauma and the psychological distress cause by the acts of the husband including verbal exchanges, if any, that had compelled the wife to leave the matrimonial home and take shelter with her parents would continue to persist at the parental home. Mental cruelty borne out of physical cruelty or abusive and humiliating verbal exchanges would continue in the parental home even though there may not be any overt act of physical cruelty at such place."
The court further observed that definition of cruelty under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act have a close connection with Explanation A & B to Section 498A, Indian Penal Code which defines cruelty. It said:
"The provisions contained in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 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. 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. The consequences of the cruelty committed at the matrimonial home results in repeated offences being committed at the parental home. This is the kind of offences contemplated under Section 179 Cr.P.C which would squarely be applicable to the present case as an answer to the question raised."
The CJI led three judge bench was considering a reference to it on the issue whether a case of cruelty on account of dowry harassment punishable under Section 498A of the IPC can be registered, investigated and 'punished' (prosecuted) in a jurisdiction different from the one from which the aggrieved spouse has been forced out on account of such harassment.
In 2012, the then SC bench then comprising of Justice TS Thakur and Justice C. Nagappan had found this question 'interesting' while hearing a SLP against High Court order which held that cruelty punishable under Section 498A of the IPC is not a continuing offence, and thus it cannot be investigated or punished in a jurisdiction outside the one in which the matrimonial house of the complainant is situate. In the said case, the High court had set aside the Trial Court order that took cognizance of the offence against the accused.
The bench had observed: "The question that primarily arises for consideration is whether a woman forced to leave her matrimonial house on account of acts and conduct that constitutes cruelty can initiate and access the legal process within the jurisdiction of the courts where she is forced to take shelter with her parents."
Noticing the conflicting dictums in this matter, the bench, while referring the matter had observed: "The decisions appear to be in conflict with each other. At any rate the law as stated in the pronouncements remains rather hazy and fluid. That apart, the question that falls for consideration arises very often and is a question of general public importance. The decisions cited at the bar also need to be reconciled and the apparent conflict resolved.