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Mens Rea For Section 306 IPC Cannot Be Assumed To Be Ostensibly Present But Has To Be Visible And Conspicuous: SC Acquits Husband Accused Of Driving Wife To Suicide [Read Judgment]

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2 Oct 2020 4:03 AM GMT
Mens Rea For Section 306 IPC Cannot Be Assumed To Be Ostensibly Present But Has To Be Visible And Conspicuous: SC Acquits Husband Accused Of Driving Wife To Suicide [Read Judgment]
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The Supreme Court has observed that the ingredient of mens rea for abetment of suicide [Section 306 IPC] cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous.The bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy set aside the conviction of a husband who was accused of driving wife to suicide.Gurcharan Singh was convicted for abetting suicide of...

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The Supreme Court has observed that the ingredient of mens rea for abetment of suicide [Section 306 IPC] cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous.

The bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy set aside the conviction of a husband who was accused of driving wife to suicide.

Gurcharan Singh was convicted for abetting suicide of his wife. Singh, along with his parents were charged under sections 304B and 498A read with section 34 of the IPC.  Though the Trial Court noted that there was insufficient material to convict them under section 304B & 498A IPC, it opined that even if no charge of abetment was framed against the husband, he can be convicted for abetting suicide of his wife, under section 306 IPC. The Trial Court also observed that expectation of a married woman will be love and affection and financial security at the hands of her husband and if her hopes are frustrated by the act or by wilful negligence of the husband, it would constitute abetment within the meaning of section 107 IPC, warranting conviction under section 306 IPC. The High Court endorsed the Trial Court's view that deceased was pushed to commit suicide by the circumstances and the atmosphere in the matrimonial home and dismissed the appeal filed by the accused.

While considering his appeal, the bench noted that there is neither any direct evidence of cruelty against the husband or the in-laws on nor to show which particular hope or expectation of the deceased was frustrated by the husband. "What might have been the level of expectation of the deceased from her husband and in-laws and the degree of her frustration, if any, is not found through any evidence on record. More significantly, wilful negligence by the husband could not be shown by the prosecution.", the bench noted.

Referring to Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code, the bench noted that whenever a person instigates or intentionally aids by any act or illegal omission, the doing of a thing, a person can be said to have abetted in doing that thing. It said:

As in all crimes, mens rea has to be established. To prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Sec 107 of the IPC, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible, to determine the culpability. In order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the appellant herein had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of the deceased. The ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous. However, what transpires in the present matter is that both the Trial Court as well as the High Court never examined whether appellant had the mens rea for the crime, he is held to have committed.

The bench also referred to decisions viz SS Chheena Vs. Vijay Kumar Mahajan (2010) 12 SCC 190, Amalendu Pal alias Jhantu vs. State of West Bengal (2010) 1 SCC 707,  Mangat Ram Vs. State of Haryana (2014) 12 SCC 595 , which discuss the necessary ingredients for the offence under section 306 IPC. Taking note of the evidence on record, the bench, while allowing the appeal, observed:

Proceeding with the above understanding of the law and applying the ratios to the facts in the present case, what is apparent is that no overt act or illegal omission is seen from the appellant's side, in taking due care of his deceased wife. The evidence also does not indicate that the deceased faced persistent harassment from her husband. Nothing to this effect is testified by the parents or any of the other prosecution witnesses. The Trial Court and the High Court speculated on the unnatural death and without any evidence concluded only through conjectures, that the appellant is guilty of abetting the suicide of his wife. 20. In such circumstances, we have no hesitation in declaring that the Trial Court and the High Court erred in concluding that the deceased was driven to commit suicide, by the circumstances or atmosphere in the matrimonial home. This is nothing more than an inference, without any material support. Therefore, the same cannot be the basis for sustaining conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC.
Case name: Gurcharan Singh vs. State of Punjab
Case no.: CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.40 OF 2011 
Coram: Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy
Counsel: Adv R K Kapoor for appellant, Adv Jaspreet Gogia for State

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