By Akanksha Singh
In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE
|K.V. Prakash Babu vs State Of Karnataka
|CRIMINAL APPEAL NO(S). 1138-1139 OF 2016
|DATE OF JUDGMENT
|22 November, 2016
|K.V. Prakash Babu
|State of Karnataka
|J. Dipak Misra, J. Amitava Roy
|Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 Evidence Act Indian penal Code, 1961
|Evidence Act – Section 113A Indian penal Code, 1961 – Sections 302, 306, 498A, 161, 201. Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – Sections 3
This case arises for consideration in the appeals, by special leave, that assails the judgment and order dated 13.04.2016 passed by the High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru in Criminal Appeal No. 655 of 2012 whereby the High Court has allowed the appeal preferred by the State which had called in question the legal acceptability of the judgment and order passed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court-III, District Kolar, Karnataka, who vide judgment dated 5.1.2012 had found the appellant guilty of the offences punishable under Section 498A of the IPC and Section 3 of the 1961 Act and sentenced him to suffer rigorous imprisonment of one year and two years respectively with the default clause.
The instant appeals reveal a factual score that has the potential to shock a sensitive mind and a sincere heart, because the materials brought to light show how “suspicion” can corrode the rational perception of the value of life and cloud the thought of a wife to such an extent that she would commit suicide, resulting in the deaths of the alleged paramour, her mother, and brother, who are unable to emotionally cope with the social humiliation, extinguish their life-spark; and finally, the scenario forces the husband to face charges under Sections 302 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as well as Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
According to the evidence, the spouse is cleared of the Section 302 IPC offence but convicted on the other two offences by the trial court. His conviction under Section 3 of the 1961 Act is overturned on appeal, but his conviction under Section 498A of the IPC is upheld. And the suffering does not stop there, for in the State’s appeal, he is found guilty of the offence under Section 306 IPC and sentenced to four years hard imprisonment and a fine of Rs.50,000/- to be paid to the victim’s father with a default clause.
FACT OF THE CASE
The marriage between the appellant and the dead, Anjanamma, was solemnised on 12.10.1997, which prompted the prosecution. According to the allegations, the appellant became associated with one Deepa, the daughter of one Ashwathamma, since he frequently visited Ashwathamma’s home. According to the prosecution, the dead was very saddened and, unable to bear the behaviour of her husband, who was reportedly involved in an extramarital affair, took her own life on August 20, 2004. The father of the deceased filed a FIR at the concerned police station, which set the criminal law in motion. The investigating officer recorded statements of witnesses under Section 161 of the IPC and, after completing the investigation, presented the charge sheet under Sections 201, 302, and 498A of the IPC and Section 3 of the 1961 Act before the concerned Magistrate, who, in turn, committed the matter to the Court of Session. The accused denied his guilt and stated his determination to stand trial, pledging denial and false implication. The prosecution interviewed 31 witnesses in all to substantiate the accusations. The defence decided not to present any evidence. The major witnesses are the deceased’s father, PW-1, and neighbours who testified about the husband’s extramarital affair and the deceased’s death.
There is no doubt that the appellant was not found guilty of the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC by the learned trial judge or the High Court. After careful consideration, the High Court concluded that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate the crime under Section 3 of the 1961 Act. However, the appellant was found guilty of the charge under Sections 498-A and 306 of the IPC.
A careful examination of the evidence by the court reveals that the deceased’s father, in his deposition, stated nothing about any kind of cruelty meted out to the deceased other than stating that she frequently complained to the parents about the appellant’s visit to the house of Ashwathamma and that she suspected her husband of having a second marriage. Other witnesses, including the investigating officer, testified that there was a local debate regarding the appellant’s unlawful relationship with one lady in Chelur Village. Aside from the aforementioned, there is no mention of any ill-treatment or unkind behaviour by the spouse.
ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT
- Whether there was any kind of cruelty on the deceased wife by the husband?
- Whether the conviction under Section 498A and 306 IPC is legally justiciable?
- Whether extra marital affair of husband can be cruelty on wife which leads to his suicide.
- Whether act of appellant would amount to abetment leading to the act of suicide.
ARGUMENTS RAISED BY THE APPELLATE
- Learned counsel for the appellant argued that there is no information pertaining to dowry demand or any form of torture.
- In the instant matter, it is an admitted position that the High Court erred greatly in comprehending the evidence to support the conviction under Section 498-A of the IPC.
- Learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that the High Court used the second limb of Section 498-A IPC on the basis that the husband’s engagement in extra-marital affairs created cruelty under the aforementioned provision and, thus, it would constitute an offence under Section 306 of the IPC, which is counter to this Court’s rulings.
ARGUMENTS RAISED BY THE RESPONDENT
- Learned counsel for the respondent submitted that appellant was in extra marital affair with Deepa.
- Learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the cause of death of wife was the extra marital affair of the husband which caused depression to wife and forced her to end her life.
- Learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the deceased wife was subject to cruelty by the husband and it also causes her to commit suicide.
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
Section 3: Penalty for giving or taking dowry.—
(1) ] If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable 2[with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 3[five years, and with fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more]: —1[(1)] If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable 2[with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 3[five years, and with fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more]\:” Provided that the Court may, for adequate and special reasons to be recorded in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than 4[five years].] 5[(2) Nothing in sub-section (1) shall apply to, or in relation to,— 1[(2) Nothing in sub-section (1) shall apply to, or in relation to,—”
(a) presents which are given at the time of a marriage to the bride (without any demand having been made in that behalf): Provided that such presents are entered in a list maintained in accordance with the rules made under this Act;
(b) presents which are given at the time of a marriage to the bridegroom (without any demand having been made in that behalf): Provided that such presents are entered in a list maintained in accordance with the rules made under this Act: Provided further that where such presents are made by or on behalf of the bride or any person related to the bride, such presents are of a customary nature and the value thereof is not excessive having regard to the financial status of the person by whom, or on whose behalf, such presents are given.]
- Indian penal Code, 1961
- Section 302: Punishment for murder.—Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or 1[imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.
- Section 306: Abetment of suicide.—If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
- Section 498A: [498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(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.]
- Section 201: Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender.—Whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, causes any evidence of the commission of that offence to disappear, with the intention of screening the offender from legal punishment, or with that intention gives any information respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false; if a capital offence.—shall, if the offence which he knows or believes to have been committed is punishable with death, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine; if punishable with imprisonment for life.—and if the offence is punishable with 1[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment which may extend to ten years, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine; if punishable with less than ten years’ imprisonment.—and if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for any term not extending to ten years, shall be punished with imprisonment of the description provided for the offence, for a term which may extend to one-fourth part of the longest term of the imprisonment provided for the offence, or with fine, or with both.
- Evidence Act – Section 113A
[113A. Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman.—When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.1[113A. Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman.—When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.” Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” shall have the same meaning as in section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).]
The idea of mental cruelty is dependent on the milieu and strata from which the individuals emerge, and it surely has an individuality view with regard to one’s endurance and sensitivity. It is difficult to generalise, but it can undoubtedly be comprehended in the context of a collection of proven facts. Section 498-A IPC does not apply to extramarital relationships in and of themselves. It would be an unlawful or immoral conduct, but additional factors must be brought home to make it a criminal offence. There is no denying that cruelty does not have to be physical, but may also be mental torment or deviant behaviour that amounts to cruelty or harassment in a specific circumstance. It will be determined by the facts of the particular case. To clarify, simply because the husband is engaging in an extramarital connection and there is some suspicion in the mind of the wife cannot be considered mental cruelty, which would attract mental cruelty in order to fulfil the requirements of Section 306 IPC.
In Ghusabhai Raisangbhai Chorasiya v. State of Gujarat, after reviewing the evidence, the Court concluded that even if the illicit relationship is proven, unless other acceptable evidence is presented to establish such high degree of mental cruelty, the explanation (a) to Section 498-A of the IPC, which includes cruelty to drive the woman to commit suicide, would not be attracted.
In Gurnaib Singh v. State of Punjab, While discussing the idea of ‘cruelty’ as established in Section 498-A, the Court stated: “Clause (a) of the Explanation to the abovementioned Article defines “cruelty” to mean “any deliberate conduct of such a type as is likely to compel the lady to commit suicide.” The Explanation’s clause (b) addresses illegal demand. Clause (a) can encompass mental cruelty.”
As the evidence clearly demonstrates, the wife acquired a strong suspicion that her husband was travelling to the residence of Ashwathamma in Village Chelur, where he became connected with Deepa, Ashwathamma’s daughter. It has been established via several witnesses that individuals in the neighbourhood discussed the appellant’s contact with Deepa. Deepa committed herself because she was unable to cope with her humiliation. Deepa’s mother and brother followed in her footsteps. In such a case, it is exceedingly difficult to conclude that the prosecution has proven the Section 498A accusation and that the cruelty drove the wife to commit suicide. It is clear that the wife was led astray by the rumour, which heightened her suspicions. The germ of distrust placed in the mind resulted in disaster. However, such an incident does not constitute an offence or demonstrate the accused-guilt appellant’s under Section 306 of the IPC.
However, nothing has been shown by the prosecution to indicate that the accused encouraged, incited, or persuaded the wife to commit suicide in regard to the claimed extramarital relationship, which if proven might be unlawful and immoral.” Having said that, the court intends to make it plain that if the husband engages in an extra-marital affair, it may not always result in a conviction under Section 306 of the IPC, but it may certainly be a reason for divorce or other reliefs in a matrimonial dispute under other statutes.
The conviction under IPC Sections 306 and 498-A is overturned. The appellant should be released unless his imprisonment is needed in another matter.
When it comes to extra-marital relationships, the Court has ruled that a marital relationship is defined as one spouse’s legally protected marital interest in another, which includes marital obligations to another such as companionship, living under the same roof, sexual relations and the exclusive enjoyment of them, having children, their upbringing, services in the home, support, affection, love, liking, and so on, but extra-marital relationship as such is not defined in the IPC. Further, the Court observed in the context of Section 498A that the mere fact that the husband developed some intimacy with another woman during the duration of marriage and failed to discharge his marital obligations would not amount to “cruelty,” but it must be of such a nature as to drive the spouse to commit suicide to fall within the explanation to Section 498A IPC.
The Court went on to say that harassment does not have to take the form of physical assault, and that mental harassment would equally fall under the jurisdiction of Section 498A IPC. Of course, mental cruelty differs from person to person, depending on the severity and degree of endurance; some may accept it with fortitude, while others suffer in silence; for some, it may be overwhelming, and a weak person may consider suicide. The Court concluded that the claimed extramarital relationship in the aforementioned case was not of such a type as to induce the wife to commit suicide. “Section 306 pertains to abetment of suicide, which states that if any person commits suicide, whoever abets the act of such suicide must be punished with imprisonment for a time which may exceed to ten years and shall also be liable to fine,” the two-judge Bench added. The action for committing suicide is also motivated by psychological distress induced by mental and physical maltreatment.
 Author is 4th semester student of ICFAI University, Dehradun.
 Dowry Prohibition Act Section 3, Www.indiacode.nic.in, Jul. 18, 2022, at 2, https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/5556/1/dowry_prohibition.pdf
 Section 306 in the Indian Penal Code – Indian Kanoon. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2022, from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/92983/
 Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2022, from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/538436/
 Section 201 in the Indian Penal Code – Indian Kanoon. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2022, from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/386021/
 Section 113A in the indian evidence act, 1872. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2022, from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/294349/
 Ghusabhai Raisangbhai Chorasiya v. State of Gujarat , (2015) 11 SCC 753
 Gurnaib Singh v. State of Punjab, (2013) 7 SCC 108