By:- Aparajita Patel
In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE||SAKATAR SINGH & ORS VS STATE OF HARYANA|
|CITATION||Appeal (crl.) 81 of 1998|
|APPELLANT||SAKATAR SINGH & ORS.|
|RESPONDENT||STATE OF HARYANA|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||N. SANTOSH HEGDE, B.P. SINGH|
|STATUTES/CONSTITUTION INVOLVED||INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860, INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT, 1872|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ RULES INVOLVED||SECTIONS 34, 302, 306, 498A OF INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860, SECTION 32 OF INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT, 1872,|
This case is about how and why Devinder Kaur, a mother of two infant kids, a girl and boy, decided to end her and her kids life by buring herself and her kids by kerosene on May 21, 1986. The appellant accused the in-laws for this harsh act and claimed that they were the one who murdered the decased and her infants.
We will further discuss about the facts, background, arguments and judgement of the case.
This appeal is against the judgement and order of the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Ambala, dated April 27, 1987, by which the appellants, Kirpal Singh, Sakatar Singh, and Joginder Kaur, were convicted and punished as follows:
1: Kirpal Singh, the appellant:
Seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 500/- under Section 306/34 of the Indian Penal Code, with three months’ R.I. if fine is not paid. Two years’ hard imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 200/- under Section 498A/34 of the Indian Penal Code, plus an additional R.1 for one month if the fine is not paid.
2. Appellant Sakatar Singh:
Four years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 500/- under Section 306/34 of the IPC, plus an additional R.1 for three months if the fine is not paid. Two years’ harsh imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 200/- under Section 498A/34 of the Indian Penal Code, plus an additional R.1 for one month if the fine is not paid.
3. Appellant Smt. Joginder Kaur:
Three years’ harsh imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 200/- under Section 306/34 of the Indian Penal Code, with further R.I. for one month if the fine is not paid. Two years’ R.I. and a fine of Rs. 100/- under Section 498A/34 of the IPC, plus one month’s R.I. if the fine is not paid.
However, their substantive prison sentences were set to run simultaneously. Palvinder Kaur, Jasvinder Kaur, and Kulvinder Kaur, who were co-accused with the appellants, were found not guilty.
The respondents in this case are:
- Dr. N.K. Bedi (P.W. 1),
- Dr. R.S. Garg (P.W.2),
- Dr. V.P. Mann (P.W. 3),
- Draughtsman, Udey Bhan, (P.W. 4),
- Constable Raghbir Singh (P.W. 5),
- Photographer, Naresh Kumar, (P.W. 6),
- Pritam Kaur (P.W. 7),
- Jaspal Singh (P.W. 8),
- Ram Kishan, Sub- Postmaster (P.W. 9),
- S.I. Hardev Singh (P.W. 10),
- Constable Daya Nand (P.W. 11),
- Informant, Ajmer Singh, (P.W. 12),
- Sarpanch, Kulwant Singh, (P.W. 13),
- Mr. G.S. Gosal (P.W. 14),
- Inspector Charan Dass (P.W. 15) and
- Saminder Singh, DSP (P.W. 16) both Investigating Officers.
The case’s indisputable facts are that the accused are intertwined in the way stated by the prosecution; Devinder Kaur (deceased) was wedded to accused Kirpal Singh and their union resulted in the birth of two children, one boy and one girl, both of them were born at Devinder Kaur’s parents’ home, one at Kharar hospital and the other one in Chandigarh hospital; Devinder Kaur lived for three and a half years after her marriage before taking the drastic decision of killing herself and her two baby children; Devinder Kaur committed suicide and killed her two infant children by sprinkling kerosene on their bodies and setting fire to their clothes, as evidenced by the statements of Dr. V.P. Mann, who conducted a medico-legal examination of all three, as well as the statements of Dr. N.K. Bedi and Dr. R.S. Garg, Senior Medical Officers, who undertaken a joint autopsy on the corpses.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:
On May 21, 1986, Ajmer Singh, a resident of village Loh Simbli near Layalpur Basti in Ambala City, broke the news at Landran that Devinder Kaur and her two children had been murdered by her in-laws (accused), to which inmates in Devinder Kaur’s parental house began weeping and crying, and all of them, accompanied by their neighbours and other well-wishers, left for Layalpur Basti, Ambala. When they arrived, they discovered that Devinder Kaur and her two children had been taken to City Hospital with burn injuries by accused Sakatar Singh. Dr. V.P. Mann (P.W. 3) examined the three injured and sent a , Ex. PG, to Police Post No. 3 in Ambala City about the arrival of three people with burn injuries.
The police rushed to the hospital to seek the doctor’s opinion on Devinder Kaur’s ability to make a statement, but the doctor pronounced her unfit to do so. Devinder Kaur and her two children died not long after. When Pritam Kaur (P.W. 7) arrived in Ambala, she gave the police a statement (Ex. PN), based on which a case was filed under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (FIR Ex. PN/2). Dr. N.K. Bedi (P.W. 1) and Dr. R.S. Garg (P.W. 2), both Senior Medical Officers of Civil Hospital, Ambala City, conducted autopsies on Devinder Kaur and her two children’s bodies, and concluded that they died of shock and toxaemia as a result of ante-mortem burns, which were sufficient to cause death in the regular course of nature.
The duration between injury and death was estimated to be 24 hours, while the time between death and post-mortem was estimated to be between 24 and 36 hours. The deceased’s scalp, hair, and eye brows also had a kerosene odour, according to the experts. The incident was taken up by the police for further investigation. Exhibits P11 to P16 were photographed, as well as a scaled site plan. P.J., for example, was likewise prepared. The location of the incident was also inspected by experts from the Forensic Science Laboratory, who handed over the articles recovered from the dead victims to the police and sent them to the laboratory for study.
During the inquiry, the police were shown letter Ex. P. 28, which was purportedly authored by Devinder Kaur and sent from Ambala. According to a comparison done by Mr. Ram Kishan, Sub-Post Master (P.W. 9) with the specimen seal of that specific day preserved in the Post Office, the letter addressed by Devinder Kaur to her mother at Landran included the seal of Ambala Post Office. According to the prosecution, this letter also mentioned Devinder Kaur’s in-laws harassing and insulting her. The offence was changed from Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code to Sections 306 and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code after receiving reports from the Forensic Science Laboratory, Exhibits PT and PT/1.
FATCS OF THE CASE:
The prosecution case is as follows: Deceased Devinder Kaur married second appellant Kirpal Singh in 1982, and they had two children from the marriage: a girl named Gurdip Kaur, who was two years old at the time of the incident, and a boy named Bablu, who was nine months old at the time of the incident. The accused and their unmarried daughters, as well as Devinder Kaur and her children, were living in the city of Ambala, in Layalpur Basti.
The prosecution claims that within two months of the second appellant’s marriage to said Devinder Kaur, the appellants and their daughters began making illegal demands for a television, scooter, and refrigerator, which were not met by the parents of said Devinder Kaur. It is further claimed that after the birth of her second child, no one from her in-laws’ family, i.e., the accused’s family, came to see her at her maternal house in Landran because they were dissatisfied with Devinder Kaur’s family for failing to meet their expectations.
The prosecution also claims that about nine months prior to the date of the incident, on 21.5.1986, said Devinder Kaur’s father died, and that after his death, the appellants forced said Devinder Kaur to make a demand for a share in the family property, which she refused and was subjected to harassment and cruelty. The prosecution also claims that on 18.5.1986, the mother of said Devinder Kaur (PW-7) visited the appellants’ home and discovered said Devinder Kaur in tears, and that during her visit, she did not talk to PW-7 because her mother-in-law would not allow her to.
The prosecution also claims that on 18.5.1986, the mother of said Devinder Kaur (PW-7) visited the appellants’ home and discovered said Devinder Kaur in tears, and that during her visit, she did not talk to PW-7 because her mother-in-law would not allow her to. The prosecution’s second case is that on 21.5.1986 between 9 and 10 a.m. Devinder Kaur, according to the appellants’ home, committed suicide with her two small children by pouring kerosene on herself and the children and setting them on fire. According to the prosecution, A-1 transported the deceased’s burnt bodies to the hospital and informed the family of the deceased about the occurrence.
PW-7 and other members of the family raced to Ambala after hearing the news, and upon learning that her daughter and grandchildren had been murdered by the appellants, the deceased’s mother (PW-7) filed a complaint at 4 p.m. on 21.5.1986. The bodies were then transported to Landran, PW-7’s settlement, and burned there. PW-7 and other members of the family raced to Ambala after hearing the news, and upon learning that her daughter and grandchildren had been murdered by the appellants, the deceased’s mother (PW-7) filed a complaint at 4 p.m. on 21.5.1986.
The bodies were then transported to Landran, PW-7’s settlement, and cremated there. Initially, a crime under Section 302 IPC was registered against the appellants, but after investigation, a chargesheet for offences under Sections 306 and 498A read with Section 34 IPC was filed, and during the course of the trial, the prosecution examined as many as 16 witnesses, relying on the testimony of PW-7, the deceased’s mother. PW-8, the deceased’s brother, PW-12, a family acquaintance of the deceased, and PW-14, the deceased’s maternal uncle, to establish the case of cruelty and harassment meted out to said Devinder Kaur, causing her to commit suicide by burning herself and her minor children. The trial court found the appellants guilty as charged based on the testimony of the prosecution witnesses, but acquitted accused Nos. 4 to 6, who were appellant No. 1’s daughters, on the grounds that the prosecution had not established its case against them. As previously noted, the High Court concurred with the trial court’s findings on appeal.
The case’s indisputable facts are that the accused are intertwined in the way stated by the prosecution; Devinder Kaur (deceased) was wedded to accused Kirpal Singh and their union resulted in the birth of two children, one boy and one girl, both of them were born at Devinder Kaur’s parents’ home, one at Kharar hospital and the other one in Chandigarh hospital
ARGUMENTS RAISED IN THE COURT:
The appellants in this case filed an appeal with the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Chandigarh, challenging the judgement and conviction of the learned Addl. Sessions Judge, Ambala (Criminal Appeal No. 322-SB/87), which was dismissed, confirming the appellants’ conviction and sentence by the Sessions Court. The appellants are now before us in this appeal.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT’S SIDE:
- Mr. D.S. Bali, Senior Advocate, learned Counsel for the appellants, argued that it must be proven that the accused actively urged or helped the deceased’s suicide in order to constitute abetment under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. He further said that stimulate implies to compel, tempt, excite, persuade, propel, encourage, and animate.
- Mr. Bali went on to say that a husband’s mistreatment of his wife does not constitute suicide incitement. He further said that all of the witnesses in the prosecution storey are from the side of Devinder Kaur (deceased), who lived in Landran, and that no one else has come from Ambala City, where the purported incident occurred.
- Following that, the learned Counsel claimed that the prosecution witnesses, the deceased’s mother, brother, and maternal uncle, as well as the Sarpanch of the hamlet to which they belonged, are biased witnesses who cannot be trusted. He further contended that the appellants were entitled to be acquitted because there was no credible evidence of actual abetment by any of the accused.
- The experienced Counsel for the appellants went on to say that there were two letters on the record, Exhibits DA and DB, which he elaborated on. The first letter, Ex. DA, was allegedly written by the deceased’s brother Jaspal Singh and addressed to his sister Devinder Kaur, while the second letter, Ex. DB, was allegedly written by Devinder Kaur herself and was addressed to her husband Kirpal Singh, and that both of these letters were written in Punjabi and proposed nothing except affection and love between the two parties.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT’S SIDE:
- Mr R.S. Cheerna, Senior Advocate, learned Counsel for the respondent, contended that there was no indication that the deceased suffered from schizophrenia to Pritam Kaur, the deceased’s mother, Jaspal Singh, the deceased’s brother, or Kulwant Singh, the Sarpanch.
- There is no proof on record to show a family history of depression at the home of Pritam Kaur, the deceased’s mother. The appellant presented no evidence that Devinder Kaur (deceased) was ever treated for depression in a hospital or elsewhere.
- As a result, council disagree with the learned Counsel for the appellants’ argument that Devinder Kaur committed suicide during a psychotic episode, and the argument is rejected.
Sections 34 Of Indian Penal Code, 1860:
Acts performed by a group of people to achieve a common objective.— When numerous people commit a criminal act in the name of a common goal, each of them is held responsible in the same way as if the conduct had been committed by him alone.
Section 302 Of Indian Penal Code, 1860:
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 Of Indian Penal Code, 1860:
Suicide abetment.—Whoever abets the commission of a suicide must be punished by imprisonment of either sort for a term that may extend to 10 years, as well as a fine.
Section 498A Of Indian Penal Code, 1860:
A woman’s husband or a relative of her husband harassing her.— Whoever submits a woman to cruelty, whether he is her husband or a relative of her husband, is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and a fine.
Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct that is likely to cause the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to her life, limb, or health (whether mental or physical); or
(b) harassment of a woman with the intent of coercing her or any person linked to her to comply with any unlawful demand for property or valuable security, or on the basis of her or any person related to her failing to comply with such demand.]
Section 32 Of Indian Evidence Act, 1872:
Cases in which statement of relevant fact by person who is dead or cannot be found, etc ., is relevant. — In the following cases, statements of relevant facts made by a person who is dead, cannot be found, or has become incapable of giving evidence, or whose attendance cannot be obtained without an amount of delay or expense that, in the circumstances of the case, appears to the Court unreasonable, are themselves relevant facts:
1) when it comes to cause of death. —When a person makes a statement about the cause of his death, or any of the facts of the transaction that led to his death, in cases where the cause of that person’s death is questioned. Such remarks are significant whether or not the person who made them was under the expectation of death at the time they were made, and whatever the nature of the procedure in which the cause of his death is called into question.
2) or when the statement was made in the ordinary course of business, and in particular when it consists of any entry or memorandum made by him in records kept in the ordinary course of business, or in the fulfilment of professional duties; or of a document used in commerce written or signed by him; or of the date of a letter or other document usually dated, written, or signed by him; or of an acknowledgment written or signed by him of the receipt of money, goods, securities, or property of any kind;
3) or against the maker’s interests. —When the statement is made in opposition to the maker’s financial or proprietary interests, or when, if true, it would expose him or would have exposed him to criminal prosecution or a civil suit.
4) or expresses an opinion on a subject of public interest, such as a public right or custom. When the statement expresses a person’s view on the existence of any public right, custom, or issue of public or general interest, of which he would have been likely to be aware if it existed, and when the statement was made before any disagreement over such right, custom, or matter had arisen.
5) or relates to the existence of a relationship. —When the statement relates to the existence of any 25 [by blood, marriage, or adoption] relationship between persons about which the person making the statement had special knowledge, and when the statement was made before the question in dispute was raised.
6) or is made in a will or deed involving family matters- When the statement is made in any will or deed relating to the affairs of the family to which any such deceased person belonged, or when the statement is made in any will or deed relating to the affairs of the family to which any such deceased person belonged, or on any gravestone, family portrait, or other material on which such declarations are customarily made, and when such remark was made before the point in dispute was presented.
7) or in a document pertaining to the transaction described in section 13, clause (a)- When the statement appears in a deed, will, or other document relating to any of the transactions listed in section 13, clause (a).
8) or is created by a group of people and communicates sentiments about the subject at hand. — When the comment was made by a group of people and communicated their views or impressions about the subject at hand.
As stated above about the facts and background of the case which in short is: Devinder Kaur (deceased) was wedded to accused Kirpal Singh and their union resulted in the birth of two children, one boy and one girl, both of them were born at Devinder Kaur’s parents’ home, one at Kharar hospital and the other one in Chandigarh hospital; Devinder Kaur lived for three and a half years after her marriage before taking the drastic decision of killing herself and her two baby children; Devinder Kaur committed suicide and killed her two infant children by sprinkling kerosene on their bodies and setting fire to their clothes, as evidenced by the statements of Dr. V.P. Mann, who conducted a medico-legal examination of all three, as well as the statements of Dr. N.K. Bedi and Dr. R.S. Garg, Senior Medical Officers, who undertaken a joint autopsy on the corpses.
When questioned under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, all of the defendants admitted to Devinder Kaur’s marriage to defendant Kirpal Singh, as well as other relationships attributed to them. They, on the other hand, disputed the allegations of harassment, mistreatment, and dowry demand. Devinder Kaur and her two children died as a result of severe burns, according to the convicted. They contested, however, that Devinder Kaur was compelled to take such drastic measures as a result of their actions or conduct.
Accused In his defence, Kirpal Singh claimed that Devinder Kaur was a short-tempered woman who couldn’t fit in with their family. Devinder Kaur did not relish a homely life as a farmer’s wife and would frequently express that accused Kirpal Singh’s parents were illiterate, uncivilised, and had a low standard of living. She wanted accused Kirpal Singh to leave farming and start doing some job in Chandigarh, which was to be secured for him through the influence of her maternal uncle, Mr. G.S. Gosal, IAS Officer. Devinder Kaur used to live a very guarded life as a result of these factors, and she may have considered terminating her own life as well as the lives of her two children. Accused Kirpal Singh further claimed that he, his parents, and three sisters had been wrongfully accused at G.S. Gosal’s request.
Accused Joginder Kaur, Devinder Kaur’s mother-in-law, pleaded alibi, claiming that she had gone to the fields with food for the persons working in the fields at the relevant time. She denied harassing or taunting Devinder Kaur (deceased) or making any dowry demand that was not legal.
Accused Sakatar Singh, Devinder Kaur’s father-in-law, also claimed alibi. His case was that he had gone to the fields with a plough to till the soil, and his wife Joginder Kaur had brought him meals, and that when they found out Devinder Kaur and her two children had committed suicide, they rushed to the house and took Devinder Kaur and her two kids to the hospital.
Shri Jaspal Singh, learned senior counsel appearing for the appellants, asserted that the trial court proceeded solely on the ipse dixit of the four witnesses investigated by the prosecution to construct the case of alleged brutality and harassment doled out by the appellants to the deceased, despite the absence of any legal material to prove the appellants’ culpability. He claimed that the trial court failed to consider the relevant elements of Sections 498A and 306 IPC when determining that the appellants were guilty of the alleged offence. The learned counsel for the appellants contended that the trial court was clearly under the assumption that even a valid demand alone would represent cruelty, which the learned counsel contends is completely incorrect.
The learned counsel also pointed out that whatever evidence the prosecution produced to establish the so-called illegal requirement was merely hearsay and not even permissible under Section 32 of the Evidence Act, and none of the witnesses who spoke about the demand made by the appellants had any personal knowledge of the said demand. As a result, the learned counsel contended that the purported demand accepted by the trial court cannot be upheld because it is based on inadmissible evidence. In response to the High Court’s decision, which upheld the trial court’s conviction and sentence, the learned counsel argued that the High Court, as the first appellate forum, had made no application of mind and was therefore obligated to re-appreciate the evidence.
After hearing the learned counsel and going over the records, we notice that the appellants contend that the High Court, as the first court of appeal on facts, did not apply its mind independently to the facts of the case and instead blindly copied the findings of the trial court, resulting in the appellants losing their right of appeal and their case being prejudiced, We believe that, for the time being, a remand is not an acceptable remedy at this late stage. As a result, we will review the materials on file in order to re-appreciate the evidence presented in this case and establish the appellants’ guilt or innocence.
Next we’ll start by looking at the letter that the deceased sent to her mother. Despite the fact that this letter does not specify a date, there is no doubt that it was sent on 20.5.1986 as evidenced by the postal seal found on the envelope, indicating a date prior to the incident that resulted in Devinder Kaur and the children’s deaths. The letter’s contents describe what happened during her mother’s visit to her in-laws’ home, but it makes no mention of any demand made by her in-laws. It merely represents the deceased’s attitude toward her in-laws and her belief that her mother was not treated correctly by her mother-in-law on her last visit.
In response to the High Court’s decision, which upheld the trial court’s conviction and sentence, the learned counsel argued that the High Court, as the first appellate forum, had made no application of mind and was therefore obligated to re-appreciate the evidence. He pointed out that a cursory perusal of the High Court’s decision reveals that it is nothing more than a carbon duplicate of the trial court’s decision, both in terms of factual narrative and findings. However, Shri Vinay Kumar Garg, learned counsel for the State, argued that it is obvious from the evidence of PWs 7, 8, 12, and 14 that the appellants made certain unlawful demands, leading to the deceased’s suicide.
We assume for the time being that the appellants’ case has been harmed as a result of their loss of right of appeal, and we believe that a remand is not an acceptable remedy at this late date. As a result, we will review the materials on file in order to re-appreciate the evidence presented in this case and determine the appellants’ guilt or innocence. The fact that these accused parties did not attend the deceased’s burial after their bodies were released from the hospital is the second circumstance on which the trial court relied.
The trial court drew an inference against the appellants based on their absence from the funeral, which the court claimed revealed the appellants’ guilty conscience. The trial court here neglected to take into account the fact that the appellants and other members of the family who have subsequently been acquitted were accused of murdering the dead and her children in the first information report filed with the police by the deceased’s family.
The trial court reached the incorrect judgement about the accused people’ guilt based on these erroneous conclusions derived on unproven facts and reliance on statements of interested witnesses whose evidence has not passed the test of cross-examination. It should be noted that three letters, Ex. P-28, DA, and DB, though not contemporaneous, clearly show that there was no demand as the prosecution has claimed, and the contents of the said letters clearly show that the allegation of dowry demand or harassment leading to cruelty made after Devinder Kaur’s death is unsubstantiated. For all of these reasons, we believe the trial judge made a significant error in concluding that the prosecution had established its case against the appellants.
We do not need to analyse the reasons supplied by the High Court separately because we agree with the contention made by learned counsel for the appellants that the High Court did not apply its mind, as evidenced by a review of the judgement of the said court. The learned counsel has walked us through paragraph after paragraph of the High Court’s judgement, including the conclusions, which are, in our opinion, nothing more than a paraphrase of the trial court’s ruling with no application of mind.
Because it is the first court of appeal on facts, the High Court failed to recognise its legal role of discussing the evidence independently and documenting its findings on the basis of such independent assessment. As a result, the reasons we gave for rejecting the trial court’s findings should ipso facto apply to rejecting the High Court’s finding, assuming it can be considered a finding at all. This appeal is successful for the reasons mentioned. The decisions and punishments of the lower courts are overturned. Bail bonds for the appellants shall be discharged if they are on bail. If they are detained, they must be freed immediately.
As given in the judgement and the facts of the case there was no hard evidence which can prove that the appellants are the one who are responsible for the death of Devinder Kaur and her kids. About the fact that they were not present at funeral, the supreme court held that as the appellant were accuesed of murder it was not possible for them or hardly possible to expect them to be present at the funeral.
As a result, this occurrence cannot be considered an incriminating circumstance or one that supports the prosecution’s other evidence against the accused. The trial court reached an incorrect conclusion about the guilt of the accused persons based on these absurd conclusions made from unproven facts and reliance on comments of interested witnesses whose evidence did not stand the test of cross-examination.
The supreme court also pointed out that the trail court committed silly mistakes like it recorded that Devinder Kaur had given birth to two female children and the same miskate is copied by the high court in its judgement.
Because it was the first court of appeal on facts, the High Court failed to recognise its legal responsibility to discuss the material independently and record its findings based on such independent assessment. The reasons the Supreme Court gave for rejecting the trial court’s findings should consequently ipso facto apply to dismissing the High Court’s conclusion if the same could be called a finding at all.
That’s why the Supreme Court gave the judgement in the favour of the appellant by stating: This appeal is successful for the reasons mentioned. The lower courts’ judgments and punishments are overturned. If the appellants are on bail, their bail bonds will be released. If they are detained, they must be released immediately.