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The Bombay High Court recently held that a husband cannot be accused of cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code based on a quarrel with his wife after he returns home late at night or eats out due to his work.
A Single Bench of Justice KR Shriram passed a judgment to this effect last week. The Court was hearing an appeal against a trial court order passed in 1997 that acquitted accused husband, who was booked for abetting suicide of his wife.
The Solapur Police had alleged that the wife had committed suicide by hanging in her husband’s house owing to harassment and cruelty on his part.
The husband, along with his mother, father, and his brother, were charged for offences punishable under Sections 498A (Punishment for cruelty against wife by husband or relative of husband) and 306 (Punishment for abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Subsequently, the Magistrate and Sessions Courts of Solapur acquitted the accused persons.
The High Court observed that the accused husband’s submissions before the trial court appear to be more probable. The accused had claimed that the wife was fond of children. However, as the wife could not conceive after seven to eight years post marriage, she was unhappy.
In this regard, Justice Shriram went on to note,
“Added to that she was unhappy with him returning home late or eating outside due to his work. There used to be quarrel between husband and wife, but eating out or quarrelling, cannot be considered as harassment or cruelty as contemplated under Section 498A of the IPC. Of course, in the instant case, there is no evidence that prior to her suicide she was subjected to any cruelty.”
The Court further observed,
“There will be ordinary wear and tear in any matrimonial life but that does not amount to cruelty or harassment. It is settled law that every type of harassment or every type of cruelty, would not attract Section 498A or Section 306 of IPC…The witnesses have given evidence of harassment only on the basis of what the deceased wife is supposed to have told them.”
The appellant Solapur Police had claimed that ever since the deceased wife got married, she was constantly harassed by the husband and his family.
On the evidence produced by the prosecution to corroborate its claims, the Court observed,
“There are only general statements. There are no eye witnesses to even one incident of harassment. The prosecution proceeded on the basis of what the deceased told others that, she was being harassed, the Accused suspected of her infidelity and told her that she was suffering from Tuberculosis (T.B.).”
The Police had further claimed that the accused husband had told the complainant father of the deceased wife to take her back to her parental home, since he and his family did not want her to live with them.
Through mediation, the husband was advised to treat her well and took her back, but continued the harassment, counsel for the Solapur Police argued.
After perusing the submissions and the material on record, the Court held that there was no evidence to show that the accused instigated or aided the deceased wife to commit suicide.
“Therefore, the Trial Court has rightly concluded that on the face of records, there is no evidence to conclude that the Accused in any way abetted the commission of suicide.”
The Court also noted that there was no wilful conduct by the accused that would drove the wife to commit suicide.
As a result, the Single Bench observed that the prosecution could not prove any unlawful demand for property or valuable security by the accused, and therefore, the charge under Section 498A cannot stick.
Ultimately, the Justice Shriram dismissed the appeals and held,
“In the circumstances, in my view, the opinion of the Trial Court cannot be held to be illegal or improper or contrary to law. The order of acquittal, in my view, cannot be interfered with.”
Advocate Anamika Malhotra appeared for the prosecution, while the respondent husband and his family were represented by advocates Rushikesh Kale, Chandni Sachade and VV Purwant.
[Read the Judgment]