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The Supreme Court today held that Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) encompasses both mental as well as the physical well-being of the wife.
Even if a wife leaves her matrimonial house and returns to her parental house, the adverse effects on her mental health in the parental home though on account of the acts committed by the husband in the matrimonial home would amount to commission of cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A.
The judgment to that effect was delivered by the Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
The question before the court was whether a woman forced to leave her matrimonial home on account of acts and conduct that constitute cruelty can initiate and access the legal process within the jurisdiction of the courts where she is forced to take shelter with the parents or other family members.
The Court answered the above question in the affirmative. In order to arrive at its conclusion, the Supreme Court relied on Section 179 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and elucidated the scope of Section 498A.
The Court at the outset noted that Section 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure contemplates that “every offence shall ordinarily be inquired into and tried by a Court within whose local jurisdiction it was committed”. It is, therefore, clear that in the normal course, it is the court within whose local jurisdiction the offence is committed that would have the power and authority to take cognizance of the offence in question, the Court noted.
However, exceptions to the same are contained in Sections 178 and 179. The Court said that Section 178 had nothing to do with the present case. It was the exception under Section 179 which was of relevance in the instant case.
Under Section 179, 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.
In the instant case, the Court was of the view that what had to be determined was whether the exception carved out by Section 179 would have any application to confer jurisdiction in the courts situated in the local area where the parental house of the wife is located.
In order to answer this question, the Court analysed the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Criminal Law (2nd Amendment) Act, 1983 by which Section 498A was inserted in the Indian Penal Code.
The object behind the aforesaid amendment 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 above stated object of the amendment cannot be overlooked while answering the question arising in the present case, the Court observed.
The judicial endeavour must, therefore, always be to make the provision of the laws introduced and inserted by the Criminal Laws (second amendment) Act, 1983 more efficacious and effective, the Court said.
The Court also examined the scope of “Cruelty” which forms the crux of the offence under Section 498A.
Cruelty can be both physical or mental cruelty, the Court made it clear. It stated that the impact on the mental health of the wife by overt acts on the part of the husband or his relatives, the mental stress and trauma of being driven away from the matrimonial home and her helplessness to go back to the same home for fear of being illtreated are aspects that cannot be ignored while understanding the meaning of the expression “cruelty” appearing in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
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, the Court said.
The emotional distress or psychological effect on the wife, if not the physical injury, is bound to continue to traumatize the wife even after she leaves the matrimonial home and takes shelter at the parental home.
In what was then the key to answering the issue in the case, the Court stated that even if the acts of physical cruelty committed in the matrimonial house may have ceased once the wife returns to her parental house, the psychological distress caused by the acts of the husband including verbal exchanges would continue to persist even at the parental home.
Her sufferings at the parental 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 amount to commission of cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A at the parental home.
Linking it to Section 179, the Court said that such a situation is what is precisely contemplated by Section 179 CrPC. Hence the exception under Section 179 would squarely be applicable to such cases
The Bench, therefore, ruled 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.
Read the judgment below.