Husband’s Extra-Marital Affair is Not Cruelty : SC

  REPORTABLE

                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                      CRIMINAL APPELLATE  JURISDICTION

             CRIMINAL APPEAL  NO(S).   1138-1139        OF 2016

                  (@ S.L.P. (Crl) Nos.  5928-5929 OF 2016)

K.V. Prakash Babu                                  …     Appellant

     VERSUS

State of Karnataka                                 …     Respondent

 J U D G M E N T

                   Dipak Misra, J.

 

1. Leave granted.

  1. The instant appeals reveal a factual score that has the  potentiality to shock a sensitive mind and a sincere heart, for the materials brought  on record show how “suspicion” can corrode the rational perception of value  of life and cloud the thought of a wife to such an extent, that would  persuade her to commit suicide which entail more deaths,  that  is,  of  the  alleged paramour, her mother and brother who being not able to emotionally  cope  up with the social humiliation, extinguish  their  life-spark;  and  ultimately the situation ropes in the husband to  face  the  charge  for  the  offences punishable under Sections 302 and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)  read with Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (‘1961  Act’  for  short). As the facts would unveil, the husband gets acquitted for the offence  under Section 302 IPC but convicted in respect of other two charges by  the  trial court. In appeal, his  conviction  under  Section  3  of  the  1961  Act  is annulled but success does not come in his way as regards the  offence  under Section 498-A IPC.  And the misery does not end there since  in  the  appeal preferred by the State, he is found guilty of the offence under Section  306 IPC and sentenced to suffer four years rigorous imprisonment and  to  pay  a fine of Rs.50,000/- to be given to the father of the victim with  a  default clause
  2. In the course of our adumbration and analysis of facts,  it  will  be uncurtained how the seed of suspicion grows enormously and the  rumours  can bring social dishonor and constrain not-so-thick  skinned  people  who  have bound themselves to limitless sorrow by thinking  ‘it is best  gift  of  God to man” and choose  to  walk  on  the  path  of  deliberate  death.   A  sad incident, and a shocking narrative, but we must say, even at the  beginning, the appellant-husband has to be acquitted regard being had to  the  evidence brought on record and the exposition of law in the field.
  3. The singular issue, as the aforesaid passage would show, that  arises for consideration in these 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 498-A 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.  It  is  apt  to  note  here that the appellant had also  preferred  Criminal  Appeal  No.  126  of  2012 wherein the High Court while passing the common  judgment  has  opined  that the prosecution has miserably failed to establish the conviction  under  the 1961 Act.  However, as stated earlier, it found the appellant guilty of  the offence under Section  306  IPC  and  the  result  of  such  conviction  was imposition of four years rigorous imprisonment  and  fine  of  Rs.  50,000/- (Rupees fifty thousand only) with the further stipulation  that  Rs.45,000/- (Rupees forty five thousand only) be paid to the father of the deceased.
  4. The occurrence that led to  launching  of  prosecution  is  that  the marriage between the appellant and the deceased, Anjanamma, was  solemenised on 12.10.1997.  The appellant, as alleged,  got  involved  with  one  Deepa, daughter  of  one  Ashwathamma  inasmuch  as  his  visit  to  the  house  of Ashwathamma was quite frequent.      As the prosecution story proceeds,  the deceased felt extremely hurt and eventually being unable  to  withstand  the conduct of the husband  who  was  allegedly  involved  in  an  extra-marital affair, put an end to her life on 20th August, 2004.   An FIR was lodged  at the concerned police station by the father of the deceased,  which  set  the criminal law in motion and the investigating officer recorded  statement  of witnesses  under  Section  161  of  the  IPC  and   after   completing   the investigation, placed the charge sheet under Sections 201, 302 and 498-A  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  abjured his guilt and expressed his intention to face trial, advancing the  plea  of denial and false  implication.  In  order  to  establish  the  charges,  the prosecution examined 31 witnesses in all. The defence chose  not  to  adduce any evidence.  The main witnesses are father of the deceased, PW-1  and  the neighbours who have deposed about the extra- marital affair of  the  husband and the death of the deceased.
  5. As we have already stated about the conviction  and  the  punishment, the same need not be stated  in  detail.   There  is  no  dispute  that  the learned trial judge as well as the High Court has not  found  the  appellant guilty of the offence punishable under Section 302 of  the  IPC.   The  High Court has also arrived at the conclusion after  detailed  deliberation  that the prosecution has not been able to establish the offence under  Section  3 of the 1961 Act.  However, it has found the appellant guilty of the  offence under Sections 498-A and 306 of the IPC.
  6. It is submitted by Mr. S.R. Singh, learned senior  counsel  that  the High Court has completely erred in appreciating the evidence to sustain  the conviction under Section 498-A inasmuch as there is no  material  whatsoever with regard to demand of dowry or any kind of torture.    According  to  Mr. Singh, the High Court has applied the second limb of Section  498-A  IPC  on the foundation that the involvement of the husband in  extra-marital  affair established cruelty under the said provision and, therefore, it would be  an offence  under  Section  306  of  the  IPC  which   is   contrary   to   the pronouncements of this Court.
  7. Mr. V.N. Raghupathy, learned counsel  appearing  for  the  State  had supported the judgment and  order  passed  by  the  High  Court  by  placing reliance on the  analysis  of  the  various  facets  and  the  scrutiny  and scanning of the evidence of the prosecution witnesses including that of  the father, the neighbours and the investigating officer.
  8. To appreciate the submissions raised at the Bar, we have bestowed our anxious consideration and carefully examined the decision  rendered  by  the trial court and that of the High  Court.   On  a  studied  scrutiny  of  the evidence, it is demonstratable that  the  father  of  the  deceased  in  his deposition has not stated anything with regard to any kind of cruelty  meted out to the deceased except stating that she quite often  complained  to  the parents about the visit of the appellant to the  house  of  Ashwathamma  and that she had suspicion against her husband that  he  was  going  to  have  a second marriage.  The other witnesses including  the  investigating  officer have deposed that there was discussion in the  locality  about  the  illicit connection of the appellant with one lady at Chelur  Village.   Barring  the aforesaid, there is no whisper with regard to any kind of  ill-treatment  or cruel behaviour by the husband.
  9. In view of the aforesaid evidence, the question  that  emerges  for consideration is whether the conviction under Section 498A and  306  IPC  is legally justiciable in this context.  We think it appropriate  to  refer  to Section 498A of the IPC.  The said provision reads as follows:-

“498-A. 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 purposes of this section, “cruelty” means

(a) Any willful 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”

  1. The said provision came up  for  consideration  in  Giridhar  Shankar Tawade vs. State of Maharashtra[1], where the Court dwelling upon the  scope and purport of Section 498-A IPC has held thus:-

“The basic purport of the statutory provision is to  avoid  ‘cruelty’  which stands defined by attributing a specific statutory meaning attached  thereto as noticed herein before. Two specific instances have been taken note of  in order to ascribe a meaning to the word ‘cruelty’  as  is  expressed  by  the legislatures : Whereas explanation (a) involves  three  specific  situations viz., (i) to drive the woman to  commit  suicide  or  (ii)  to  cause  grave injury or (iii) danger to life, limb or health, both  mental  and  physical, and thus involving a physical torture or atrocity, in explanation (b)  there is absence of physical injury but the legislature thought it fit to  include only  coercive  harassment  which  obviously  as  the   legislative   intent expressed is equally heinous to match the physical injury : whereas  one  is patent, the other one  is  latent  but  equally  serious  in  terms  of  the provisions of the statute since the same would also embrance the  attributes of ‘cruelty’ in terms of Section 498-A.”

[emphasis added]

  1. In Gurnaib Singh v. State  of  Punjab[2],  while  dwelling  upon  the concept of ‘cruelty’ enshrined under Section  498-A  the  Court  has  opined thus:-

“Clause (a) of the Explanation to the aforesaid provision defines  “cruelty” to mean “any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to  drive the woman to commit suicide”.  Clause (b) of  the  Explanation  pertains  to unlawful demand.  Clause (a) can take in its ambit mental cruelty.”

  1. The aforesaid analysis of the provision clearly spells  how  coercive harassment can have the attributes of cruelty that would meet the  criterion as conceived of under Section 498-A of the IPC.  Thus, the  emphasis  is  on any wilful conduct which is of such a nature that is  likely  to  drive  the woman to commit suicide.  The mental cruelty which is engraved in the  first limb of Section 498-A of the IPC has  nothing  to  do  with  the  demand  of dowry.  It is associated with mental cruelty  that  can  drive  a  woman  to commit suicide and dependent upon the conduct of the person concerned.
  2. In this regard, Mr. Singh has drawn our attention to the authority in Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal v. State of Gujarat[3].   In  the  said  case,  the Court was dealing with as to whether relationship between the appellant  and the second accused therein was extra-marital leading to cruelty  within  the meaning of Section 498-A  IPC and whether  that  would  amount  to  abetment leading to the act of  suicide  within  the  meaning  of  Section  306  IPC. Dealing with the extra-marital  relationship,  the  Court  has  opined  that marital relationship means the legally protected  marital  interest  of  one spouse  to  another  which  include  marital  obligation  to  another   like companionship,  living  under  the  same  roof,  sexual  relation  and   the exclusive enjoyment of them, to have children, their  up-bringing,  services in the home, support, affection, love, liking and so on,  but  extra-marital relationship as such is not defined in the IPC. The Court  analyzing  further in the context of Section 498A observed that the mere fact that the  husband has developed some intimacy with another woman, during  the  subsistence  of marriage and failed to discharge his marital obligations, as such would  not amount to “cruelty”, but it must be of such a nature as is likely  to  drive the spouse to commit suicide to fall within the explanation to Section  498A IPC.  The Court further elucidated that harassment need not be in  the  form of physical assault and even mental harassment also would  come  within  the purview of Section 498A IPC. Mental cruelty, of course, varies  from  person to person, depending upon the intensity and the degree  of  endurance,  some may meet with courage and some others suffer in silence, to some it  may  be unbearable and a weak person may think of  ending  one’s  life.   The  Court ruled that  in  the  facts  of  the  said  case  the  alleged  extra-marital relationship was not of such a  nature  as  to  drive  the  wife  to  commit suicide.  The two-Judge Bench further opined that:-

“Section 306 refers to abetment of suicide which says  that  if  any  person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission  of  such  suicide,  shall  be punished with imprisonment for a term which  may  extend  to  10  years  and shall also be liable to fine. The action for committing suicide is  also  on account of mental disturbance caused by  mental  and  physical  cruelty.  To constitute an offence under Section 306, the prosecution  has  to  establish that a person has committed suicide and  the  suicide  was  abetted  by  the accused. The Prosecution has to establish beyond reasonable doubt  that  the deceased committed  suicide  and  the  accused  abetted  the  commission  of suicide. But for the alleged extra marital relationship,  which  if  proved, could  be  illegal  and  immoral,  nothing  has  been  brought  out  by  the prosecution to show that the accused had provoked, incited  or  induced  the wife to commit suicide.”

[emphasis added]

  1. Slightly recently in Ghusabhai  Raisangbhai  Chorasiya  v.  State  of Gujarat[4], the Court perusing the material on record opined  that  even  if the illicit relationship is proven, unless some  other  acceptable  evidence is brought on record 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.  The  relevant  passage from the said authority is reproduced below:-

“True it is, there is some evidence about the illicit relationship and  even if the same is proven, we are of the considered  opinion  that  cruelty,  as envisaged under the first limb of Section 498A IPC would not get  attracted. It would be difficult to hold that the mental cruelty was of such  a  degree that  it  would  drive  the  wife  to  commit  suicide.  Mere  extra-marital relationship, even if proved, would be illegal  and  immoral,  as  has  been said in Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal (supra), but  it  would  take  a  different character if the prosecution brings some evidence on  record  to  show  that the accused had conducted in such a manner  to  drive  the  wife  to  commit suicide. In the instant case, the accused  may  have  been  involved  in  an illicit relationship with the appellant no.4, but in  the  absence  of  some other acceptable evidence on record that can establish such high  degree  of mental cruelty, the Explanation to Section 498-A which includes  cruelty  to drive a woman to commit suicide, would not be attracted.”

  1. The concept of mental cruelty depends upon the milieu and the  strata from which the persons come  from  and  definitely  has  an  individualistic perception regard being had to  one’s  endurance  and  sensitivity.   It  is difficult to generalize but certainly it can be  appreciated  in  a  set  of established facts.  Extra-marital relationship, per se,  or  as  such  would not come within the ambit of Section 498-A IPC. It would be  an  illegal  or immoral act, but other ingredients are to be brought home so that  it  would constitute a criminal offence.  There is no denial  of  the  fact  that  the cruelty need not be physical but a  mental  torture  or  abnormal  behavior that amounts to cruelty or harassment in a given case. It will  depend  upon the facts of the said case.  To explicate, solely  because  the  husband  is involved in an extra-marital relationship and there  is  some  suspicion  in the mind of wife, that cannot be regarded as   mental  cruelty  which  would attract mental cruelty for satisfying the ingredients of Section 306 IPC.
  2. We are absolutely conscious about  the  presumption  engrafted  under Section 113-A of the Evidence Act.  The said provision enables the Court  to draw presumption in a particular fact situation when  necessary  ingredients in order to attract the provision are established.  In this regard,  we  may reproduce a passage from Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal  (supra):-

“Criminal law amendment and the rule of procedure was necessitated so as  to meet the social challenge of  saving  the  married  woman  from  being  ill- treated or forcing to commit  suicide  by  the  husband  or  his  relatives, demanding dowry. Legislative mandate of the section is  that  when  a  woman commits suicide within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that  her husband or any relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty  as  per the terms defined in Section 498-A IPC, the court may presume having  regard to all other circumstances of the case that such suicide  has  been  abetted by the husband or such person. Though a  presumption  could  be  drawn,  the burden of proof of showing that such an offence has been  committed  by  the accused under Section 498-A IPC is on the prosecution.”

We have reproduced the aforesaid passage only to  highlight  that  the Court can take aid of the principles of the statutory presumption.

  1. In the instant case, as the evidence  would  limpidly  show,  the wife developed a sense of suspicion that her husband was going to the  house of Ashwathamma in Village Chelur where  he  got  involved  with  Deepa,  the daughter of Ashwathamma.  It has come on record  through  various  witnesses that the people talked in the locality with regard  to  the  involvement  of the appellant with Deepa.   It needs to be noted that Deepa, being not  able to digest the humiliation, committed suicide. The mother and the brother  of Deepa paved the same path. In such a situation, it  is  extremely  difficult to hold that the prosecution has established the charge under  Section  498A and the fact that the said cruelty induced the wife to commit  suicide.   It is manifest that the wife was guided  by  the  rumour  that  aggravated  her suspicion which has no boundary.   The seed of  suspicion  planted  in  mind  rought the eventual tragedy.  But such an event  will  not  constitute  the offence or establish the guilt of the accused-appellant  under  Section  306 of the IPC.
  2. Having said that we intend to make it clear that if the husband  gets involved in an extra-marital  affair  that  may  not  in  all  circumstances invite conviction under Section 306 of the IPC but definitely that can be  a ground for divorce or other reliefs in a  matrimonial  dispute  under  other enactments.  And we so clarify.
  3. Consequently, the appeals are allowed. The conviction under  Sections 306 and 498-A of the IPC is set aside.  The  appellant  be  set  at  liberty unless his detention is required in connection with any other case.

………………..……………..J.                                        (DIPAK MISRA)

 

………………..……………..J.                                         (AMITAVA ROY)

 

New Delhi

November 22, 2016

ITEM NO.4              COURT NO.3               SECTION IIC

 

S U P R E M E  C O U R T  O F  I N D I A

RECORD OF PROCEEDINGS

Petition(s) for Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No(s).  5928-5929/2016

(Arising out of impugned final judgment and order dated  13/04/2016 in CRLA No. 126/2012 13/04/2016 in CRLA No. 655/2012 passed by the High Court Of Karnataka At Bangalore)

K.V. PRAKASH BABU                                  Petitioner(s)

                                VERSUS

STATE OF KARNATAKA                                 Respondent(s)

(with appln. (s) for bail and exemption from filing O.T. and office report)

Date : 22/11/2016 These petitions were called on for hearing today.

 

CORAM :

HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE DIPAK MISRA

HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE AMITAVA ROY

 

For Petitioner(s)    :-

Mr. S.R. Singh, Sr. Adv.

Mr.Anurag Thomas, Adv.

Mr. B. Vishwanath Bhandarkar, Adv.

Mr. H.K. Naik, Adv.

Mr. Karunakar Mahalik,Adv.

For Respondent(s)     :-

Mr. V. N. Raghupathy,Adv.

 

UPON hearing the counsel the Court made the following                           O R D E R

Leave granted.

Consequently, the appeals are allowed. The conviction  under  Sections 306 and 498-A of the IPC is set aside.  The  appellant  be  set  at  liberty unless his detention is required in connection with any other case.

|   (NEELAM GULATI)                |          (H.S. PARASHER)          |

|   COURT MASTER                    |           COURT MASTER          |

 

            (Signed Reportable Judgment is placed on the file)

———————–

[1]    (2002) 5 SCC 177

[2]    (2013) 7 SCC 108

[3]     (2013) 10 SCC 48

[4]     (2015) 11 SCC 753