Supreme Court: In a case where the appellant had challenged his conviction under Section 306 IPC for driving his wife to suicide, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ set aside the verdict of the Trial Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court and held that the conclusion that the deceased was driven to commit suicide, by the circumstances or atmosphere in the matrimonial home was nothing more than an inference, without any material support and the same cannot be the basis for sustaining conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC.
KEY FACTS CONSIDERED BY COURTS
- The appellant was married to the deceased and they had a son (21/4 years) and a daughter (8/9 months), when the mother committed suicide on 12.8.1997. According to the prosecution case, the deceased was harassed after marriage, for insufficient dowry. The appellant along with his parents was charged under sections 304B and 498A read with section 34 of the IPC.
- The father of the deceased submitted that “cash loan” of 20,000/- was asked from him by the family of the appellant.
- appellant is the only son of his parents and they are the owner of a big house with a vegetable garden. The appellant and his father were drivers with Punjab police.
- during delivery time, the deceased was admitted in the hospital for 10/12 days in November 1996 and her medical treatment was arranged by the husband and the father-in-law.
- No evidence of any dispute relating to dowry demand or maltreatment of the deceased, during three years of marriage was seen.
TRIAL COURT AND HIGH COURT’s VERDICT
Even while declaring that there is insufficient material to convict anyone under section 304B & 498A IPC, the trial Court opined that although no charge of abetment was framed against the husband Gurcharan Singh, he can be convicted for abetting suicide of his wife, under section 306 IPC.
The Trial Court also concluded even if Rs. 20,000/- was asked for purchase of plot three years after marriage and few days later the unnatural death takes place, the death cannot be related to demand of dowry.
However, posing a question to itself as to why a young lady with two small children would commit suicide unless she has been pushed to do so, by the circumstances in the matrimonial home, the Trial Court observed that the expectation of a married woman will be love and affection and financial security at the hands of her husband and if her hopes are frustrated by the act or by wilful negligence of the husband, it would constitute abetment within the meaning of section 107 IPC, warranting conviction under section 306 IPC.
The High Court also endorsed the Trial Court’s view that deceased was pushed to commit suicide by the circumstances and the atmosphere in the matrimonial home.
SUPREME COURT’s OBSERVATION
On ingredients to establish offence of abetment under Section 107
As in all crimes, mens rea has to be established. To prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Sec 107 of the IPC, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible, to determine the culpability. In order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the appellant herein had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of the deceased. The ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous.
“In order to give the finding of abetment under section 107 IPC, the accused should instigate a person either by act of omission or commission and only then, a case of abetment is made out.”
On facts and circumstances of the case
In the present case there is no direct evidence of cruelty against the husband or the in-laws. There is nothing on record to show which particular hope or expectation of the deceased was frustrated by the husband. Evidence is also lacking on wilful neglect of the appellant, which led to the suicidal death.
“Whereas contrary evidence is available to suggest that care and treatment was given to the deceased in the matrimonial home and in the hospital, and during the three years of marriage, there was no instance of maltreatment, attributable to dowry demand.”
The demand of Rs. 20,000/- for purchase of a plot (in front of the residence which might have incidentally become available for sale just at that time), after three years of marriage, was ruled out by the trial Court as the possible cause for the suicidal death.
“Thus, a loan may have been sought by the accused which could not be given. But there is nothing to show that the deceased was harassed on this count, in the matrimonial home.”
Expectations from husband and in-laws
Insofar as the possible reason for a young married lady with two minor children committing suicide, in the absence of evidence, conjectures cannot be drawn that she was pushed to take her life, by the circumstances and atmosphere in the matrimonial home.
“What might have been the level of expectation of the deceased from her husband and in-laws and the degree of her frustration, if any, is not found through any evidence on record. More significantly, wilful negligence by the husband could not be shown by the prosecution.”
It must also be noted that both children born to deceased are being brought up by the appellant’s family ever since the death of the mother on 12.8.1997. The maternal grandparents, even while pointing fingers against the accused, never raised any issue on their grandchildren being brought up in the home where their daughter died an unnatural death.
The Court noticed that in the present matter both the Trial Court as well as the High Court never examined whether appellant had the mens rea for the crime, he is held to have committed.
“The conviction of Appellant by the Trial Court as well as the High Court on the theory that the woman with two young kids might have committed suicide, possibly because of the harassment faced by her in the matrimonial house, is not at all borne out by the evidence in the case.”
On the other hand, it is apparent that no overt act or illegal omission is seen from the appellant’s side, in taking due care of his deceased wife. The evidence also does not indicate that the deceased faced persistent harassment from her husband.
“The Trial Court and the High Court speculated on the unnatural death and without any evidence concluded only through conjectures, that the appellant is guilty of abetting the suicide of his wife.”
Hence, the conviction of the appellant, under section 306 of the IPC cannot be sustained.
[Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.40 OF 2011, decided on 02.10.2020]