Bom HC | Woman commits suicide along with her infant daughter within 7 years of marriage. Can husband of deceased be held guilty for offences under Ss. 498-A, 304-B read with 34 IPC? Mere suspicion of Cruelty & Harassment is enough?

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Ravindra V. Ghuge and B.U. Debadwar, JJ., upheld the decision of Additional Sessions Judge wherein a woman committed suicide along with her infant daughter within 7 years of marriage and allegations were placed that she committed suicide on the pretext of cruelty and harassment, but same could not be proved.

Present appeal was filed under Section 378(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 against the Judgment and Order passed by Additional Sessions Judge, whereby the five accused were acquitted for the offences under Sections 498-A, 304-B and 306 read with Section 34 of the Penal Code, 1860.

Factual Matrix

Respondent 2 and 3 are the husband and wife, whereas respondent 1 and 5 are the son and daughter of the said respondents 2 and 3.

Deceased ‘Jyoti’ was the daughter of Haribhau Laxman Karkhile and Shakuntala Haribhau Karkhile.

Further, it was stated that, with the intervention of close relatives of both the families, the marriage of deceased Jyoti with respondent 1 Vijay was settled.

At the time of settlement of marriage, respondents had expressed their desire that marriage should be solemnized in a grand manner. Respondents did not demand any gift or dowry. Haribhau and his family members agreed to the performance of marriage of deceased Jyoti and accused 1 Vijay at Kedgaon in the best of possible manner.

Matrimonial life of deceased Jyoti was normal for about 10 months after marriage. Thereafter, husband and father-in-law started insisting on her for bringing balance dowry amount of Rs 25,000 and subjecting her to cruelty for that, in the form of beating and starving her.

Deceased Jyoti used to disclose about harassment and ill-treatment meted out by husband and in-laws on account of remainder dowry amount of Rs 25,000 to her parents and brothers, whenever she visited her parental house.

In the meanwhile, Jyoti became pregnant and gave birth to a girl child but as afraid to return back to matrimonial house without the remainder of dowry. However, after some time she returned to her matrimonial house and assured her husband/accused that Haribhau would soon arrange the money and requested not to harass her.

Though Haribhau failed to arrange the money and deceased was constantly harassed and the same was disclosed to her parents.

Later, Jyoti and her daughter were both found dead by a fisherman in decomposed condition under the shrubs in the Ghod river.

Haribhau lodged report narrating over all conduct of the accused and the crime was registered for the offences punishable under Section 498-A, 304-B and 306 read with Section 34 IPC.

Additional Sessions Judge on conducting trial found that the prosecution failed to provide demand of dowry and harassment of Jyoti by the accused of non-fulfilment of remainder dowry amount. Being aggrieved of the same, State preferred the present appeal.

Crux of the matter lies in the following issues:

  1. Whether Jyoti committed suicide, along with tender aged daughter Kranti, by drowning into Ghod river;
  2. Whether, soon before the death, Jyoti was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the accused in connection with demand of dowry;

OR

(iii) Whether, by their willful conduct, accused had driven Jyoti to commit suicide along with daughter Kranti.

Bench on taking into consideration the evidence on record, gathered that Jyoti along with Kranti committed suicide by drowning in Ghod river, hence resulting in suicidal death.

Court ruled out the possibility of accused getting annoyed when Jyoti gave birth to a daughter and started harassing Jyoti more, on the contrary, in light of the evidence placed, it was found that they were happy.

PW5 Shakuntala did not tell any relative that accused were ill-treating Jyoti for insisting her to fulfil their demand of remainder dowry amount of Rs 25,000. This conduct of PW5 Shakuntala cannot be lost sight of. In the normal course, every mother shares such aspects with kith and kin or relatives.

Evidence of PW5 Shakuntala was not worthy of credence.

Further, High Court added that when Haribhau, Deepak, Shakuntala and Sudam were well aware about the fact that since more than one year accused were harassing Jyoti, on account of non-payment of remainder dowry of Rs 25,000, in normal course it was expected on their part to disclose the same to police immediately, however, they did not disclose anything about the aforesaid conduct of the accused.

During the course of recording the statement under Section 313 of CrPC, accused 1 not only stated that after birth of daughter Kranti he deposited Rs 50,000 in the Bank of Maharashtra, in the name of Kranti in fixed deposit account, but also produced on record xerox copy of the said fixed deposit receipt. The said conduct of the accused in taking care of future of Kranti, immediately after her birth, by way of depositing substantial amount in her name in bank, creates every doubt about the case set out in the FIR and deposed by PW2 Deepak, PW5 Shakuntala and PW7 Sudam that after the birth of Kranti gravity of harassment of Jyoti by accused increased.

High Court found the allegations of harassment of Jyoti by accused vague and omnibus.

In view of the facts and circumstances of the case, Bench found that Jyoti committed suicide within 7 years of marriage with accused 1 Vijay, accused cannot be held guilty, either for the offence punishable under Sections 498-A, 304-B or 306 read with Section 34 of IPC, as evidence on the aspect of subjecting her to cruelty by accused persons on account of remainder demand of dowry of Rs 25,000/- soon before her death or driving her to commit suicide by their willful conduct, is doubtful for various reasons.

Presumption contemplated in Section 113A or Section 113B of the Evidence Act would not support the prosecution, since Jyoti being subjected to cruelty on account of dowry demand was found to be doubtful.

The reason alone that Jyoti committed suicide, cannot be a ground to hold the accused guilty for offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 304-B or 306 read with Section 34 IPC on suspicion, when the evidence as to the demand of dowry and harassment of Jyoti by accused of the same, adduced by the prosecution was doubtful and not worthy of credence.

On re-appreciating the evidence, High Court did not find the view taken by the Additional Sessions Judge to be incorrect or improbable.

Hence the Bench concurred with the lower court’s view and dismissed the appeal. [State of Maharashtra v. Vijay Dattatraya Kolhe, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 338, decided on 11-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

APP for Appellant – State: Shri R. V. Dasalkar

Advocate for Respondents No. 1, 2, 4 & 5 — Shri Amol Joshi

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