Calcutta High Court: A single-judge bench comprising of Shampa Dutt (Paul),* J., held that the victim’s claims lack substantial corroboration and the demand for dowry is not proven. The Court set aside the appellant’s conviction under Section 498-A of the Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).
“The conduct of the concerned party should be grave and substantial and it must be much more serious than the ordinary wear and tear of daily life.”
In the instant matter, the wife of the appellant filed a complaint under Sections 498-A/307/34 of the IPC, alleging mental and physical torture by her husband, his mother, and his sister. The Additional Sessions Judge vide order dated 15-09-2015, convicted the appellant under Section 498-A IPC, sentencing him to one year of simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1,00,000/-, with an additional six months of simple imprisonment. Aggrieved by the impugned order dated 15.09.2015 passed by the trial court, the appellant preferred an appeal before this Court challenging the same.
The prosecution contended that the victim lodged a complaint alleging mental and physical torture by her husband and in-laws, including a conspiracy to kill her after her husband demanded Rs. 10,000 from her and escalated the torture when the demand was not met. It was contended that the accused-husband had attempted to kill her by pouring kerosene on her and igniting it. The prosecution argued that the victim was subjected to cruelty and harassment, leading to her leaving her matrimonial home and seeking justice.
The appellant contended that crucial witnesses for the prosecution, the victim and her mother, provided exaggerated statements during their testimonies and that there was no evidence of physical cruelty or the demand for dowry, which were essential elements for proving the charges. The appellant further pointed out contradictions in the victim’s statements regarding the timeline and reasons for leaving her matrimonial home.
The Court observed that the trial court found the appellant guilty based on the testimony of the victim and her mother; however, there exist inconsistencies in victim and her mother’s statements and the lack of medical evidence for physical abuse.
While examining the definition of mental cruelty, the Court stated that it varied in different cases based on societal norms and individual perceptions.
“The question of mental cruelty has to be considered in the light of the norms of marital ties of the particular society to which the parties belong, their social values, status, and the environment in which they live.”
The Court observed that “Mental cruelty is a state of mind – The feeling of deep anguish, disappointment, or frustration in one spouse caused by the conduct of the other over a long period of time may lead to mental cruelty. And such feeling and intensity are felt differently by each person. Some are stronger in mind than others.”
The Court observed that the allegations of cruelty were not proven beyond reasonable doubt. There was no substantial proof of physical cruelty or the demand of dowry. It was observed that the alleged second marriage of the appellant was not substantiated by evidence.
The Court reviewed the evidence and concluded that the trial court’s findings were not aligned with the legal requirements for cruelty under Section 498-A IPC and there was insufficient evidence to establish that the appellant’s actions amounted to cruelty causing mental pain, agony, or suffering.
“From the evidence on record, there is nothing to show that there was:
a. Any wilful conduct on the part of the appellant 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. Parties were married for 12 years and have two children.
b. There is also no evidence to substantiate the charge of demand of dowry.”
The Court set aside the impugned order of conviction and acquitted the appellant of the charge under Section 498-A of the IPC. The appeal was allowed, and the appellant was released from his bail bond.
[Hira Bittar v. State of W.B., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 2260, order dated 04-08-2023]
*Judgment by Justice Shampa Dutt (Paul)
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. Pratip Kumar Chatterjee, Counsel for the Appellant;
Ms. Rita Datta, Counsel for the Respondent/State.