IPC Section 306

Supreme Court: In an appeal against affirmation of conviction by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for judgment and order passed by the Trial Court for offence punishable under Section 306 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’), the Division Bench of JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, JJ. set aside conviction and acquitted the appellant since there was no cogent evidence of incessant harassment or cruelty.

Factual Background

The deceased and the appellant got married on 10-05-1992, and it was deceased’s second marriage. The prosecution case reflected that soon after marriage, the appellant and his parents started demanding money for appellant to start a ration shop. The deceased committed suicide by consuming poison on 19-11-1993, allegedly on account of incessant harassment by her husband. The husband was charged with offence of abetting the commission of suicide by his wife. The appellant’s parents were also put to trial for the alleged offence, got acquitted by the Trial Court.

Court’s Analysis

The Court went on to consider whether the High Court committed an error in confirming the conviction. It took note of the several witnesses examined and perused the oral evidence of the brother and father of the deceased. The Court pointed out that both of them only stated regarding demand of some money after marriage, and on account of such demand, the deceased used to remain tense, and highlighted that “What ultimately led the deceased to take such a drastic step of committing suicide is not clear”. The Court said that plain reading of the evidence did not reflect any kind of ‘incessant cruelty or harassment’ by the husband/appellant to drag the wife to commit suicide wherein the wife was not left with any alternative. The Court clarified that “mere demand of money from the wife or her parents for running a business without anything more would not constitute cruelty or harassment.”

The Court perused Section 306 of IPC to hint towards the basic ingredients being suicidal death and abetment thereof. It further pointed towards Section 107 of IPC regarding ‘abetment of a thing’.

The Court referred to the decision in Geo Varghese v. State of Rajasthan, (2021) 19 SCC 144; M. Arjunan v. State, (2019) 3 SCC 315; Ude Singh v. State of Haryana, (2019) 17 SCC 301 and a catena of cases regarding ingredients of Sections 306 and 107 of IPC. The Court expressed that “Had there been any clinching evidence of incessant harassment on account of which the wife was left with no other option but to put an end to her life, it could have been said that the accused intended the consequences of his act, namely, suicide. A person intends a consequence when he

  1. foresees that it will happen if the given series of acts or omissions continue; and

  2. desires it to happen.

The most serious level of culpability, justifying the most serious levels of punishment, is achieved when both these components are actually present in the accused’s mind (a “subjective” test).”

For assessing mens rea, the Court pointed towards Section 8 of Criminal Justice Act, 1967 and reiterated the settled position that “in order to convict a person under Section 306 of IPC, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence. Mere harassment is not sufficient to hold an accused guilty of abetting the commission of suicide.” The Court further clarified that it also requires an active or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide and added that “the ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous”.

The Court highlighted the High Court’s emphasis upon Section 113A of Evidence Act and explained that the said provision requires proof that:

  1. “her husband or relatives subjected her to cruelty; and

  2. the married woman committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage.”

The Court further delineated Section 113A from Section 113B pointing towards the words ‘may’ and ‘shall’ and reiterated that “mere fact that the deceased committed suicide within a period of seven years of her marriage, the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act would not automatically apply. The legislative mandate is that where 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, the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act may be raised, having regard to all other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.” The Court clarified that presumption was discretionary unlike Section 113B wherein the presumption was mandatory, and therefore, prosecution had to show evidence of cruelty or incessant harassment in the instant matter.

The Court cautioned that “the Court should be extremely careful in assessing evidence under section 113A for finding out if cruelty was meted out. If it transpires that a victim committing suicide was hyper sensitive to ordinary petulance, discord and differences in domestic life quite common to the society to which the victim belonged and such petulance, discord and differences were not expected to induce a similarly circumstanced individual in a given society to commit suicide, the conscience of the Court would not be satisfied for holding that the accused charged of abetting the offence of suicide was guilty.”

The Court held that in the absence of any cogent evidence of harassment or cruelty, the accused cannot be held guilty for offence under Section 306 raising presumption under Section 113A.

The Court further commented that “the criminal justice system of ours can itself be a punishment” as happened in the instant matter which started in 1993 and came to an end in 2024, after 30 years of suffering. The Court said that it did not take more than 10 minutes for the Court to reach an inevitable conclusion denying sustainability of conviction under Section 306 of IPC. The Court cautiously expressed concern that no crime should go unpunished, being mindful of a young woman having died leaving behind a 6-month-old infant, but clarified its stance that the accused’s guild must be determined in accordance with law.

Analysing the pointers on which the two Courts faltered in applying the correct principles of law to evidence on record regarding abetment of suicide, the Court highlighted the following:

  1. the deceased committed suicide within seven years of marriage;

  2. the accused was demanding money from the parents of the deceased for starting some business; and

  3. the deceased used to remain tense.

The Court did not deny relevance of the aforementioned aspects, but clarified that


“In the case of accusation for abetment of suicide, the court should look for cogent and convincing proof of the act of incitement to the commission of suicide and such an offending action should be proximate to the time of occurrence.”

It further suggested that Courts must remain vigilant in applying correct principles of law governing abetment of suicide while appreciating evidence, or it may depict a rather moral conviction.

The Court concluded the prosecution’s inability to establish the appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and therefore, set aside the High Court’s affirmation of the Trial Court judgment and order regarding conviction. The Court acquitted the convict.

[Naresh Kumar v. State of Haryana, 2024 SCC OnLine SC 202, Order dated 22-02-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Appellants: Advocate S.D.Singh, Advocate Shweta Sinha, Advocate Ram Kripal Singh, Advocate Siddharth Singh, Advocate on Record Aparna Jha

For Respondents: Additional Advocate General Raj Singh Rana, Advocate on Record Samar Vijay Singh, Advocate Keshav Mittal, Advocate Sabarni Som, Advocate Fateh Singh

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