Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A Division Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta, JJ. upheld Rajasthan High Court’s order whereby it had directed that criminal proceedings against the accused−Lower Division Clerk be quashed, for want of requisite sanction under Section 197 CrPC.

The Court held that in cases where a question of requirement of sanction under Section 197 arises, the real test is to check whether the act committed by the public servant was directly concerned with the official duty.

Factual Matrix

The appellant−complainant had filed an FIR wherein she made allegations of cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy against the accused. The accused was a Lower Division Clerk in the Municipality concerned.

It was the complainant’s case that she and her husband purchased two plots in District Barmer. Out of these, one plot was sold to one Meghram. Further, in the plot purchased in her husband’s name, a residential house and shops were constructed. It was alleged that Meghram tempered with and fabricated the agreement with intention to defraud. Dimensions of the plot which was sold to Meghram were enlarged with intention to grab the land and house occupied by the complainant and her husband. The khasra number was also changed. This was alleged to have been done in collusion with the Executive Officer of the Municipality, a Junior Engineer, and the accused−Lower Division Clerk. The police made investigation made into the FIR and charge sheet was filed.

 Appeal

Before the trial court, the accused stated that he was a public servant and what he did in respect of allotment of lease that was executed in favour of Megharam, was done during the course of his official duty. He assailed the charge sheet as the same was filed without obtaining sanction of the competent authority under Section 197 CrPC. This application was dismissed by the trial court. The accused assailed this order before Rajasthan High Court by filing a petition under Section 482 CrPC, which was allowed. Aggrieved, the complainant approached the Supreme Court.

Contentions

The complainant contended that the accused conspired with his superior officers in dishonestly concealing the forgery, and intentionally omitting mentioning the date of the proceedings on the order sheet. Such action of forging documents would not be considered as an act conducted in the course of his official duties and, thus, Section 197 CrPC would not give protection to the accused.

Per contra, the accused submitted that the co-accused officials had already been granted protection, petition filed by them under Section 482 CrPC have been allowed by the High Court and those orders have not been challenged by the complainant or the State. It was argued that two key people involved in entire process have already been granted protection and, thus, the accused who was merely a Lower Division Clerk could not be denied similar relief.

Analysis and Observations

At the outset, the Court noted that Section 197 CrPC seeks to protect an officer from unnecessary harassment, who is accused of an offence committed while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duties and, thus, prohibits the court from taking cognizance of such offence except with the previous sanction of the competent authority.

Relying on Subramanian Swamy v. Manmohan Singh, (2012) 3 SCC 64, the Court observed that:

Public servants have been treated as a special category in order to protect them from malicious or vexatious prosecution. At the same time, the shield cannot protect corrupt officers and the provisions must be construed in such a manner as to advance the cause of honesty, justice and good governance.

The Court recorded that the alleged indulgence of the officers in cheating, fabrication of records or misappropriation cannot be said to be in discharge of their official duty. However, such sanction is necessary if the offence alleged against the public servant is committed by him “while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty”.  Placing reliance on State of Maharashtra v. Budhikota Subbarao, (1993) 3 SCC 339, the Court stated that:

In order to find out whether the alleged offence is committed ‘while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty’, the yardstick to be followed is to form a prima facie view whether the act of omission for which the accused was charged had a reasonable connection with the discharge of his duties.

The real question therefore was whether the act committed was directly concerned with the official duty. Applying this test, the Court considered the role assigned to the accused in the alleged conspiracy with his superiors. It was noted that the work assigned to the accused pertained to subject matter of allotment, regularisation, conversion of agricultural land, which fell within his domain of work. In the processing of application of Megharam, the file was initially put up to the Executive Officer who directed inspection which was carried out by the Junior Engineer and only thereafter the Municipal Commissioner signed the file.

The Court also noted that the co-accused Executive Officer and Junior Engineer had already been granted protection. The result was that the superior officers, who have dealt with the file, have been granted protection while the clerk, who did the paper work, was denied similar protection by the trial court even though the allegation is of really conspiring with his superior officers.

Decision

The Court found itself unable to appreciate why a similar protection ought not to be granted to the accused as was done in the case of other two officials. The sanction from competent authority would be required to take cognizance and no sanction had been obtained in respect of any of the officers.

In such a view of the matter, the Supreme Court upheld the order of the High Court quashing proceedings against the accused. The appeal was dismissed. [Indra Devi v. State of Rajasthan, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 487, decided on 23-7-2021]


Tejaswi Pandit, Senior Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: Shircy V., J., rejected the bail application of a doctor and his family accused of dowry demand and cruelty against his wife within seven months of marriage. Calling ‘matrimonial homes the most dangerous place to live’ due to harassment, abuse and torture, the Bench remarked that the number of cases of attack towards married women in our country is alarming, though stringent laws are there and the same has to be stopped for ever.

Apprehending arrest in connection with offences punishable under Sections 294(b), 341, 323, 324, 325, 498(A) r/w 34, the applicant had approached the Court to seek pre-arrest bail. The facts of the case were such that the applicant had been married to the defacto complainant. The complainant contended that she was gifted with gold ornaments, a car, money, as well landed property by her parents; but she was subjected to physical and mental torture as the applicants were demanding more money.

The complainant contended that even her mother-in-law had assaulted her while she was residing in her matrimonial home. When the physical and mental torture became unbearable she contacted her parents so as to return to her paternal house. However, it was the case of the complainant that when her father and brother had come to her matrimonial house to take her, the applicants had wrongfully restrained and assaulted them. Moreover, the complainant was also attacked and sustained fracture when she intervened to rescue them. Her father had sustained severe injuries on his head and spinal cord. Her brother also sustained fracture in the brutal attack.

The applicant argued before the Court that he was a doctor who joined Government service only on 03-05-2021 and that he had been falsely implicated in the case at the instance of the defacto complainant as she wants to shift her residence and to set up a separate residence for herself and her husband-applicant 1.

After pursuing the medical records of the complainant as well as of her father and brother, the Bench stated that all these documents would reveal that they had sustained physical assault and serious injuries from the hands of the applicants. Noticing that the complainant was also a young doctor was manhandled by the applicants within seven months of her marriage and the allegations levelled against the applicants were grave and serious in nature, the Bench stated,

“Harassment, abuse and torture both mental and physical towards married ladies are increasing day by day in our country to pressurize them to bring more wealth to the family of the bridegroom to improve their financial situation. Though so many cases are being registered against husbands and in laws there is no change in the attitude of the society towards married women and family members.”

Hence, the Bench opined that if anticipatory bail is granted to such wrong doers definitely, that will give a ‘wrong message’ to society. The Court stated,

Even though the applicant 1 is a doctor just started his service in the Government sector and is engaged with Covid duties, I do not think that this is a fit case in which pre-arrest bail can be granted to him.”

In the light of the above, and considering the fact that prima facie, the applicant’s brother and parents also joined to commit the alleged offences, the Bench held that they did not deserve pre-arrest bail as requested. Accordingly, the bail application was rejected with the liberty to the applicants to surrender before the jurisdictional Magistrate and seek regular bail.[Sijo Rajan R v. State Of Kerala, Bail Appl. No. 3750 of 2021, decided on 14-07-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearance by:

For the Applicants: Adv. K.Saneesh Kumar

For the Complainants: Advs. Thomas J.Anakkallunkal and Maria Paul

For the State: P.P. Ajith Murali

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dinesh Pathak, J., addressed a matter of dowry death and upheld the lower court’s decision.

Factual Matrix

An FIR was filed by the informant (PW-1) with regard to the dowry death of his daughter who was allegedly killed by her in-laws.

Accused was married to the informant’s daughter and at the time of marriage, he had received Rs 1 lakh cash as well as goods worth Rs 1 lakh. That apart, he had given one golden chain and golden ring to the groom, but in-laws of his daughter were not satisfied with the dowry.

Due to non-fulfilment of dowry demand, in-laws of the informant’s daughter attempted several times to kill her and later kicked her out of their house. She was subjected to cruelty and later in June, 2015 the police informed her about the death of the daughter.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court noted that the present matter pertained to the dowry death of the lady who had been allegedly hanged by her in-laws.

Bench stated that the case is of circumstantial evidence. Trial Court concluded that demand for dowry was the root cause and drew the victim to take a drastic step of ending her life.

Section 304-B IPC and Section 113-B of Evidence Act are decisive provisions to ascertain the unnatural death as dowry death.

Conjoint reading of Section 304-B IPC and presumptive provision of Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, one of the essential ingredients, amongst others, is that the woman must have been soon before her death subjected to cruelty and harassment for or in connection with demand of dowry. On the proof of essentials as mentioned in the aforesaid sections, it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.

“…it becomes obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.”

Supreme Court expounded the legal presumption qua dowry death in Sher Singh v. State of Haryana, (2015) 3 SCC 724.

It was expressed in the present matter that in case of dowry death initial burden lies upon the prosecution to prove the ingredients of Section 304-B IPC by a preponderance of probability.

In the matter in hand, prosecution witnesses of fact i.e. PWs-1, 2 and 3 were consistent in their depositions qua cruel attitude of husband and his family member in connection with demand of dowry.

Main ingredients of dowry death are harassment and cruelty for the demand of dowry.

Main Question:

Whether the victim had died otherwise than under normal circumstances and it was shown that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty and harassment by her husband or his relatives for, or in connection with, any demand of dowry.

Matter in hand relates to dowry death of victim, which is obviously a case of death other than under normal circumstances.

Bench noted that it may be a matter of dispute as to whether she had been forcibly hanged to death or hanged herself to death but there was no doubt that she had ended her life under extreme pressure created by her on laws.

After careful consideration of evidences of prosecution witnesses and defence witnesses, Trial Court has taken a pragmatic view that involvement of parents of husband (i.e. appellant herein) is not made out on the facts and circumstances of the present case, who were living separately from their son but the involvement of husband cannot be ruled out.

Adding to the above analysis, it was stated that from the evidence on record it is proved that appellant was living with his wife, therefore, his claim for acquittal on the ground of acquittal of his relatives (i.e. parents) was not sustainable and being cohabitant with his wife, his complicity in the commission of a crime could easily be inferred.

High Court concluded that there was persistent demand of dowry made by the accused from the victim who was subjected to cruelty and harassment and ultimately she had ended her life in suspicious circumstances wherein injury inflicted on her forehead suggested some violence soon before her death.

Prosecution successfully discharged its duty and it is obligatory on the Court to raise a presumption that the accused caused the dowry death.

Hence, the present appeal was dismissed and the decision of the lower court was upheld. [Deepak v. State of U.P., 2021 SCC OnLine All 190, decided on 3-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for Appellant:- Ashok Kumar Yadav, Rakesh Dube

Counsel for Respondent :- A.G.A.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Telangana High Court: K. Lakshman, J., allowed a criminal petition and quashed a criminal case filed against the petitioner-accused as the ingredients of the alleged offence were lacking in the contents of the charge sheet.

Present criminal petition was filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Petitioner was accused of offences under Section 498-A Penal Code, 1860 and Sections 4 and 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

The only allegation against accused 4 was that he stayed with the daughter of respondent 1/victim along with accused 1, cousin of the petitioner and during that period, accused 4 supported and instigated the accused and abused daughter of respondent 1, though he was in no way concerned.

It was submitted that petitioner/accused 4 was unnecessarily implicated as he had nothing to do with the matrimonial life of the victim and accused 1.

Supreme Court in the decision of Preeti Gupta v. State of Jharkhand, (2010) 7 SCC 667, dealt with Section 498-A IPC as to social responsibility and obligations to maintain social fibre of family life.

In another decision, Supreme Court in Geeta Mehrotra v. State of U.P., (2012) 10 SCC 741, it was held that mere casual reference of names of family members in a matrimonial dispute without allegation of active involvement in the matter would not justify taking cognizance against them overlooking the fact borne out of experience that there is a tendency to involve the entire family members of the household in the domestic quarrel taking place in a matrimonial dispute specifically if it happens soon after the wedding. It is further held that even if there are allegations of overt act indicating the complicity of the members of the family named in the First Information Report in a given case, cognizance would be unjustified but if the First Information Report does not disclose specific allegation against the accused more so, against the co-accused specifically in a matter arising out of matrimonial bickering, it would be a clear abuse of the legal and judicial process to mechanically send the named accused in the First Information Report to undergo the trial unless of course, the First Information Report discloses specific allegations which would persuade the Court to take cognizance of the offence alleged against the relatives of the main accused who are prima facie not found to have indulged in physical and mental torture of the complainant wife.

In Rajesh Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2018) 10 SCC 472, the Supreme Court, considering the misuse of Section 498-A IPC and remedial measures etc., gave certain directions.

Bench stated that in view of the above-stated law laid down by the Supreme Court, the name of the petitioner/A4 was not there in the complaint. In the Charge Sheet, there was no mention of the basis on which the name of the petitioner was shown.

Court stated that the only allegation against the petitioner was that he stayed with accused 1 and victim in a flat and had supported and instigated accused and also abused victim, even though he was in no way concerned.

Hence, there was no mention of the alleged harassment of the victim by the petitioner/accused 4.

Petitioner/A.4 stayed for about 1 ½ year and during that period he used to support and instigate A.1 to abuse the victim. Thus, even in the statement of victim, there was no mention of the alleged harassment of the victim by the petitioner/A.4.

In view of the above discussion, ingredients of Section 498-A IPC and Sections 4 and 6 of the DP Act were lacking in the contents of the charge sheet. Therefore, Court opined that proceedings against petitioner/A4 cannot be continued and were liable to be quashed. [Gundapaneni Rakesh v. Thatiparthi Jithender, 2021 SCC OnLine TS 677, decided on 01-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For Petitioner: K. Venu Madhav

For Respondent 1: A. Prabhakar Rao

For Respondent 2: Assistant Public Prosecutor

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Subramonium Prasad, J., expressed that:

“Courts must not close its eyes to the fact that it is the victim who knocks the doors of the Court and seeks justice must not left high and dry with the feeling that the accused have escaped due to the perfunctory/faulty/defective investigation.”

Instant petition as directed against the decision of Additional Sessions Judge that discharged the respondent 4 and 5 for the offences under Sections 306/34 of the Penal Code, 1860.

Petitioners are the parents of the deceased who was married to respondent 3. The deceased was found hanging by the neck from the ceiling fan in her matrimonial house within two and a half years of her marriage.

Statements before the SDM

Petitioner 1 i.e. the mother of the deceased stated that the deceased was not happy in her marriage and her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were responsible for the suicide. Though the deceased’s father said that he did not have any grievances or any complaints against any persons and that no one was responsible for the death of the deceased.

No FIR was registered against respondent 4 and 5.

After about 10 months of the death of the deceased, an FIR was registered under Sections 306/34 IPC.

Additional Sessions Judge found that the statements of parents before the SDM did not bear any stamp and that they were also not signed by the petitioners. Prima Facie no material was found to proceed against the accused persons for charges under Sections 306/34 IPC, hence the accused were discharged.

Though the Additional Sessions Judge found investigational lapses that required due probe and further directed for a copy of the order to be sent to the Screening Committee for appropriate action.

The above-said order has been challenged in the present petition.

Analysis, Law and Decision

“…charge-sheet in the instant case bleeds of wounds inflicted by the Police.”

No explanation on why FIR was registered after 10 months of the death

Bench noted that the investigation was oriented in order to give a closure report. And filing of FIR after ten months of the incident was contrary to law.

Petitioner 1 stated that the respondent 4 and 5 demanded dowry, hence there was no reason, whatsoever, not to lodge an FIR for an offence under Section 304B IPC.

It was also stated that IO told the petitioners to give statements as per his will and suggestions and threatened her. Petitioner 1’s letter to the Commissioner of police revealed that IO was forcing the parents of the deceased to enter into a compromise with the respondents.

To construe an offence under Section 304 B i.e. dowry death, the death of the women could have been caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband in connection with, any demand for dowry.

 Ingredients for constituting Section 304 B were made out but surprisingly no FIR was registered.

In the instant matter, the death occurred within 7 years of marriage and allegations of dowry death were also present against the respondent 4 and 5. Deceased died by committing suicide.

Bench expressed that unfortunately neither the Magistrate nor the ASJ orders a further investigation after commenting on glaring loopholes with the investigation.

Sufficient material on record was placed stating that the deceased was subjected to cruelty/harassment with the demand of dowry by respondent 4 and 5 and hence presumption under Section 113(b) of the Indian Evidence Act will apply.

Defective Investigation

 It is well settled that where there has been negligence on the part of the investigating agencies or omissions either negligently or with a design to favour the accused, then it becomes the obligation of the Court to ensure that proper investigation is carried out.

Supreme Court’s decision in Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya v. State of Gujarat, (2019) 17 SCC 1, Vinay Tyagi v. Irshad Ali, (2013) 5 SCC 762 were relied upon by the Court.

In the present matter, investigation was conducted in an extremely shoddy manner. 

High Court elaborating more on the present matter stated that the ASJ while passing the impugned judgment on noticing the glaring inconsistencies should have ordered for further investigation.

Hence, impugned Judgment was set aside. High Court directed police to conduct an investigation on the basis of petitioners’ statements and the same to be conducted by a different investigation officer. [Saroj Bhola v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1497, decided on 05-04-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioners: Chanan Parwani, Advocate

For the Respondents: Kusum Dhalla, APP for the State and respondent 2

Charanjeet Singh, Advocate for respondents 3 to 6

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of NV Ramana* and Surya Kant, JJ has acquitted a man convicted under Section 498­A read with Section 34 IPC for the death of his brother’s wife after it was found that the case against him was not proved beyond doubt.

Allegedly, after several instances of abuse at her matrimonial home, the deceased went to live with her parents. On the fateful day, her husband came to visit her and took her for a walk but came back alone and hurriedly packed his belongings to leave. When confronted about the whereabouts of the deceased, he said   that the deceased was attending the call of nature and would be back soon. He left thereafter. When the deceased did not return after an hour, the complainant started searching for her and she was   ultimately found dead, near a canal with strangulation marks on her neck.

Deceased’s husband, Brother-in-law (the appellant herein) and Father-in-law were convicted under Section 498-A read with Section 34 IPC.

In the present appeal, the deceased’s brother-in-law contended that the prosecution story comprises of vague allegations, unsubstantiated by evidence and that the entire family has been roped in this case. Thus, the conviction of the appellant cannot be sustained.

The prosecution had alleged that the appellant in the present case, had, along with his brother and father, demanded dowry of Rs. 10,000 from the family of the deceased at the time of the vidai ceremony and had continued to harass her for the non-payment of the same.

On perusal of the testimonies of the witnesses, the Court noticed that deceased’s father had named the appellant-accused in the same breath along with other accused persons and their family members accusing them of troubling the deceased for demand of dowry of Rs. 10,000/-.

However, apart from the vague allegations, no specific instance of hostile attitude or persistent demands of dowry have been pointed out by any of the witnesses. All other independent witnesses have turned hostile and have not supported the prosecution story. Also, the paternal uncle of the deceased and a witness named in the FIR, has not supported the prosecution story.

The Court, hence, concluded that on consideration of the oral testimonies of the witnesses, the ingredients of Section 498-A IPC have not been proved against the appellant by the prosecution at the standard of beyond reasonable doubt and, hence, acquitted the appellant.

The Court also discharged the bail bonds of the appellant who is out on bail since September, 2010.

[Nimay Sah v. State of Jharkhand, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 982, 02.12.2020]


*Justice NV Ramana has penned this judgment. Read more about him here

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Sarang V. Kotwal, J., while denied bail on the light of giving divorce in violation of the provisions of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019.

Applicant sought anticipatory bail for cases registered under Sections 377, 498 A, 323, 504, 506 of Penal Code, 1860, Section 67 of the Information Technology Act and Section 3 and 4 of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019.

The victim in her FIR stated that the applicant had married twice earlier and had 5 children from his first wife. On obtaining a divorce from the first wife, he got married to the second wife.

When informant got married to the applicant, her mother’s gold was to her and Rs 3,50,000 were spent during the marriage. Further, the applicant gave some intoxicating drink to the first informant and in that situation took some photographs and recorded video fo the informant.

In the FIR, it was mentioned that the applicant had sex with her in October 2018. The applicant had inserted aluminium rod causing bleeding in her private parts as he didn’t want a child from this marriage. 

It was also alleged that the applicant used to harass the victim and used to ask her to bring money from her parental house. On one particular day, the applicant told the first informant to do all the work in the house, which the informant refused to do so and hence she was assaulted by the applicant. On the same day itself, the applicant gave her talaq.

Informant was later left at her parental house and was threatened that all he would make all the videos and photographs viral.

In view of the above, FIR was lodged.

Misbaah Solkar, Counsel for the applicant, R.M. Pethe, APP for the State and Adil Khatri, Counsel for the complainant.

Decision

Section 7(c) of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, which reads as follows:

“no person accused of an offence punishable under this Act shall be released on bail unless the Magistrate, on an application filed by the accused and after hearing the married Muslim woman upon whom talaq is pronounced, is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting bail to such person”.

Bench found no reasonable ground for granting anticipatory bail to the present applicant. Informant’s counsel that she endured all the harassment over some period to save her marriage was also not improbable.

Considering the allegations, the applicant does not deserve the protection of anticipatory bail. The fact that the applicant was left at her parental house and her number was blocked, all of this corroborates to the allegations that, he had divorced informant illegally in violation of the provisions of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019.

Allegations of inserting a rod in informant’s private parts and capturing indecent photos and videos require custodial interrogation.

Hence no anticipation bail was granted. [Ebrahim Mohd. Iqbal Lakdawala v. State of Maharashtra, Anticipatory Bail Application (ST) No. 2224 of 2020, decided on 21-10-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Z.A. Haq and Amit B. Borkar, JJ., while allowing the present criminal application filed under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 observed the tendency in the society wherein the relatives of husband are also roped in with vague allegations under Section 498-A of Penal Code, 1860.

In the instant matter, both husband and wife started living separately from sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the husband after their marriage.

Due to quarrels between the non-applicant 2 and her husband, non-applicant 2 filed an FIR with Police Station, which was compromised. On a later date, non-applicant 2 again lodged a complaint with the Women Cell.

Further, the husband of non-applicant 2 filed a complained alleging harassment caused by parents and brother of non-applicant 2.

Non-applicant 2 approached the Judicial Magistrate and filed an application under Section 156(3) of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and, then the non-applicant 1 lodged FIR against the applicants. The said FIR has been challenged in the present application.

Women Cell i.e. non-applicant 1 submitted that the investigation was complete and there is a prima facie case against the applicants.

Wife i.e. non-applicant 2 contended that the applicants along with her husband harassed her for dowry and there were several complaints filed by her with the Police Station as and when harassment was caused.

Senior Advocate, Anil S. Mardikar along with S.G. Joshi, Advocate, represented the applicants; M.K. Pathan Additional Public Prosecutor for the non-applicant 1 –State and M.N. Ali, Advocate for the non-applicant 2.

Analysis & Decision

In light of adjudicating the present issue, bench considered it necessary to refer Section 498-A of Penal Code, 1860:

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 purpose 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 women 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.”

Cruelty perpetuated to the woman may be physical or mental.

Bench stated that saying, “we are also serving in the police and we have connections with the higher Authorities, or the husband of the non-applicant 2 got no benefit of the education of the non-applicant 2” cannot be stated to be cruelty to the woman.

Nowadays, it has become a tendency to make vague and omnibus allegations, against every member of the family of the husband, implicating everybody under Section 498-A of the Penal Code.

It is necessary for the Courts to carefully scrutinize the allegations and to find out if the allegations made really constitute an offence and meet the requirements of the law at least prima facie.

Bench further cited the following decision of the Supreme Court:

G. Sagar Suri v. State of U.P., (2000) 2 SCC 636, wherein it was observed that the criminal proceedings should not be allowed to be resorted to as shortcut to settle the score.

Indian Oil Corpn. v. NEPC India Ltd., (2006) 6 SCC 736, in this case, Supreme Court deprecated the tendency of using the criminal justice system as a tool of arm twisting and to settle the score, and laid down that the High Court can intervene where the criminal justice system is used as a tool.

Kailash Chandra Agrawal v. State of U.P., (2014) 16 SCC 551, an observation was made that tendency, which has been developed for roping in all relations of the in-laws by the wife in the matter of dowry deaths or such type of similar offences in an over-enthusiasm and anxiety to seek conviction needs to be deprecated.

In the present case, sisters-in-law and brother-in-law were arraigned as accused without there being specific allegation as regards the nature of cruelty, as contemplated by Section 498-A IPC against them.

In view of the impugned FIR and charge-sheet, Court opined that no allegations against the applicants constitute offences alleged.

Therefore, the criminal application was allowed in view of the above-stated.[Shabnam Sheikh v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 1752, decided on 15-10-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Human Rights Commission, India takes suo motu cognizance of the matter over reported gang rape and brutality of 19-year-old women belonging to Scheduled Caste in Hathras district, UP.

According to media reports that a 19 year old woman belonging to Scheduled Caste went missing on 14.09.2020. She was found in a badly injured condition on 22.09.2020 and she was subjected to gang rape and brutality in Hathras District of Uttar Pradesh two weeks ago. She was shifted from the Aligarh Muslim University’s Jawaharlal Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital on 28.09.2020 when her condition deteriorated and there were no signs of improvement in her health condition. The victim has reportedly died at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi on 29.09.2020.

The District Magistrate, Hathras, Uttar Pradesh has reportedly stated that the accused have also been booked under the SC/ST(POA) Act and the family of the victim has been given compensation of Rs 10 Lakhs. He has also mentioned that a Fast Track Court will be set up to hear the case to punish the culprits at the earliest.

The Supdt. of Police, Hathras, U.P. has reportedly stated that the woman had suffered spinal injuries and he has denied the reports that the tongue of the victim was slit.

He has also mentioned in his statement the In-charge of the Hathras Kotwali PS has been removed for the alleged inaction in the case and the four accused have been arrested who will be booked for the murder. Further, he added that the first one Sandeep Singh was arrested the day when the woman was subjected to rape and later three more accused Lovkush Sikarwar, Ramu and Ravi were arrested when the woman named them in their statement before the Magistrate, on 22-09-2020.

The perpetrators reportedly tried to strangulate the victim when she tried to resist their attempts to rape her.

Another media report reveals that the family of the victim woman has alleged that the body of the deceased was forcibly taken away for cremation by the police personnel.

The body of the deceased had reportedly reached her village around mid-night and the cremation was done by 3.00 A.M., on 30.09.2020. It is mentioned in the news report that the villagers wanted to take the body of the woman to her house but the administration pressurized for cremation at the earliest.

The police authorities have however denied the allegation. It is reportedly stated by the SP, Hathras, that the cremation was done as usual, after the body reached Boolgarhi village in Hathras. He has also stated that the situation is calm and heavy police force has been deployed in the village.

The Commission has gone through the contents of the media reports which are very painful. A young woman belonging to SC community has been subjected to sexual harassment and brutality. It is apparent that the police was not able to take timely action to trace and save the victim girl due to which the young woman could not be saved from being subjected to grave cruelty. The way the perpetrators have acted shows that they had no fear of law in their mind. The family has suffered an irrevocable loss. A young and a precious human life has been lost.

Not only this, but there are also allegations made by the family that the police forcibly took away the body of the deceased for cremation have been revealed by the media. The incident has raised many questions about the law and order situation in the State. Many such incidents have occurred in the State of Uttar Pradesh where the members of the Scheduled Community have been subjected to discrimination and harassment by the people belonging to the upper caste. There have been a number of instances of leveling allegations of inaction against the police authorities and the administration. This is a serious issue of violation of human rights.

The Commission has further directed to the State Govt. to provide adequate protection to the family of the deceased keeping in view the gravity of the matter and aspect of the witness protection as there is an apparent rift between the two communities and there may be a danger to the family of the deceased.

The DGP, U.P. is expected to look personally into the matter to ensure a speedy trial so that the culprits could be punished by the competent court without any further delay. In the current scenario, it is necessary that the family of the deceased as well as other members of the SC Community residing in the village are provided proper protection by the police.

Both the authorities are expected to submit their report, within the stipulated time.

The Commission is expected the responses from the State Authorities within four weeks.


NHRC

Press Release dt. 30-09-2020

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Telangana High Court: K. Lakshman, J.,  while addressing an issue, observed that,

there should be a perceptible nexus between the death of a woman and the dowry-related harassment or cruelty inflicted on her.

Deceased and accused 1 were married, wherein at the time of marriage parents of the deceased gave 15 tolas of gold, furniture and clothes.

Harassment

After 5 months of the marriage, appellants-accused started harassing the deceased physically and mentally by demanding additional dowry and motorcycle.

Accused had also threatened to perform a second marriage if the demands were not fulfilled.

Deceased parents informed the accused that they cannot fulfill the said demand and asked not to harass the deceased.

But the accused warned the parents and maternal uncles of the deceased that they would perform the marriage of accused 1 with another girl if they fail to accede to their demand.

Suicide

On the intervening night of 25/26-06-2003 parents of the deceased were informed that the deceased committed suicide hanging.

The mother of the deceased reported the event with instances of harassment that her daughter was subjected to the police.

Police registered a case under Section 304-B of Penal Code, 1860 and trial court framed the charge against the appellants and accused 4 under Section 304-B IPC.

Being aggrieved with the said conviction and imposition, the present appeal was filed.

Decision

Dowry death

Court observed that the post-mortem examination found the cause of the death of the deceased to be due to hanging.

Ingredients required for offence under Section 304-B IPC:

  • within 7 years of the marriage, there must happen the death of a woman (the wife)
  • the death must be caused by any burns or bodily injury, or the death must occur otherwise than under normal circumstances
  • it must be established that soon before her death, she was subjected to cruelty or harassment
  • the cruelty or harassment may be by her husband or any relative of her husband; and
  • the cruelty or harassment by the husband or relative of the husband must be for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry.

Section 113-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides for presumption as to dowry death. When the question is whether the dowry death, namely, the death contemplated under Section 304-B of IPC has been committed by a person, if it is shown that soon before her death, the woman was subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment, for in connection with, any demand for dowry, the Court shall “presume” that such person had caused the dowry death.

It is, no doubt, a rebuttable presumption and it is open to the husband and his relatives to show the absence of the ingredients of Section 304-B of IPC.

Court observed that it is relevant to note that it is not enough that harassment or cruelty was caused to the woman with a demand for dowry at some time if Section 304-B of IPC is to be invoked but it should have happened “soon before her death”.

Bench held that the prosecution had proved the guilt of the accused’s and established the above-stated 5 ingredients of Section 304-B IPC.

To bring home charge under Section 304-B of IPC, the prosecution is required to establish that the death of the woman has been caused by burns or bodily injury or otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and soon before her death, the woman is subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relative.

In the present matter, the fact that the incident had occurred 17 years ago and accused 1 got remarried and has to look after his children including the child born through the deceased and his old aged parents, hence Court took a lenient view with regard to the reduction of punishment.

Accordingly, the present criminal appeal was allowed.[Surender Singh v. State of A.P., 2020 SCC OnLine TS 874, decided on 06-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of B.A. Patil and Hanchate Sanjeevkumar, JJ., upheld the decision of the trial court with regard to dowry death.

By the instant criminal appeal, the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge, Gulbarga has been challenged.

Counsel for the appellant-accused: Iswaraj S. Chowdapur and Additional State Public Prosecutor for respondent – State: Prakash Yeli.

Dowry | Cruelty

Parents of Dattamma at the time of the marriage had given one tola of gold as dowry. After one year of when the dowry was given, the accused started subjecting Dattamma to cruelty contending that she doesn’t know how to cook and used to ask her to bring cash and gold from her parent’s house.

The said fact of cruelty was conveyed by Dattamma to her parents who along with some elderly persons visited the accused and paid a sum of Rs 5000, but he continued to subject Dattamma to mental and physical cruelty.

Later the accused poured kerosene and lit fire on Dattamma with the intention to commit murder. Afterwhich, she was taken to the hospital and sustained burn injuries.

In view of the above-stated offence, the trial court had convicted the accused.

Analysis and Decision

Bench while analysing the set of circumstances and submission placed stated that,

When the prosecution establishes its case with regard to ill-treatment and harassment said to have been caused by the accused and admittedly the death of the decased has also taken place within 7 years after the marriage, under such circumsatnces, a duty cast upon the Court to draw a presumption under Section 113 A of the Evidence Act that is dowry death.

Demand of Dowry

In the present matter, Court relying on the proposition laid down in the decision of C.M. Girish Babu v. CBI, (2009) 3 SCC 779, held that the prosecution has established that there was ill-treatment and harassment caused by the accused for the demand of dowry.

Trial Court has rightly convicted the accused for the offences punishable under Section 498-A and 302 IPC and also under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

Accused’s Counsel contended that the imprisonment itself is harsh and severe punishment under such circumstances the imposition of a heavy fine to a poor agriculturist is not justifiable and it is excessive fine which ought not to have been imposed.

In view of the above stated, Court modified the fine imposed on the accused.

The sentence imposed by the trial court for the offences punishable under Sections 498A and 302 of IPC and under Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act was confirmed. [Baswaraj v. State of Karnataka, Criminal Appeal No. 354 of 2013, decided on 10-08-2020]


Also Read:

Cruelty to Women [S. 498-A IPC and allied sections]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Rajasthan High Court: A Division Bench of Sandeep Mehta and Kumari Prabha Sharma, JJ., dismissed the allegations of dowry demand, cruelty against the father-in-law and husband of the deceased in view of the prosecution theory regarding homicidal death being nothing short of sheer exaggeration.

An appeal was preferred by the accused-appellants under Section 374(2) CrPC against the decision of Additional Sessions Judge (Women Atrocities Cases), Bikaner.

Deceased was married to appellant 1 for 10 years. On one fateful day she was found dead in the kitchen with burn injuries, whereupon her brother, PW.1 lodged.

Humiliated and Harassed

Allegations were placed that the deceased was harassed from the date of her marriage till death on account of dowry demand.

Both the father-in-law and husband of the deceased under the influence of liquor used to maltreat her owing to the demand for money.

The unjust demands of the above-stated persons used to be somehow met but the greed would never end.

PW1 also stated that when he saw his sister dead, both the husband and deceased’s father-in-law kept uttering the words that they had killed the woman and he could do whatever he liked. 

In view of the above, offences under Section 302, 498A and 34 of Penal Code, 1860 were filed.

Later, both the husband and father-in-law were arrested.

Analysis and Decision

Bench on perusal of the facts and circumstances of the matter stated that, if at all there was a semblance of truth in the allegation that the maltreatment of the deceased was continuing for almost 10 years, then her maternal relatives were expected to raise this issue by filing a complaint either to the police and if not, then at least intervention of the community elders would definitely have been sought.

Adding to the above, maternal neer reprimanded the cruel behaviour of the accused.

Hence, the allegations levelled by the prosecution witnesses that the accused were indulged in meting out continuous maltreatment to the deceased on account of demand of dowry is nothing short of sheer exaggeration and needs to be discarded.

Further, it was duly established that the father-in-law of the deceased had invested significant amounts from the sale proceeds of his agricultural land in the names of his granddaughters before the incident, which makes it clear that the allegation of humiliation and harassment is unsubstantiated.

On perusal of the medical report of the deceased, Court noted that the injuries were on the front, but the prosecution theory states that the deceased was set ablaze, if the said theory was true then the kerosene would have dribbled on the front as well as back, hence the defence theory of deceased falling down on the burning place in probablised.

In view of the above-stated background, the reverse burden of proof under Section 106 of the Evidence Act would also not come to the aid of the otherwise fragile and fragmented prosecution case.

Therefore, the accused-appellants were acquitted of all the charges.[Gopal v. State of Rajasthan, DB Criminal Appeal No. 799 of 2014, decided on 06-08-2020]

COVID 19Hot Off The PressNews

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that a pregnant migrant woman, who was walking on foot from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, has delivered her baby on road. She rested for 2 hours after the delivery and then continued walking for the remaining 150 kilometres.

The pregnant woman and her husband had reportedly started their journey from Nashik in Maharashtra and were walking towards their home in Satna in Madhya Pradesh.

The Commission has observed that this incident amounts to sheer negligence of the state authorities resulting in violation of human rights of the victim woman. Rights to life and dignity of the poor woman have been grossly violated. It is also indignity to the motherhood.

Accordingly, it has issued a notices to the Chief Secretaries of the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh calling for a detailed report in the matter, within four weeks including the health status of the woman and her child and also if any relief and rehabilitation has been provided by the state authorities to the aggrieved family.

The Commission would like to know about the measures being taken by both the states to ensure that the migrant labourers are not subjected to harassment and hardships during the lockdown.? The Commission would like to know as to what actions have been initiated against the erring public servants by the state authorities for their apathy & culpable negligence for not implementing the government orders and various measures mentioned in interstate Migrant Workmen Act, during lockdown period.

The Commission has observed that the contents of the news reports, which are replete, almost daily, with hardships being faced by the public during countrywide lockdown. There are news that the migrant workers are still forced to walk thousands of kilometres to reach their homes. It is disheartening to know the plight of the migrant labourers, particularly women, children, old age people and the pregnant women falling prey to states’ apathy.

A pregnant woman, who needs rest, medical checkup and special care, is not only forced to walk hundreds of kilometres but also to deliver her baby during her painful journey.

According to the media reports, on 12.05.2020, the woman experienced labour pains during the journey and the delivery took place en route. The husband of the woman has , reportedly, stated that after his wife delivered the baby, they rested for two hours and then again resumed walking as they had to cover at least another 150 kilometres to reach home. It is further mentioned that at Dhule, in Maharashtra clothes and essentials were given to them by a family for the newborn baby.


National Human Rights Commission

[Press Release dt. 14-05-2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

The Editors Guild of India has noted with shock and concern the high-handed manner in which the law enforcement agencies in Jammu & Kashmir have used the prevailing laws to deal with two Srinagar-based journalists, Masrat Zahra, a young freelance photographer, and Peerzada Ashiq, a reporter working for The Hindu.

While only an FIR has been filed in connection with a report filed by Peerzada Ashiq, the authorities in the union territory have used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against Masrat Zahra.

Any recourse to such laws for merely publishing something in the mainstream or social media is a gross misuse of power. Its only purpose can be to strike terror into journalists. The Guild also believes that this is an indirect way of intimidating journalists in the rest of the country as well.

The journalists should be put to no harm or further harassment. If the government has any grievance against their reporting, there are other ways of dealing with such issues in the normal course. Mere social media posts of factual pictures can’t attract the toughest anti-terror laws passed for hardened terrorists. And in the case of The Hindu reporter, the correct course was to escalate the complaint to the newspaper’s editor.

The Guild demands that the Union Territory administration of Jammu & Kashmir withdraw the charges forthwith.


Editors Guild of India

[Statement dt. 21-04-2020]

COVID 19Legislation UpdatesNotifications

In view of reported incidents of harassment of Doctors and Medical Staff, Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has directed all States/UTs and respective Police authorities to provide necessary Police Security to them in hospitals and at places where patients who have been diagnosed COVID-19 positive or where suspected cases are quarantined.

It has also been communicated to provide necessary police security to doctors and medical staff who visit places to conduct screening of people to find out symptoms of the disease.


Ministry of Home Affairs

[Press Release dt. 11-04-2020]

[Source: PIB]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., while upholding the decision of the trial court with regard to the acquittal of the accused, held that,

“There is an acquittal and therefore, there is double presumption in favour of accused.”

The present appeal was filed impugning an order and Judgment by Vth Adhoc Sessions Judge, Pune, acquitting 6 accused of offences punishable under Sections 498A, 306, 201 read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860.

Accused were charged with offences punishable under Sections 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), 302 (punishment for murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender ) read with Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of IPC.

Jayshree (Deceased) on visiting her parental home on several occasions had informed of the ill-treatment and harassment she was being received from her matrimonial home on account of demand of money for buying a Motorcycle.

On hearing the same, Complainant (Jayshree’s father) made the in-laws of Jayshree realise that they should not ill-treat or harass Jayshree.  After a few days, on one morning Complainant received the message of Jayshree being dead.

Thereafter, Complainant alleged the accused of having ill-treated Jayshree on account of demand of money for the purchase of Motor Cycle and made her life miserable and thereafter murdered her. Base on the same, offence was lodged under Sections 498A, 302, 201 and 34 of Penal Code.

Trial Court altered the charge from Section 302 to 306 IPC on receiving an application for the same as the medical report stated that the cause of death was by hanging, i.e., suicide not murder.

After hearing the parties and on receiving the evidence pertaining to the case, Court passed the order of acquittal, which is impugned in the present appeal.

APP submitted that the accused were harassing and ill-treating the deceased by unlawfully demanding Hero Honda Motor Cycle. Jayshree on not being able to bear with the harassment on the part of the accused, therefore, abetted the commission of suicide by Jayshree. Hence all the accused have to be convicted.

Senior Advocate, Rajiv Patil while defending the impugned Judgment submitted that none of the witnesses can be taken to have proved the offence under Sections 498A or 201 or 306 of IPC.

Decision

High Court agreed with the respondent’s counsel on considering the evidence placed on record.

With regard to the evidence in regard to the allegation of demand of money for motor cycle, documents showing that the accused had bought the same before his marriage on taking a loan from the bank which was also repaid before the marriage have been placed on record.

Regarding Section 306 IPC, Court noted that no evidence had been placed on record to speak off. There was no evidence to suggest or indicate that the accused knew or had reason to believe that the deceased would commit suicide.

“Even if any acts or words uttered by the accused or their conduct are sufficient to demean or humiliate the deceased and even to drive the deceased to suicide, such acts will not amount to instigation or abetment of commission of suicide, unless it is established that the accused intended by their acts that the deceased must commit suicide. It is not enough if the acts of the accused cause persuasion in the mind of the deceased to commit suicide.”

In reference to the above, decision of Kerala High Court was cited, Cyriac v. Sub-Inspector of Police, Kaduthuruthy, 2005 SCC OnLine Ker 346, wherein it was held that,

“…it is not what the deceased ‘felt’, but what the accused ‘intended’ by her act which is more important.”

Thus, in Court’s opinion and on considering the evidence on record, prosecution failed to drive home the charge under Section 498A or Section 306 IPC.

Bench held that there is double presumption in favour of the accused,  firstly, the presumption of innocence available to the accused under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless they are proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, accused having secured their acquittal, the presumption of their innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court.

Hence, trial court’s decision cannot be held illegal or improper or contrary to law. [State of Maharashtra v. Vijay Maruti Bombale, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 5985, decided on 19-12-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of S.S. Shinde and V.G. Bisht, JJ., dismissed the criminal appeal on finding the trial court’s decision which was challenged to be in consonance with evidence on record.

A criminal appeal was filed by the deceased’s father (Informant) against the judgment and order that acquitted the respondents of the offence punishable under Sections 498-A, 304B, 302 read with 34 of Penal Code, 1860.

Deceased (Ambavva) was married to accused 2 and during the settlement of their marriage, the informant had agreed to give an amount of Rs 10,000 and one tola gold to the accused 2. As per custom, informant went to the accused persons house to take back Ambavva for a ceremony but was refused to go. After about 12 days when no message was received from Ambavva, informant again went to see her but accused persons did not allow meeting him.

Ambavva once had informed the informant that she was subjected to mental cruelty and insulting treatment by the accused persons.

One of the daughters of the informant informed that Ambavva had left the house of the accused persons without informing anybody and on that event informant along with his family went to the police station to report the same and were informed by the police that Ambavva had died.

Thereafter, informant when went to the accused persons house found in the adjoining land of their house, dead body of Ambavva floating on the well water.

In view of the above, informant lodged a complaint against the accused persons and a report was lodged by complainant offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 306 of Penal Code.

Trial Court had acquitted the respondents from all the charges and hence the present appeal was filed.

Trial Court had relied on the medical evidence and opined that in case of a homicidal death, there would have been some injuries on the persons of Ambavva, but there were none.

Conclusion

High Court on noting the facts and evidence placed by the prosecutions stated that the evidence of the witnesses suffers from non-disclosure of specific details of alleged cruelty and harassment to Ambavva at the hands of the accused.

Mere allegations of harassment and cruelty, in absence of mentioning specific-time, date and specific overact qua accused would not attract any ingredients of Section 304B of IPC. Prosecution failed to establish that there was cruelty and harassment to Ambavva by the accused.

Further, the Court stated that even to attract the ingredients of Section 498-A of IPC, prosecution must have shown specific acts of the accused suggesting cruelty and harassment.

Thus on vague and general allegations, it is not possible to base the conviction of the accused thereby reversing the well-reasoned order of acquittal passed by the trial court. [State of Maharashtra v. Basveshwar Kallapa Patne, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 219, decided on 03-02-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has expressed serious concern over the rising incidents of sexual assault and, taking suo motu cognizance of media reports in this regard today, issued notices to Centre, States and UTs calling for reports on SOP to deal with such cases and use of Nirbhaya Fund.

The Commission has observed that there is a dire need for all the stakeholders to come together to work jointly to get rid of this evil.

Issuing the notices, the Commission has further observed that the largest democracy of the world, which has adopted the longest written constitution and has a rich cultural heritage of gender equality, is today being criticized for having the most unsafe environment for women. The incidents of rapes, molestation, gender-based discrimination and other such atrocities against women have, unfortunately, become routine media headlines.

The Commission has said that these incidents indeed involve violations of the human rights of the victims. It is well awake to the seriousness of the issue. Being the apex body for the protection and promotion of human rights at the national level, it considers its intervention into the matter necessary to understand as to where the state agencies and other stakeholders are lacking on their part and what can immediately be done.

There have been constitutional and statutory provisions to ensure that the women are not subjected to any kind of discrimination and harassment but there is an alarming trend indicating that things are getting worse amounting to a violation of right to life, liberty, dignity and equality of women across the country.

Recently, a number of such cases have been reported by the media wherein, the women have been subjected to sexual abuse, utmost cruelty and inhuman treatment by the perpetrators showing grave disrespect towards law. There have been instances where the incidents have been reportedly, occurred due to gross negligence by the administration and the law enforcing public agencies.

In Telangana, a 26-year-old veterinarian was reportedly, brutally gang-raped and killed by four accused persons. The culprits not only outraged the dignity of the victim but also killed her and burnt her body. As per media reports, the brother of the victim had approached the Shamshabad police station at around 11.00 PM reporting that his sister is unreachable for the last two hours but his worries were shrugged off by the police personnel and after occurrence of the incident, the FIR was also registered after delay. Though the accused have been arrested but had the timely action been taken by the police, the gruesome incident could, perhaps, be stopped. In another incident, a 25-year-old law student was also reportedly gang-raped by a group of armed men, in Ranchi, Jharkhand.

In another media report, carried today on 02.12.2019, a 6-year-old girl was and strangled with her school belt in Tonk district of Rajasthan on 01.12.2019. The victim was reportedly missing since the previous day. The police have not made any arrest in this case. There have been number of such cases occurred across the country during the recent past. All these incidents have indicate that making stringent laws and funds for the victims alone cannot change the scenario unless the police officers are specially trained and their attitude towards women’s issues also changes.

There seems to be a lack of “Standard Operating Procedure” (SOP) to deal with such kind of incidents and panic situations. It is alleged that whenever anyone goes to a police station for help after disappearance a major or minor female member, the answer of the police officials generally remains that she might have gone with someone. This humiliating and stereotype mindset is needed to be changed. There is need to effectively address the core issue as this serious challenge has not only created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in our society but has also badly tarnishing the image of our country.

Through media reports, the Commission has also come to know that the amount made available under the “Nirbhaya Fund” has been reduced and also not being appropriately utilized by the state governments. A news report, carried today on 2.12.2019 reveaLS that since the year 2014, the UT of Chandigarh has been given a sum of rupees 7.46 crores under Nirbhaya Fund but the administration has spent only 2.60 crore out of it. Mere announcements of schemes, making of laws and formation of funds are not going to serve the purpose unless these are properly implemented.

The Commission, knowing that the subject is being looked into by various fora, has issued notices to the Chief Secretaries of all the State and UTs calling for a report within 6 weeks about the status of Nirbhaya Fund in their states including the details about availability of the fund and the money spent, during last 3 years.

The Commission has also issued notices to the Directors General of Police of all the states and UTs calling for their response within 6 weeks about the Standard Operating Procedure and the best practices adopted by them to deal with the matters relating to sexual abuse and atrocities against women including the details of the action taken against the police officers/officials found insensitive and guilty of negligence towards issues related to women.

The Commission has also considered it necessary to call for a detailed from the Secretary, Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, giving details about the schemes/guidelines initiated by the union government and status of their implementation, including Nirbhaya Fund, by the States/UTs. The response is expected within 6 weeks.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Sandeep K. Shinde, J. dismissed an appeal filed by the State against the order of acquittal by the trial court in respect to the matter pertaining to Sections 498-A and 306 of Penal Code, 1860.

State preferred the present appeal under Section 378(1) of CrPC, 1973 against the order of acquittal passed by Additional Sessions Judge.

In accordance with the prosecution case, the deceased suffered suicidal death due to acute cardiorespiratory arrest caused due to 100% burns at her matrimonial house. Deceased’s brother filed the complaint against deceased’s brother-in-law (accused 1) and wife of accused 1 (accused 2) along with sister-in-law of deceased (accused 3), for ill-treating the deceased and for abetting to commit suicide.

Thus, a crime under Section 498-A and 306 read with Section 24 of the Penal Code, 1860 was registered,

Deceased suffered unnatural death within a period of 7 years from the date of her marriage. Trial Court acquitted the accused, having found the prosecution could not establish that the accused ill-treated and caused cruelty to deceased within the meaning of Explanation Clause-a to Section 498-A of the Penal Code, 1860.

Settled Law:

“Cruelty for the purpose of Section 498-A Penal Code, 1860 means any “willful conduct” which is of such a nature as is likely to drive a women to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman or 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 is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

The question involved in the present case is,

“Whether prosecution has established that the “willful conduct” of the accused was of such a nature which drove Shaheeda (deceased) to commit suicide?”

On the date of the incident, a quarrel ensued between the deceased and accused 2, during the course of the same, deceased inflicted injury on the forehead of accused 2 by a stick. It is disclosed that when accused 1 had gone to the police station to report about the assault by deceased on his wife (accused 2), he was informed that the deceased had set herself on fire.

It was reported to the police that there were recurring disputes between the deceased and her in-laws on account of supply and electricity and water.

Thus upon assessing the evidence of deceased’s brother, it cannot be said that “willful conduct” of the accused amounts to cruelty and such alleged conduct drove her to commit suicide. There is no specification laid out as to what kind of ill-treatment or harassment was meted out to the deceased.

High Court on noting the facts and circumstances of the case, held that there is no evidence or rather, it is not the case of the prosecution that the deceased was physically harassed or tortured by the accused. Equally, there is no dependable evidence to hold that, accused were mentally torturing the deceased.

Therefore, by relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Pawan Kalyan v. State of Haryana, (1998) 3 SCC 309, Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2001) 9 SCC 618 and  Mohd. Hoshan v. State of A.P., (2002) 7 SCC 414, Court held that the trial court is consistent with the evidence which cannot be faulted with and hence no interference is called for. The appeal, therefore, fails and is dismissed. [State of Maharashtra v. Ibrahim Ruknuddin Bagkari, Criminal Appeal No. 1267 of 2003, decided on 11-09-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

“There is pain in being a woman, yes but there is pride in it too.”

-Marry Pauline Lowry

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Pradeep Nandrajog, C.J. and Bharati Dangre, J., while addressing a criminal appeal explained the agony that was suffered by the deceased – Vaishali in the present case by mentioning the quote above and further stated that,

“Vaishali suffered the pain but did not survive to experience the pride of being a woman – a creator, born to create and before this, she exited the world by extinguishing the flame of her life.”

In the present case, young girl Vaishali ended her life by consuming Dunet methanol in the form of an insecticide and succumbed to the same. PW-1 (deceased’s father) lodged a complaint on the very same day that Vaishali ended her life. PW-1 alleged that his daughter had complained about cruel treatment inflicted on her by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her husband (Dinesh).

Further it has been stated that, she was subjected to harassment by her mother-in-law on account of the fact that she intended to marry her son to a girl from her parental side and in turn wanted her daughter Rupali to be married into her maternal family but on account of the marriage of the deceased with her son Dinesh, the relationship contemplated was not fructified. Mother-in-law had also raised a demand of Rs 2 lakhs and on account of such demand deceased was subjected to cruelty both physical and mental.

Reference was made to the incident where Vaishali (deceased) was admitted to a hospital and was found in an unconscious condition. Husband of the deceased stated that Vaishali had consumed insecticide on having a verbal altercation with the mother in law. Therefore based on the above stated, FIR under Sections 498-A, 304-B and 306, Penal Code, 1860 was registered.

Matter was committed to Additional Sessions Judge, Pune who framed the charges against the accused persons under Section 498-A read with Section 34 IPC and he also framed a charge under Section 302 read with Section 34 IPC, in the alternative, a charge under Section 306 and 304-B IPC.

Conclusion

High Court, with the assistance of Counsel for the accused Sanjiv Kadam and learned APP, perused the evidence adduced before the Sessions Court.

Within a period of 6 months of her marriage, deceased committed suicide. Harassment was in the form of taunts and her unacceptability in the house. It also speaks of the deceased being ridiculed by the mother-in-law and her behaviour was reiterated by other members of the family including the husband of the deceased.

“Deceased who was unhappy on account of the harassment could see no hope and she took the desperate step to escape the unbearable suffering and pain which she was subjected to in an attempt not to put an end to her life but to end the traumatic ordeal which she had to undergo within a short span of her marriage life.”

Court added that, Section 498-A came to be inserted to suitably deal not only with the cases of dowry death but also cases of cruelty to a married woman by her in-laws. Raison d’etre of Section 498-A being to prevent the torture being inflicted on a married woman by her husband or his relations and it is not restricted to only in relation to the demands of dowry but it also intended to deal with cruelty inflicted upon a woman in the form of a willful conduct which drives a woman to commit suicide.

Therefore, on perusal of the judgment of the Trial Court, it is noted that the Sessions Judge grossly erred in not considering the evidence brought on record against the deceased’s husband (Dinesh) who was also party to the ill-treatment inflicted to the deceased.

Prosecution witnesses of the deceased have, in unequivocal terms, deposed that Vaishali categorically stated that she was subjected to harassment at the hands of her husband, who also joined in the choir,

“Husband, the only son to whom Vaishali was married played a positive role in the harassment of Vaishali which drove her to commit suicide and this wilful conduct of the husband has escaped the attention of learned Sessions Judge, who has acquitted him of the offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC.”

Object of introducing stringent provision in the IPC in the form of Section 498-A being to deal with such willful conduct, which led to the death of Vaishali, according to the Court should not escape the clutches of law and such conduct as also the persons who inflict such conduct actuating a young married women to end her life, needs to be penalised particularly when the evidence brought on record establishing such a conduct.

In view of the above, the conviction and sentence of the mother-in-law of the deceased is upheld and a notice is issued to Dinesh (husband of the deceased) who was erroneously acquitted by the trial court of the offence punishable under Section 498-A by affording him an opportunity of hearing.[Mandakini Balasaheb Kalbhor v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 1774, decided on 04-09-2019]