Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Sexual violence knows no boundaries, it occurs in every country, across all parts of society, Bharati Dangre, J., while noting a case of sexual harassment caused to a child aged 17 years due to which she took the step of ending her life, rejected the bail of the accused.

Background

A young girl aged 17 years jumped from the balcony of a flat and succumbed to injuries.

After a span of 96 days of the said incident, mother of the girl lodged a complaint against the applicant attributing to him that he had abetted a commission of suicide by her daughter on a fateful day.

Mother of the deceased got to know through the friend of her daughter that she had been receiving dirty messages from the applicant. On enquiring the same, daughter also showed her mobile phone which had the messages and a folder in the gallery, right after that the deceased barged out of the room. On inspecting, the screenshots were found in the mobile phone and immediately, by keeping mobile on the bed, informant followed her daughter, who by that time, jumped from the gallery of other bedroom.

On realizing the severity of the shocking incident, the informant became unconscious and she was informed that her daughter was taken to the hospital. The informant recollect that in the hospital, her daughter was little conscious and on being inquired as to why did she take the extreme step, she murmured that because of “Gaurav uncle”. She did not utter anything further and was administered treatment in the hospital.

A Chit which was found on the dressing table of the daughter was also given to police and then the CR was registered invoking Sections 306, 354A, 354-B of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 4 and 8 of the POCSO Act.

Following was written on the chit:

“Mummy, I have not told you about one person, Gaurav Uncle in our house. For no reason, he often come close to me and attempted to touch my private parts. I concealed the same from you, but that was my mistake. I kept mum because I thought if I disclose it to you, it would result into quibble. However, he messaged me. Before one week, he was talking to me about bad things. The screen shots of the said message are stored in my mobile in the folder ‘SS’. On receipt of the message, I have blocked him, but yesterday night, he texted me. I was unable to understand what should I do and how should I disclose it. After you come to know about this, please do not quarrel and let the things continue to remain as they are. You and Papa should not fight. Bye…. Take care ….. Because even if I blocked him on the mobile, I will have to face him some day. I carry no feelings for him in my mind, still he said so and further Kaki narrating it to aunt and no matter how much I tolerate, I will be blamed”

Analysis, Law and Decision 

Bench noted that the deceased was a young girl who was hesitant to disclose the ill-intentions of the applicant, who was her own uncle.

The present matter revolved around an intimate relationship of the deceased with her own uncle, which posed a barrier for the victim girl to report the said incident to anyone in the family, but she chose to disclose it to her close friend.

The chit which was scribed by the deceased referred to a message and screenshots of which were found in the mobile phone. From the screenshots, it was evident that, a message was forwarded by the applicant which was responded by the deceased by typing that she was not interested in talking to him. The unhappy tone was set and in the note which was scribed, the deceased had opened her mind to her mother where she spoke about his ill-deeds and also offered an explanation as to why she concealed it from her mother.

Court noted that the deceased had expressed her helplessness since she was apprehensive that even if she had blocked him, she would have to face him again and take the blame though, she no feeling in her mind.

“…screen shots from the mobile make it apparent that the applicant was harassing the deceased and inspite of her strong protest, was seeking something from her, leaving her in a despondent state.”

“The offence of abetment by instigation depends upon the intention of the person who abets and not upon the act which is done by the person who was abetted.”

“…abetment as contemplated under Section 107 of the IPC, may be by instigation, conspiracy or intentional aid and the words uttered in feet of anger or omission without any intention being attributed cannot be termed as instigation.”

High Court stated that the young girl felt cornered by the conduct and demeanor of her own uncle, which was unexpected since she held him on a high pedestal as her own father and was unable to vent her anguish on account of the close proximity of the family with that of the applicant.

Deceased suffered the consequences mutely for a year.

 While concluding the matter, Court made certain significant observations that, a child may be subjected to sexual abuse or exploitation at home too.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to create an atmosphere in the Society where parents, teachers and adults in company of the child can identify signs of abuse and make sure children received care and protection.

 In the present matter, the fear of stigma, not being believed and being blamed, found the deceased in a precarious situation and left her isolated and insecure and which persuaded her to end her life.

In view of the above stated discussion, the accused does not deserve liberty and another reason would be his close proximity with the family of the deceased and there would be every likelihood that on release he may pressurize them.[Gaurav v. State of Maharashtra, Criminal Bail Application No. 2687 of 2021, decided on 1-09-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr Aabad Ponda, Senior Counsel with Advocate Sanket S. Kulkarni for the applicant.

Mr S.H. Yadav, APP for the State. Mr Kavyal P. Shah for respondent 2.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Z.A. Haq and Amit B. Borkar, JJ., while addressing the matter, observed that:

In the absence of a specific penal provision creating vicarious liability, an administrator of a WhatsApp group cannot be held liable for objectionable content posted by a member of a group.

Common intention cannot be established in the case of WhatsApp service user merely acting as a group administrator.

By the present application under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the applicant laid challenge to charge-sheet filed in the Court of Judicial Magistrate in pursuance of FIR registered with non-applicant 1 for offences punishable under Sections 354-A(1)(iv), 509 and 107 of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

As per the FIR, applicant was an administrator of a WhatsApp group, that accused 1 used filthy language against non-applicant 2 on a WhatsApp group of which applicant was an administrator, that despite accused 1 using filthy language against the non-applicant 2, applicant had not taken any action against accused 1.

Further, it was alleged that the applicant being the administrator had not removed nor deleted accused 1 from the WhatsApp Group.

In view of the above, non-applicant 2 lodged the FIR against the applicant and accused 1.

Hence, the applicant has, therefore, filed a present application challenging filing of charge-sheet and continuation of proceedings against the applicant.

Crux of the Issue

Whether an administrator of a WhatsApp group can be held criminally liable for the objectionable post of its member for committing offences punishable under Sections 354-A(i)(iv), 509 and 107 of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000?

Powers of the WhatsApp Group Administrator:

A group administrator has limited power of removing a member of the group or adding other members of the group. Once the group is created, the functioning of the administrator and that of the members is at par with each other, except for the power of adding or deleting members to the group.

The administrator does not have the power to regulate, moderate or censor the content before it is posted on the group. But, if a member of the WhatsApp group posts any content, which is actionable under law, such person can be held liable under relevant provisions of law.

Further, it was expressed that, a group administrator cannot be held vicariously liable for an act of a member of the group, who posts objectionable content, unless it is shown that there was a common intention or pre-arranged plan acting in concert pursuant to such plan by such member of a Whatsapp group and the administrator.

In the FIR it was stated that sexually coloured remarks were made by accused 1 and applicant being administrator of the WhatsApp group had not taken action of deleting the accused 1 from the group, nor had sought an apology from accused 1.

Decision

In Court’s opinion, non-removal of a member by the administrator of a WhatsApp group or failure to seek apology from a member, who had posted the objectionable remark, would not amount to making sexually coloured remarks by the administrator.

Court found that essential ingredients of Section 107 of IPC that the applicant had instigated or intentionally aided by his act or illegal omission to accused 1 to make sexually coloured remarks against non-applicant 2 were conspicuously absent. Hence the said Section will not be attracted in the present case.

Section 509 of the IPC criminalizes word, gesture, or act ‘intended’ to insult the modesty of a woman. In order to establish this offence, it is necessary to show that modesty of a particular woman has been insulted by a spoken word, gesture or physical act.

In the present matter, the above-stated offence cannot be made out against applicant, when the grievance of non-applicant 2 was that accused 1 had used filthy language against the non-applicant 2.

To constitute an offence under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, a person must publish or transmit an obscene material in electronic form.

High Court in view of the above discussion, found no allegation or material that the applicant had either published, transmitted or caused to be published or transmitted in electronic form any material, which was lascivious or appealed to prurient interest or its effect was such to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who were likely to read, see or hear the matter contained.

Bench added that the applicant had neither published nor transmitted or caused to be published or transmitted any electronic form, any material which was obscene in nature.

Lastly while concluding, the High Court held that parameters of exercise of the powers conferred on this Court under Section 482 CrPC being settled, that in order to prevent the abuse of process of any Court and to secure the ends of justice, this power can be exercised.

Bench stated that the present case is the one where power needs to be exercised.

Taking the overall view of the matter, Court was satisfied that even if allegations in the FIR were accepted as correct and considering the material in charge sheet on its face value it does not disclose essential ingredients of offences alleged against the applicant under Sections 354-A(1)(iv), 509 and 107 of the Indian Penal Code and section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Hence the continuation of present proceedings against the applicant would amount to an abuse of process of Court. [Kishor v. State of Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 654, decided on 01-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr R.M.Daga, Advocate for the applicant. Mr T.A.Mirza, A.P. P. for the non-applicant No.1.

Mr Sanjay A. Bramhe, Advocate for the non-applicant No.2.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dinesh Kumar Singh-I, J., while discussing abetment of suicide, stated that:

“…if some act either of omission or commission results in instigation to the victim to commit suicide, that act would also be treated to be an abetment.”

Factual Background of a Woman Subjected to Torture in demand of Dowry

Informant stated that his daughter was married with accused-applicant 1 in accordance with the Hindu rites and as per demands, dowry was provided. At the time of marriage, the applicant 1 (husband), applicant 2, Om Prakash Mishra (father-in-law), applicant 3, Rakesh Mishra, (brother-in-law) started demanding four-wheeler as additional dowry because of which ‘Bidai’ of his daughter could be done.

After a lot of persuasion, the Gauna was performed and when her daughter (deceased) went to her matrimonial home, all the accused-applicants started making taunts that marriage was performed for very cheap, further it was made clear to the deceased that unless the amount asked for is fulfilled, it would be difficult for her to live in matrimonial home peacefully.

Mental and Physical Harassment

Victim was harassed mentally and physically on various occasions, she was pressurized to give her jewellery to which she refused and was beaten up by banging her head against the wall and subjected to filthy language and threat of divorce.

Victim’s husband used to increase the volume of the T.V and close the door of the house so that screaming or weeping of the deceased would not go out, even the family members of the accused-applicant 1 used to call the victim and harass her on the phone.

Accused-Applicant 1 later, dropped the deceased near the house of the informant retaining the jewellery at his home and further filed for divorce.

Suicide

Later it was stated that, since the informant’s daughter used stay disturbed mentally because of the case having been filed against her and having received notices from the Court, she used to say that despite having been tortured, she could not get any case registered against the persons of her sasural and was passing time with her child in her parents’ home and even then, she was not being allowed to remain peacefully and in these circumstances after getting fed-up, on 23-10-2017 she committed suicide by hanging herself by a stole from the ceiling fan, for which the accused- applicants are responsible.

Analysis of the Bench

The above-stated circumstances could be treated to have been driven the deceased to commit suicide which could have taken to fall in the category of abetting the commission of suicide by the deceased.

Court expressed that:

Merely because the deceased died at the parent’s house, is being hammered as the main argument on the part of the applicant, to be the reason why abetment to commit suicide should not be taken to be established in this case even prima-facie.

Bench relied upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Guru Charan Singh v. State of Punjab, (2020) 10 SCC 200, wherein it was held that in order to give finding of abetment under Section 107, which is necessary to sustain the conviction of abetment of suicide under Section 306 IPC, it must be established that the accused instigated a person either by an act of omission or commission or by persistent cruelty or harassment.

Circumstances or atmosphere in the matrimonial home without the instigation of suicide being established in someway are not enough to sustain the conviction on abetment of suicide.

 Conclusion

In the instant case, Court noted that it came on record that various litigations had been thrust upon the deceased from the side of the accused-applicants which might have generated a situation in which deceased found no way out but to commit suicide.

Bench stated that it may tour out to be not finally proved that the applicants were involved in the commission of this offence but in proceedings under Section 482 CrPC:

this Court cannot give finding in this regard as the evidence, which is likely to be recorded before the trial court, the said evidence would be appreciated by the said court then only finding can be returned on this point.

While dismissing the application, Court held that if the applicants appear and surrender before the Court below within 30 days and apply for bail, then the bail application would be considered and decided in view of the law laid down by this Court in Amrawati v. State of U.P.,2004 (57) ALR 290, as well as a judgment passed by Supreme Court in Lal Kamlendra Pratap Singh v State of U.P., (2009) 4 SCC 437.

In case, the applicants do not appear before the Court below within 30 days period, coercive action shall be taken against them. [Kranti Mishra v. State of U.P., 2021 SCC OnLine All 81, decided on 22-01-2021]


Advocates for the parties:

Counsel for Applicant: Shailesh Kumar Shukla, Rajiv Lochan Shukla

Counsel for Opposite Party: G.A., Akhilesh Kumar

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of V.M. Deshpande and Anil S. Kilor, JJ., held that if the prosecution fails prima facie to show that that accused had an intention to aid or instigate or abet deceased to commit suicide caused cannot be compelled to face trial for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the Penal Code, 1860.

The instant application was filed for quashing the FIR registered for offence punishable under Section 306 of Penal Code, 1860 along with a prayer to stay the investigation in the said matter.

The complainant had a Loan Account with the Bank of Maharashtra wherein the applicant was discharging his duties as Branch Manager, Bank of Maharashtra.

In the present matter, complainant’s real brother is the deceased who committed suicide in 2015 by hanging himself.

Complainant lodged his report against the present applicant a day after his brother committed suicide.

Though the applicant was granted pre-arrest bail, he filed for the present proceedings to quash the FIR.

Section 306 of the Penal Code, 1860

“If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Section 107 of Penal Code, 1860: 

As per the First clause, “if a person instigates any person to do a particular thing, it can be said that he has abetted”.

High Court referred to the decision of Dilip v. State of Maharashtra, (2004) 11 SCC 401.

Ratio: It is incumbent upon the prosecution to at least show prima facie case that accused had an intention to aid or instigate or abet deceased to commit suicide. In the absence of availability of such material, the accused cannot be compelled to face trial for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the Penal Code.

In the present matter, it has been noted that the deceased was not having any loan outstanding in his name. According to the prosecution, the deceased went to the Bank of Maharashtra for a loan.

If previous loan amount is outstanding and if the applicant, who is Branch Manager of the said Bank, is refusing to grant any further loan, can be said as act of a vigilant and prudent banker and if he is not granting any further loan, it cannot be termed that by such act he instigated and/or abetted the person to commit suicide.

Hence, in view of the above, Court terminated the proceedings against the applicant. [Santoshkumar v. State of Maharashtra,  2020 SCC OnLine Bom 914, decided on 09-09-2020]

Chhattisgarh High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The Bench of Arvind Singh Chandel, J., while addressing an instant revision being preferred against the charges framed under Sections 306 and 201 read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860 stated that, “The word “instigate” means to goad, urge forward, provoke, incite or encourage to do an act.”

Factual matrix of the case is that, marriage between Applicant 1 (husband) and the deceased was solemnized on 06-12-2013 and on the intervening night, deceased committed suicide by consuming some poisonous substance. Allegations against the applicants (Applicant 1-Husband, Applicant 2 & 4- Elder brother and Sister-in-Law of Applicant 1 and Applicant 3-Mother-in-Law) were that they were harassing deceased physically and mentally. Trial Court had framed charges under Section 306 and 201/ read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860 against the applicants.

S.C. Verma and Harshvardhan Parganiha, Advocates representing the applicants submitted that the Additional Sessions Judge committed manifest illegality in framing charges against the applicants. As per the prosecution story, deceased committed suicide due to excess sexual act by her husband with her and there was an illicit relationship of Applicant 1 with Applicant 4. On the basis of the stated facts no offence is made out under Sections 306 and 201 read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860.

Sangharsh Pandey, Deputy Government Advocate, submitted that there is sufficient material available for presuming that applicants have committed the offence and there is no illegality on the impugned order.

The Court on considering the facts and circumstances of the case, stated that “for making liable for an offence punishable under Section 306 of Penal Code, 1860 it is the duty of prosecution to establish that such person has committed “abetment of suicide”, it is necessary for the determination of the act of the accused to see that his act falls under any of the three ingredients mentioned under Section 107 of Penal Code, 1860.

Reference was made to several decisions of the Supreme Court in, Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2001) 9 SCC 618, Gangula Mohan Reddy v. State of A.P., (2010) 1 SCC 750; in which it was stated that “Abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person in doing of a thing.”

Therefore, the High Court while concluding its decision stated that the spot map shows that the deceased was living separately along with her husband/Applicant 1 in a room situated on the first floor of her matrimonial house, which negates the allegation of her not being allowed to talk at her maternal house without the phone on being speaker. Along with the stated the other allegations against the applicant also if considered for the sake of arguments to be true, they do not stand to be covered under the word “instigation” as defined under Section 107 of Penal Code, 1860.

The revision was allowed by the High Court and accordingly on no material being available for framing of charge against the applicant they were discharged from the charges. [Devanand Chandwani v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2019 SCC OnLine Chh 19, Order dated 01-03-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Bench of Sanjeev Sachdeva, J. discharged the petitioner-wife of the offence under Section 306 IPC for allegedly abetting suicide of her husband.

Petitioner was wife of the deceased who committed suicide in 2015. It was alleged that on 31-7-2015, petitioner had slapped the deceased in front of other family members. On 02-08-2015, the deceased attempted to commit suicide and expired on the next day. Alleged suicide note was also discovered from his bed. An FIR was registered as per which deceased committed suicide as he was upset about petitioner slapping him. According to the trial court, there was prima facie material against petitioner to frame a charged under Section 306. Petitioner impugned trial court’s order in the present petition.

Lohit Ganguly, Advocate for the petitioner submitted that the trial court failed to appreciate that the material did not suggest that petitioner instigated the deceased to commit suicide.

The High Court referred to Section 107 (abetment of a thing); and decisions in Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2001) 9 SCC 618 where Supreme Court laid down as to what conduct amounts to incitement or instigation; and Pawan Kumar v. State of H.P., (2017) 7 SCC 780 where expression “abetment” was elaborated upon. In the present case, Court did not find any material suggest that petitioner instigated, conspired or aided in the commission of suicide by the deceased. Mere act of wife slapping the husband would not instigate him to commit suicide by the deceased. Furthermore, the alleged suicide did not refer to any incident of slapping. In such circumstances, it was held that no charge under Section 306 could be made against the petitioner. Thus, the petition was allowed and the petitioner was discharged. [Shikha Gupta v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2019 SCC OnLine Del 6394, decided on 08-01-2019]