Cruelty Not Proved

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 17 Jul 2017 11:49:08

The court observed that there is no link or intention on the part of the in-laws to assist the victim to commit suicide. In absence of this vital link, the mere fact that there is a finding of harassment would not lead to the conclusion that there is “abetment of suicide”.

IN THE judgement of the case – Heera Lal and another v. State of Rajasthan, delivered on April 24, 2017, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagouder, at the Supreme Court have expressed opinion in favour of the appellants’ contention that as the State did not file appeal against their acquittal under Section 498A IPC – offence of treating married woman with cruelty, therefore, the finding that offence has not been made out, has become final.

Further, the apex court’s answer to this query was in affirmative, that as the offence has not been made out, therefore, there is no evidence of any intention to instigate the deceased to commit suicide. In this case, an FIR was lodged on March 28, 2002, in which it was alleged that the father-in-law and mother-in-law of the deceased lady, who committed suicide, had harassed her for at least five years and this harassment, therefore, led to commission of offences under Sections 498A and 306 of the IPC.

The trial court relied upon the evidence of Prosecution Witnesses 4 and 5, who were neighbours and attested to the fact that there was harassment meted out by the in-laws to the dead lady. Medical evidence also showed that there were 90 pc burns as the lady had poured kerosene on herself and set herself on fire. Most importantly, according to both the trial court and the HC, a dying declaration was made before the PW 9, Himmat Singh, who was a Sub Divisional Magistrate. His statement was as under: The PW-9, Himmat Singh had stated that as on March 28, 2002, he was working as SDM and on that day, he had gone to the hospital to record the statement of the deceased.

At that time Dr. Verma was the duty doctor and he had stated that Lalita was fit enough to make her statement. When PW 9 had asked Lalita, she had told that she was sleeping and her in-laws were quarrelling with her everyday. That day also they quarrelled with her. They asked her to leave the house. Her husband was not responsible for anything. He used to reside in Kuwait. At that time he had come on a visit. She was residing separately from her in-laws. On that day, she came with luggage and said that they had come to stay with her.

The deceased told them that as they were not having good relations with her, and therefore, she could not reside with them. They insisted on staying there and asked her to get lost. Then due to anger, she went inside the kitchen, poured kerosene on herself from stove and set herself on fire. Her father-in-law looked at her, but made no attempt to stop her. Husband of the deceased tried to save her. Her in-laws used to demand dowry from her. She did not have any quarrel with her husband. Her signatures were there on the statement made by her.

During the cross-examination, the witness PW-9 identified the statement recorded by him and thumb impression of Lalita at Point “X”. At the time of recording the Statement.
At the time of recording of her statement, no one from her parents’ side was present and the in-laws of the deceased were turned out of the room, at the time of recording the statement. Lalita’s husband Omprakash was present at the time of Lalita setting herself on fire and at the time of putting off the flames. On this evidence, the trial court held that the offence under Section 498A was not made out, but convicted the two appellants before the apex court under Section 306 and sentenced them to suffer imprisonment for 3 years. In appeal filed by them before the HC, the HC relied upon the dying declaration and dismissed the appeal.
The court quoted from its judgement of the case – Ramesh Kumar V. State of Chhattisgarh- (2001) 9 SCC 618. that Section 113-A was introduced with effect from December 26, 1983 to meet a social demand to resolve difficulty of proof where helpless married women were eliminated by being forced to commit suicide by the husbands or in-laws and incriminating evidence was usually available within the four corners of the matrimonial home and hence was not available to anyone outside the occupants of the house. However, it cannot be lost sight of that the presumption is intended to operate against the accused in the field of criminal law. Before the presumption may be raised, the foundation thereof must exist. On existence and availability of the of the circumstances pointed out in the provision, the court may presume that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relatives of her husband. The presumption is not mandatory. It is only permissive.

Allowing the appeal the Supreme Court has held that it was of the opinion that Section 113 A of the Indian Evidence Act requires three ingredients to be satisfied, before it can be applied; that is, (i) that a woman has committed suicide, (ii) such suicide has been committed within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and (iii) the husband or his relatives who are charged had subjected her to cruelty.

The court’s finding has been that having absolved the appellants of the charge of cruelty, which is the most basic ingredient for the offence made out under Section 498A ,the third ingredient for application of section 113A is missing, namely, that the relatives that is, the mother-in-law and father-in–law, who are charged under Section 306 had subjected the victim to cruelty. No doubt, in the facts of this case, it has been concurrently found that the in-laws did harass her, but harassment is something of a lesser degree than cruelty. Also, the court found on the facts, taken as a whole, that assuming the presumption under Section 113A would apply, it has been fully rebutted, for the reason that there is no link or intention on the part of the in-laws to assist the victim to commit suicide.

In absence of this vital link, the mere fact that there is a finding of harassment would not lead to the conclusion that there is “abetment of suicide”. On the facts, therefore, the court found, especially in view of the fact that the appellants have been acquitted for the crime under Section 498A of the IPC, that abetment of suicide under Section 306 is not made out. In the circumstances, the Supreme Court has allowed the appeal, set aside the impugned judgement of the Rajasthan High Court and directed the release of the appellants, if they are in jail, forthwith.