Speech on the Matrimonial Cruelty in India

It is really a burning problem in India. Demanding for dowry, for squeezing dowry, (some times with an intention to marry another woman) to burn the house-wives by kerosene, or compelling them to commit suicide, etc., have become very common matters in every region and religion in India.

It is surprised to note that this evil custom has crept from the Hindus to all other religions. Mother-in-laws and sister-in-laws, even though they too women, are the first to harass the daughter-in-laws for very minute matters. They treat her very cruelly.

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They force her to commit suicide. Every day in every newspaper, news of dowry deaths, dowry suicides and dowry harassments are appearing in the newspapers. Section 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act. 1872 presumes that a woman committed suicide within seven years of her marriage; it was due to the ill-treatment and cruelty of the husband or his relatives.

Sec. 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 purposes 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 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 or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

Important Points:

A. Object:

Chapter – XX-A, consisting only one Section, i.e., Section 498-A was inserted in the Indian Penal Code by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act No. 46 of 1983) to prevent the menace of cruelty on wives and dowry suicides. By the same Act, Section 113-A was inserted in the Indian Evidence Act which raises the presumption regarding abetment of suicide by a married woman.

Sections 304-B and 498-A of the Indian Penal Code and 113-Aand 113-B of Evidence Act are woven by the framers having connections with each other, so that the accused should not escape from the eye of the law. Even though Sections 498-A and 304-B create distinct offences, “cruelty” is the common element in both.

A person charged under Section 304-B can also be convicted under Section 498-A without any charge under that Section. The object of these Sections is to prevent the matrimonial cruelty against the married women. However, the growing figures of dowry deaths and dowry suicides are discouraging.

B. Nature of offence:

The offence under Section 498-A is cognizable, if information relating to the commission of offence is given to an officer in charge of a police station by the aggrieved person or by any person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption or if there is no such relative, or by any public servant belonging to such class or category as may be notified by the State Government in this behalf, non-bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class. In Andhra Pradesh, the offence is compoundable.

C. Rajayyan vs. State of Kerala and another (1998) 4 SCC 85)

Brief Facts: The marriage took place in 1983. Since the marriage, husband started demanding dowry. His mother and sisters also supported his claim. They too harassed the wife. She died on 5-10-1987 by falling in a well in her matrimonial home.

A case was registered alleging that it was a dowry death and that her husband (the appellant), mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law were responsible for the same. The trial Court convicted the husband under Sec. 304-B for seven years rigorous imprisonment. On appeal, the High Court and Supreme Court confirmed the same.

D. Pawan Kumar and others vs. State of Haryana (1998) 3 SCC 309)

Brief Facts:

The deceased and the appellant were married in 1985. After a few days of the marriage there was a demand of scooter and fridge. On account of not satisfying the demand of the aforesaid goods, right from the next day, she was repeatedly taunted, maltreated and mentally tortured by being called ugly etc.

In April, 1987 wife and husband visited Delhi on account of wife’s maternal uncle’s death. The wife went to her sister’s house instead of returning to her matrimonial house. Husband visited her sister’s house to take away his wife.

The wife narrated all tortures and matrimonial cruelty to her sister. Her sister compromised both of them and requested her, to go to her matrimonial house. The wife said with pain that “it would be difficult now to see her face in the future.” On the very next day, she committed suicide.

Judgment:

After inquiry, the trial Court observed that the case was covered both under Sections 304- B and 498-A, and convicted the accused/appellant with 7 years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 500/.

In default of payment of fine for further rigorous imprisonment for 6 months under Sec, 304- B; and also 2 years rigorous imprisonment and to pay fine of Rs. 200/-, and in default of payment of fine further rigorous imprisonment for three months, under Sec. 498-A. On appeal, the High Court and Supreme Court confirmed the conviction.

Principle:

The Supreme Court observed: “Cruelty or harassment need not be physical. Even mental torture in a given case would be a case of cruelty and harassment within the meaning of Sections 3.04-B and 498-A IPC.

Explanation (a) to Sec. 498-A itself refers to both mental and physical cruelty. Again willful conduct means, conduct willfully done; this may be inferred by direct or indirect evidence which could be construed to be such.

A girl dreams of great days ahead with hope and aspiration when entering into a marriage, and if from the very next day the husband starts taunting her for not bringing dowry and calling her ugly, there cannot be greater mental torture, harassment or cruelty for any bride. There was a quarrel a day before her death. This by itself would constitute to be a willful act to be a cruelty both within the meaning of Sec. 498-A and Sec. 304-B IPC.”

E. C.V. Govindappa and others vs. State of Karnataka (1998) 2 SCC 763)

Brief Facts: The appellant married Yashodhamma in September, 1976. Certain jewels and Rs. 50,000/- was agreed by the wife’s father to pay as dowry. Only a part of agreed amount was paid. Wife’s father failed to pay the remaining amount due to economical difficulties.

The appellant started ill-treating and harassing his wife. Two children were begotten. Even then, he did not stop. Several times, they quarreled out side of their house, which was witnessed by neighbours.

On 26-1-1984, there was a quarrel between them. In the evening between 5 and 5:30 p.m., the wife came running out of the house with flames on her clothes and dashed the scooter of the appellant, and fell down and rolled on the ground.

The appellant came out, and restored his scooter, but could not come forward to rescue his wife. The neighbours tried to rescue and took her to hospital. While suffering with flames and burnings, she told the neighbours that her husband poured kerosene.

The Court of Sessions disbelieved the evidence adduced by the prosecution and acquitted the accused. On appeal the High Court set aside the judgment of the Court of Sessions and convicted the accused under Sees. 304-B and 498-A. On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the judgment of the High Court.

F. Chanda vs. State of A.P. (1996 CrLJ 2670 AP)

Brief Facts:

The wife of the accused was found dead in suspicious circumstances. The police filed complaint under Section 304-B. No evidence was found proving that the accused killed his wife. However, the prosecution proved that the accused cruelly harassed his wife demanding dowry.

The trial Court punished the accused with three years rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs. 5,000/- under Section 498-A.

The accused appealed to the Andhra Pradesh High Court contending that the police filed the complaint under Section 304-B, but the trial Court imposed the punishment under Sec. 498-A, which is against the principles of natural justice and law. The High Court rejected his appeal.

G. Deepak vs. State of Maharashtra (1995) 2 CrLJ 2219)

Brief Facts:

The wife was found dead in the well near her matrimonial house. The accused/ appellant contended that she was suffering with stomach ache, and could not bear the pain, hence committed suicide.

The neighbours gave evidence that there were frequent quarrels between them, and the appellant demanded dowry. The postmortem report revealed that the wife died due to strangulation. The trial Court convicted the accused/appellant. On appeal, the Supreme Court confirmed the conviction.

H. Krishan Lai vs. Union of India (1994 CrLJ 3472 P&H)

In this case, the husband and his relatives were punished by trial Court under Section 498-A. They appealed to the High Court contending that the provisions of Section 498-A was against the Constitutional spirit and is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected their argument and opined that the provisions of Section 498-A are needed to protect the woman from the cruelty in matrimonial home.

I. While disposing the case “Tapan Pal vs. State of W.B. (1992 CrLJ 1017 Cai.)”, the Supreme Court observed that every harassment cannot be treated as cruelty on the part of the husband or his relatives.

The nature of harassment should be cruel so that the Court should accept it as cruelty and it is accepted by the society as cruelty in general sense.

Where a wife, who was very sentimental, died committing suicide, as her husband took alcohol in a party, cannot be treated as a cruelty. A husband, who does not call his wife back to the matrimonial home, does not thereby cause any harassment. Mere harassment or mere demand for property, etc., is not cruelty. It becomes cruelty only where harassment is shown to have been caused for the purpose of coercing a woman to bring property.

J. Territorial Jurisdiction:

Where the woman was harassed cruelly, she has to file her complaint to the Court of that territorial jurisdiction. When her husband and his relatives harassed in her matrimonial house in Hyderabad, she cannot file complaint under Section 498-A at Warangal, where she is residing now with her parents.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1972

Section 113-A was inserted in the Evidence Act, 1872 by Act No. 46 of 1983 with an object to prevent the matrimonial cruelty and dowry suicides against a married wife.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Sec. 113-A. Presumption as the abetment of suicide by a married woman:

When the question s whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband and subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.

Explanation:

For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” shall have the same meaning as in Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Important Points:

A. Object:

When a person in police custody dies, it raises presumption of torture by police. The in- charge of the police station shall have to explain for the said lock-up death. General public believe that the police are responsible for the lock-up death.

The provisions of Section 113-A create the similar presumption and liability upon the husband and his relatives, within whose custody the married woman lived until her death. Naturally, certain time is required to accustom to a newly transplanted woman in a new family.

The law presumes that seven years period is sufficient for a woman to adjust in the new family. Within which period, children are born, and the bondage of love and affection surrounding wife, husband and children shall be created.

In the initial stage, i.e., within seven years, there may be inhuman demand for the dowry from the side of husband and his relatives. It is found statistically that most of the dowry deaths and dowry suicides were happened from marriage day to upto four or five years of the marriage. Hence the framers fixed seven years as the limitation in Section 113-A of the Evidence Act and 304-B of the Code.

B. “shall presume”:

In Sections 113-A and 113-B of the Evidence Act the words “shall presume” are used. Section 4 of the Evidence Act defines the terms “shall presume” as follows: “Shall presume. Whenever it is directed by this Act that the Court shall presume a fact, it shall regard such fact as proved, unless and until it is disproved.”

It means that when a complaint is filed against the husband or his relatives under Sections 304-B or 498-A, the Court presumes that the accused did the offence until they prove their innocence. The burden of proof lies upon the accused to prove their innocence.

C. Ingredients of Section 113-A

1. The woman should be a married woman

2. She committed suicide within seven years of her marriage.

3. The law presumes that her husband or his relatives abetted her to commit suicide.

4. Her husband or his relatives subjected her to cruelty.

5. The term “cruelty” in this Section shall have the same meaning as in Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. Thus cruelty means,—-

(a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as 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 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 or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

D. Relation between Sec. 306 of IPC and 113-A of Evidence Act:

Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code lays down the provisions for “Abetment of suicide” and it says that “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 306 is common to abetments to all suicides and is a penalty provision. Section 113-A is an adjective legal provision, especially stressing upon the abetment of suicide of a married woman within seven years of her marriage.

The abetment may not be directly made by the accused. If they demanded dowry, and tortured her forcing her to commit is an abetment of suicide. The term “cruelty” has been the same meaning as given in Section 498-A of the Code.

E. Problem:

Miss G was married to Mr. A during 1990. During 1993 she returned home for taking money from her father to pay the balance of the unpaid dowry. Since her father promised her to arrange for money within a month, she went back to her husband’s house. M, the mother of A and B, A’s brother started abusing G and inflicted injuries on her body. What is the offence? Explain.

Solution:

A, M and B committed the offence under Section 498-A. They are liable to be punished under this Section.

F. Criticism:

Whoever abets a person to commit suicide, Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code imposes punishment with imprisonment for ten years with fine. But Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 imposes the punishment with imprisonment for three years with fine.

The nature of the offence in Section 498-A is graver and severe than the nature of the offence in Section 306 The Legislature showed mercy on the accused under Section 498-A. In fact, the accused under Sections 498-A and 304-B should be punished with the imprisonment for life or with capital punishment. Then only the Dowry Deaths and Dowry Suicides in the Country will be lessened.

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