Cruelty by Husband or Relative of Husband A brief analysis

lawzmag.comThe Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 introduced the Code S. 498A to combat the menace of dowry death. According to the section, 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 a fine. For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means:-

any wilful 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 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.

In a case before the SC involving the death by burning of a newly married woman, the circumstances did not establish either murder or an abetted suicide and thus the in-laws escaped the jaws of ss. 300 and 306, but they were caught in the web of this newly enacted section for prevention of harassment for dowry. In another case the SC observed that this section has given a new dimension to the concept of cruelty for the purposes of matrimonial remedies and that the type of conduct described here would be relevant for proving cruelty. It is no impediment to a conviction under the section that the accused has been acquitted of a larger offence of murder u/s 302. The language of the section clearly shows that the legislation has  imbibed the necessary mens rea for the offence of death.

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 a fine.

However, the section will not be applicable to every kind of harassment or every type of cruelty. To decide the question of cruelty, factors like matrimonial relationship between the husband and wife, their cultural and temperamental state of life, state of health, and their interaction in daily life are to be taken into account. The expression postulates such a treatment as to cause reasonable apprehension in the mind of the wife that her living
with the husband will be harmful and injurious to her life.

As per the language of the section, the complainant has to show that the beating and harassment in question was with a view to force her to commit suicide or to fulfill the illegal demand of dowry. The complaint by the aggrieved wife regarding ill- treatment by her husband and in-laws has to be filed  at the place where she was subjected to such cruelty, and not where she was residing with her mother.

The provisions of this section are not available to dowry harassment, which had ended in March 1983 by the husband disserting his wife, but where the marriage is still continuing and the events of cruelty taking place prior to the amendment can  be taken into account. The section does not provide any obstruction to compound the
complaint where the wife condones the matrimonial cruelty of which she was the victim and resumes consortium with her husband.

To decide the question of cruelty, factors like matrimonial relationship between the husband and wife, their cultural and temperamental state of life, state of health, and their interaction in daily life are to be taken
into account

A large number of aged men and women accused of murdering their daughters-in-law over dowry are repordly languishing in jails across the country. Even the high classes, the so called elite of the society, are not spared. For them it’s the more they get, the more they want. Recently, an IPS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre has been arrested and remanded into judicial custody in a dowry harassment and attempt to murder case. He is accused of demanding additional dowry of Rs 5 crore. Parents are encashing their son for whatever they have spent on his upbringing and education. The recent case of Anita Kaur, who committed suicide because of her in-law’s greed for dowry, and two broken marriages for the same reason brings to light the pathetic condition of the girls in our
society.

Notes on Supreme Court Judgements
State of Assam v Ramen Dowarah
Criminal Appeal No. 668 of 2011
Date of Judgment: 11.01.2016
Bench: Justice Kurian Joseph, Arun Mishra

This case has come before the Apex Court by way of appeal made by the State against the judgment and
order of the High Court which had set aside the conviction of the accused under section 376 IPC and altered the conviction under section 302 to section 304 Part II IPC, sentencing the accused to 7 years’ imprisonment
maintaining the conviction recorded by the trial court under section 454 IPC and thereby sentencing him to undergo RI for one year.
Facts 

As per the prosecution, the incident took place on 1.5.2003 at about 5 p.m. when the accused persons had entered the house of victim and committed rape on her and after pouring kerosene oil set her ablaze. When the victim raised hue and cry, people assembled and the victim was taken to the Civil Hospital. She sustained 55% burn injuries as her condition was serious she  was referred to AMCH, Dibrugarh where in the course of her
treatment she died after 2 months on 11.7.2003.
Judgement
After carefully assessing the circumstances, the oral evidence and dying declarations of the deceased, the Apex Court was of the view that that it was not a case of consensual sexual intercourse.In the case of consensual sexual intercourse the victim would not have raised hue and cry and would not have immediately threatened the perpetrator of the crime with the disclosure of the incident to her mother. It was in fact in order to remove the
evidence of rape, the accused had poured kerosene on her and had set her ablaze so that she is silenced and his sin does not see the light of the day. In view of this, the Apex Court has clearly held that the accused wanted to eliminate the deceased for all time to come and he intended to cause death by setting her ablaze. No circumstances were brought on record before the Court to indicate that it is a case of any exception to take it out from the realm of section 300 IPC. The aforesaid conduct does not exculpate but indicates the
intendment of accused to cause death and makes him liable for punishment under section 302 IPC.

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