A recent judgment of Bombay High Court has said that wife’s mentally unstable condition who committed suicide later was not sufficient to convict husband under IPC 498a.
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Mumbai: A soured marriage and the resultant disturbed mental condition of a woman who committed suicide were not sufficient reasons to infer that the husband subjected her to cruelty, the Bombay high court ruled earlier this month.
Setting aside the two-year imprisonment sentence handed out to Kamalkishore Agrawal, 48, by a sessions court, the Nagpur bench of the high court held that, “though it appears that the victim and the applicant had marital discord running over a long period of time which, even according to the applicant, led to mental degradation of the victim, that in itself cannot justify the conclusion that the victim was subjected to such mental or physical cruelty by the applicant, that it drove her to death.”
Agrawal, a businessman, and Seema were married on February 24, 1992. After their marriage, “as caste and custom so permitted,” Agrawal’s adoptive parents also resided with the couple in their home in Akola. The couple had a daughter in 1993. However, since there were differences between the couple and Agrawal’s adoptive parents, they moved out of the house and started living separately from 1997.
On March 12, 1998, Seema set herself on fire and succumbed to burn injuries. A police complaint was lodged by her brother, Kailash, who had stated in his statement that Seema had written letters to him, which said that she was being subjected to cruelty in her marital home and it was not possible for her to live there any longer.
Agrawal’s counsel, however, told the court that there was no “causal connection” between the letters and Seema’s suicide as the last letter written by her was in 1996, while the incident took place in 1998. Moreover, he added, some of the letters were not addressed to Kailash and it was questionable how he was in possession of them.
The additional public prosecutor, however, said that the letters were in Seema’s handwriting and how they came into Kailash’s possession was irrelevant. She further stated that Agrawal in his defense had said that Seema had become so weak mentally that she either sent the letters to the wrong addresses or handed them over to the wrong people. “This written statement of defense categorically shows that the accused admits that the victim was mentally sick. If that was so, as a husband, it was necessary for the applicant to find out as to why his wife slipped into that stage,” the prosecution argued.
Agrawal had contended that Seema suspected she was being subjected to black magic and refused to take any medicines from him. He told the court that he was torn between his wife and his adoptive parents.
The sessions court acquitted Agrawal and his adoptive parents from the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder but convicted Agrawal under Section 498A (cruelty) of the IPC.
Justice RC Chavan, however, said, “suspicion, howsoever strong, cannot replace proof.” He said with the evidence on record it was not possible to conclusively say that the husband had treated his wife with cruelty, which led her to commit suicide and quashed the conviction and sentence handed out to Agrawal.