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Man Can't Be Held Guilty For Abetment Of Wife's Suicide Unless...: Supreme Court

The prosecution claimed that soon after marriage, the man and his parents started demanding money

New Delhi:

A man cannot be held guilty for abetment of his wife’s suicide within seven years of marriage unless there is cogent evidence of harassment or cruelty, the Supreme Court has said while acquitting a man charged with abetting the suicide of his wife three decades ago.

Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act establishes the presumption of abetment by a husband and in-laws in cases where a woman’s suicide occurs within seven years of marriage and she has been subjected to cruelty.

In this case, the man got married in 1992. The prosecution claimed that soon after marriage, the man and his parents started demanding money as he wanted to start a ration shop.

Records reveal that on November 19, 1993, the woman committed suicide by consuming poison. According to the prosecution, she committed suicide on account of incessant harassment at the end of her husband.

Additional sessions judge of Karnal in 1998 held the man guilty of the offence punishable under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which was upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The Supreme Court said that to convict a person under Section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the IPC, there has to be a clear “mens rea” (criminal intent) to commit the offence.

A bench of Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra said mere harassment is not sufficient to hold an accused guilty of abetting the commission of suicide and it also requires an active act or direct act which led the person to commit suicide.

The top court said courts must remain very careful and vigilant in applying the correct principles of law governing the subject of abetment of suicide of a woman within seven years of marriage or it may give an impression that the conviction is not legal but rather moral.

“This court has held that from the mere fact of suicide within seven years of marriage, one should not jump to the conclusion of abetment unless cruelty was proved. In the absence of any cogent evidence of harassment or cruelty, an accused cannot be held guilty for the offence under Section 306 of IPC by raising a presumption under Section 113A,” the bench said.

It said mere demand of money from the wife or her parents for running a business without anything more would not constitute cruelty or harassment. The top court also said that from the mere fact of suicide within seven years of marriage, one should not jump to the conclusion of abetment unless cruelty was proven.

“Had there been any clinching evidence of incessant harassment on account of which the wife was left with no other option but to put an end to her life, it could have been said that the accused intended the consequences of his act, namely, suicide,” it said.

The bench said courts should be extremely careful in assessing evidence under section 113A to find out if cruelty was meted out.

“If it transpires that a victim committing suicide was hypersensitive to ordinary petulance, discord and differences in domestic life quite common to the society to which the victim belonged and such petulance, discord and differences were not expected to induce a similarly circumstanced individual in a given society to commit suicide, the conscience of the court would not be satisfied for holding that the accused charged of abetting the offence of suicide was guilty,” it said.

Commenting on the ordeal suffered by the man, the top court said the “criminal justice system of ours can itself be a punishment”.

“It is exactly what has happened in this case. It did not take more than 10 minutes for this court to reach an inevitable conclusion that the conviction of the appellant convict for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the IPC is not sustainable in law.

“The ordeal for the appellant started sometime in 1993 and is coming to an end in 2024, i.e. almost after a period of 30 years of suffering. At the same time, we are also mindful of the fact that a young woman died leaving behind her six-month-old infant. No crime should go unpunished. But at the same time, the guilt of the accused has to be determined in accordance with law,” the bench said.
 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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