Intimate with other women is not Cruelty : SC

Merely being “intimate” with another woman is not sufficient ground for a man to be held guilty of inflicting cruelty on his wife on the charge of failing to discharge his marital obligations, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

But keeping in view the case before it, the apex court set aside the concurrent judgments to exonerate the man of any wrongdoing and said, “We, on facts, found that the alleged extra-marital relationship was not of such a nature as to drive the wife to commit suicide or that A-1 (husband) had ever intended or acted in such a manner which under normal circumstances, would drive the wife to commit suicide.”
“Prosecution has to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased committed suicide and the accused abetted the commission of suicide.But for the alleged extra-marital relationship, which if proved, could be illegal and immoral, nothing has been brought out by the prosecution to show that the accused had provoked, incited or induced the wife to commit suicide,” the court said.
There is no evidence of physical or mental torture demanding dowry,” the court said.Referring to the wife’s suicide note, the bench said, “On reading the suicide note, one can infer that the deceased was so possessive of her husband, and was always under emotional stress that she might lose her husband.

Only if treatment meted out to the wife is of a nature as is likely to drive her to commit suicide will it fall within the ambit of Section 498A of IPC, a provision of the penal code providing up to three years in jail, said the bench.

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“We are of the view that the mere fact that the husband has developed some intimacy with another, during the subsistence of marriage, and failed to discharge his marital obligations, as such would not amount to cruelty,” said a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and P C Ghose.

The SC reading of what constitutes cruelty brought relief to a man who had been convicted by both the trial court and the high court for behaviour that resulted in the suicide of his wife due to an alleged extra-marital affair at his place of work.

The ruling came in a case where the wife committed suicide suspecting the husband of intimacy with a woman colleague in office. The trial court and the Gujarat high court held him guilty under Section 498A for causing cruelty to his wife and under Section 306 of IPC for abetting suicide.

“Harassment, of course, need not be in the form of physical assault and even mental harassment also would come within the purview of Section 498A IPC. Mental cruelty, of course, varies from person to person, depending upon the intensity and the degree of endurance, some may meet with courage and some others suffer in silence, to some it may be unbearable and a weak person may think of ending one’s life,” the bench said.

But keeping in view the case before it, the apex court set aside the concurrent judgments to exonerate the man of any wrongdoing and said, “We, on facts, found that the alleged extra-marital relationship was not of such a nature as to drive the wife to commit suicide or that A-1 (husband) had ever intended or acted in such a manner which under normal circumstances, would drive the wife to commit suicide.”

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Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Radhakrishnan said to charge a husband for abetment of suicide, the prosecution must establish that the wife’s suicide was a direct result of the extra-marital affair.

“Prosecution has to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased committed suicide and the accused abetted the commission of suicide. But for the alleged extra-marital relationship, which if proved, could be illegal and immoral, nothing has been brought out by the prosecution to show that the accused had provoked, incited or induced the wife to commit suicide,” the court said.

“We have on facts found that, at best, the relationship of A-1 (the husband) and A-2 (the other woman) was a one-sided love affair. The accused might have developed some liking towards A-2, his colleague, (but) all the same, the facts disclose that A-1 had discharged his marital obligations towards the deceased. There is no evidence of physical or mental torture demanding dowry,” the court said.

Referring to the wife’s suicide note, the bench said, “On reading the suicide note, one can infer that the deceased was so possessive of her husband, and was always under emotional stress that she might lose her husband. Too much of possessiveness could also lead to serious emotional stress, over and above the fact that she had one abortion and her daughter died after few days of birth.”

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