NEW DELHI: After stirring up a controversy last year by ruling that a mother-in-law who kicks her daughter-in-law or repeatedly threatens her with divorce attracts no punishment for cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court has agreed to take a second look.
Immediately after the pronouncement of the verdict on July 27, 2009, women’s organizations had raised a banner of dissent. The lead was taken by CPM leader Brinda Karat who met law minister Veerappa Moily and urged him to take steps to correct the flaw in the “retrograde” judgment.
The National Commission for Women, through counsel Aparna Bhat, moved a curative petition requesting reconsideration of the judgment in the case between Bhaskar Lal Sharma and his daughter-in-law Monica. Curative petitions normally have a 99% failure rate in the apex court.
NCW said the ruling would defeat the very purpose of the provision to protect women from cruelty and harassment in matrimonial homes.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices S H Kapadia, Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph entertained NCW’s curative petition and issued notice to both parties — Sharma and Monica. This means the curative petition will now be heard in open court for the parties to point out the anamoly in the July 27 ruling and suggest corrective measures.
NCW had reflected the views of Karat who had said the apex court’s decision would only “further deepen the miseries of women and undo the effect of various legislations passed for the emancipation of women”.
“Such a judicial understanding of cruelty will be a licence for domestic violence…mental or physical. It may also encourage wife-beaters. If unchallenged, it will undo the positive steps taken by government and
Parliament to provide a just legal framework to address the increasing number of cases of domestic violence and protect the lives and dignity of women within the domestic sphere,” Karat had written.
The NCW said in its petition: “The manner in which `cruelty’ is defined makes it clear that each condition is exclusive to each other. Hence, section 498A is not confined to dowry demand. It includes demand for dowry and resultant harassment caused to women but also includes cruelty in matrimony caused to the women without the demand for dowry.”
In the case in question, Monica had filed cases of cruelty and breach of trust against her South-Africa based husband Vikas Sharma, his parents Bhaskar Lal and Vimla under Section 498A and 406 (breach of trust).