New Delhi: The mere fact that a woman committed suicide within seven years of her marriage and that she had been subjected to cruelty by her husband or any relative of her husband does not automatically give rise to the presumption that he or she abetted in it, the Supreme Court has held.
A Bench consisting of Justices R.V. Raveendran and Mukundakam Sharma said: “The court is required to look into all the other circumstances of the case. One of the circumstances which has to be considered is whether the alleged cruelty was of such nature as was likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health of the woman.”
Quoting an earlier judgment, the Bench said: “Section 113-A of the Evidence Act was introduced to meet a social demand to resolve the difficulty of proof where helpless married women were eliminated by being forced to commit suicide by the husband or in-laws and incriminating evidence was usually available within the four corners of the matrimonial home and hence was not available to anyone outside the occupants of the house.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Sharma said: “Under Section 113-A, the prosecution has to first establish that the woman concerned committed suicide within seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or any relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty. This Section gives a discretion to the court to raise such a presumption, having regard to all other circumstances of the case, which means that where the allegation is of cruelty it must consider the nature of cruelty to which the woman was subjected, within the meaning of ‘cruelty’ in Section 498-A IPC.”
The Bench said: “The presumption in that Section is not mandatory; it is only permissible as the expression ‘may presume’ suggests. In a criminal trial, however intriguing the facts and circumstances of the case are, the charges made against the accused must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.”
In the instant case, Shanti Bai set herself ablaze. The prosecution alleged that she took the extreme step, unable to bear harassment by her in-laws. The trial court in Madhya Pradesh convicted her mother-in-law, Munni Bai, of abetting in suicide and sentenced her to three years’ rigorous imprisonment. The Madhya Pradesh High Court confirmed the conviction and sentence.
Allowing the appeal against this judgment and acquitting her, the Bench said there was nothing on record to prove the prosecution charge that the mother-in-law abetted in the suicide.