NEW DELHI: A husband and his relatives cannot be prosecuted for “cruelty” towards wife merely because the mother-in-law or other family members had kicked her or for that matter threatened her with divorce, the Supreme Court has held.
Similarly, if a mother-in-law gives constant sermons to the daughter-in-law or allegedly treated her shabbily by giving her used dress suits, it does not invite prosecution under Section 498A of the IPC, a bench of Justices S B Sinha and Cyriac Joseph said.
However, if the mother-in-law takes away the gifts given to the couple at the time of the marriage, it amounts to “breach of trust” as specified under Section 406 IPC, the apex court said while dealing with an appeal filed by South Africa-based NRI husband and in-laws in a matrimonial dispute case.
“Allegations that appellant No 2 (mother-in-law) kicked the respondent (daughter-in-law) with her leg and told her that her mother is a liar may make out some other offences but not the one punishable under Section 498A.
“Similarly her allegations that the appellant No 2 poisoned the ears of her son against the respondent; she gave two used lady suits of her daughter to the complainant (daughter-in-law) and has been giving perpetual sermons to the complainant could not be said to be offences punishable under Section 498 A”, it said.
The bench said “even threatening that her son may be divorced for the second time could not bring out the offence under Section 498A of the IPC”.
Under Section 498-A “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman subject such a woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three-years and shall also be liable to fine.”
In this case, the daughter-in-law Monica had filed cases of cruelty and breach of trust against her South-Africa based husband Vikas Sharma, his parents Bhaskarlal and Vimla. Monica was Vikas’ second wife as he had divorced his first wife through whom he had two children.
Differences between Vikas and Monica surfaced and after several rounds of talks for reconciliation, she filed cases under Section 498-A(cruelty) and 406 (breach of trust)against the husband and in–law.
Among various allegations the woman had levelled were that her mother-in-law had kicked her, called her mother a liar and threatened her with a divorce from her son besides, taking away all the gifts, including cash, received at the time of the couple’s marriage.
A Patiala trial court issued summons against the husband and in-laws. The Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the husband and in-laws challenging the trial court’s decision to issue summons against them. Aggrieved, they moved the apex court.
The apex court, which went extensively into the details of the dispute between the couple and the complainant, said the allegations do not in any manner warrant prosecution of the accused under Section 498A.
On the contrary, the apex court said the daughter-in-law on the one hand was trying to coerce the accused and and on the other hand was trying for reconciliation with the family.
“These litigations, if a holistic view is taken, depict a sad state of affairs, namely, that the respondent(daughter-in-law), on the one hand, intends to take all coercive measures to secure the presence of her husband and the appellants in India in various cases filed by her, and on the other hand, she had been repeatedly making attempts of conciliation,” the bench observed.
The apex court however, said the only allegation against the mother-in-law that can be taken cognizance of was that she had taken all the gifts/cash given by the invitees guests.
“Technically, this allegation would attract the definition of breach of trust within the meaning of Section 405 of the IPC,” the bench said. While Section 405 defines “breach of trust”, section 406 IPC prescribes the penalty prescribed for the offence.
Hence, it permitted prosecution of the mother-in-law while exonerating the husband and father-in-law.