New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that a husband cannot be prosecuted for ‘cruelty’ towards his wife under section 498(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) merely because his mother or other members of the family kicked her or, for that matter, threatened her with divorce.
Giving an interpretation of the term ‘cruelty’, which often crops up in matrimonial disputes, the court further said that if the mother-in-law constantly gives sermons to the daughter-in-law or treats her shabbily by giving her used dress suits, it would not invite prosecution under section 498(A).
But if the mother-in-law takes away gifts given to the couple at the time of marriage (stridhan), it would amount to ‘breach of trust’ as specified under section 406 of the IPC, a bench comprising justice SB Sinha and justice Cyriac Joseph said.
The ruling came on an appeal filed by a South Africa-based non-resident Indian and his family in a matrimonial dispute case in India.
“Allegations that the mother-in-law kicked her daughter-in-law with her legs and told her that her [the wife’s] mother is a liar may make out some other offence but not the one punishable under section 498(A),” the justices said.
“Similarly, her [the wife’s] allegation that the mother-in-law poisoned the ears of her son [the husband] against his wife; she gave two used lady suits of her daughter to the complainant [the daughter-in-law], and has been giving perpetual sermons to the complainant could not be said to be offences punishable under section 498(A),” the court said while defining cruelty in the matrimonial context.
“Even threatening that her son may be divorced for the second time could not bring out the offence under section 498(A) of the IPC,” the bench said.