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It is a national shame that in India one can get away very easily even after indulging in the worst character assassination of any individual. We witness for ourselves in so many cases of marital discord that how easily a woman levels accusations of extra marital relationship on her husband and of dowry harassment and very often it is not just the husband but also the parents and relatives of husband who are made to undergo jail term without even facing trial for a long time. Of course, this rampant misuse of laws which are actually meant for the protection of woman on a large scale merits prompt attention and those woman or her parents and other relatives who are found indulging in misusing it as a potent oppressive weapon to extract huge amount of money from husband and his relatives must be severely punished at least for not less than five years so that no one can dare indulge in leveling false charges and in character assassination.

To put it differently, similarly even if husband indulges in character assassination without any proof then he too must be taken to task and so also his relatives and they too must be packed to jail for at least five years! If this is done now then it will not be easy for anyone to indulge in character assassination at the drop of a hat! The right to have a clean reputation is the right of every individual and anyone who dares to violate this sacred right must be taken to task promptly without any exception and must be made to face serious consequences so that the right message goes to one and all that you cannot take for granted the right of clean reputation of the other individual.

While firmly, fully and finally upholding a Family Court order granting decree of divorce in favour of the husband, the Delhi High Court has as recently as on March 21, 2022 in an extremely commendable, cogent, composed and creditworthy judgment titled X v Y and cited in 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 227 dismissed wife's appeal noting that accusations of unchastity or extra marital relationship is a grave assault on the character as well as health of the spouse against whom such allegations are made. It must be mentioned here that a Division Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma also added that while such allegations of extra marital affairs cause mental pain, agony, suffering and tantamount to cruelty, the tendency of making false allegations must be deprecated by the Courts. With due respect to Hon'ble Delhi High Court, I most strongly feel as a lawyer and also as an individual in my personal capacity that just deprecating alone is not enough to send the right message. Those women and her relatives and parents who dare to level false allegations without any basis must be made to face the jail for at least 5 years or two years but they should not be allowed to go scot free at any case in such cases so that the right message percolates down that the reputation of any individual whether it is husband or wife is most sacred and paramount and those who dare to violate it without any firm basis will have to face the most serious consequences!

To start with, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma for a Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and himself sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, "The appellant has invoked the jurisdiction of this Court under Section 19 of the Family Courts, 1984 assailing the impugned judgment order dated 31.01.2019, whereby the Family Court, South West, Dwarka granted a decree of divorce in favour of the respondent/husband under Section 13 (1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred as HMA)."

While briefly stating the facts, the Bench then enunciates in para 2 that, "Briefly stated, the facts are that the parties were married as per Hindu rites and customs at Palam, Delhi on 29.06.2014. However, immediately after marriage, the relations between the couple turned sour. The appellant/wife lodged an FIR bearing No. 306/2016 under Section 354/354- A/354-B/354-C IPC, PS Palam Village against her father-in-law. The divorce petition was filed by the respondent/husband on the ground of the cruelty on 08.03.2017. The Family Court after the trial, granted decree of divorce."

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 3 that, "The Family Courts in the impugned judgment, noted that after around one year of marriage, the parties shifted to a rented accommodation in Saidalazab, Saket, New Delhi. The appellant – wife was working as a Social Science Teacher with the Delhi Government and the respondent – husband was employed as Assistant Manager (Co-ordination) with M/s Bridge and Roof Co. (India) Ltd. The Respondent – husband in the petition had levied certain allegations against the appellant – wife regarding her lifestyle, attitude and strange behavior towards his parents. The appellant – wife allegedly did not pay any heed to the respondent's advise to modify her life style. The respondent/husband with a hope to see some improvement in their relation, shifted to an independent rented house. However, the behavior of appellant/wife allegedly, did not improve. The appellant/wife allegedly made false allegations against the father of the respondent/ husband which, later on, she sought to withdraw and sought pardon as recorded in the written submissions made to Inquiry Officer ( IO ) on 25.06.2016. The appellant –wife filed false and frivolous complaints before the Delhi Commission for Women and CAW Cell on 03.06.2016 and 17.06.2016 respectively for dowry harassment against the respondent/ husband and members of his family. These complaints were closed after investigations. The appellant/wife also allegedly filed false FIR bearing No. 306/2016 under Section 354/354-A/354-B/354-C IPC, PS Palam Village. It has now been brought on the record that, in the said case, the Trial Court has recorded an acquittal. Appellant/wife, allegedly - in order to malign the members of the family of respondent/husband, got it published in the newspaper. Appellant/wife allegedly left the matrimonial house on 11.07.2016 alongwith the household goods, and filed a false and frivolous case under Section 9 of HMA in the Court of ADJ, Khetri Nagar, District Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. Thereafter, the respondent/husband filed the present petition under Section 13 (1) (ia) of HMA on the ground of Cruelty."

As we see, the Bench then points out in para 4 that, "The appellant/wife in her defense stated that, in fact, it was the respondent/husband who had been inflicting cruelty on her. She further stated that she was also tortured and harassed by her in-laws on account of their dowry demands. The appellant /wife also alleged that her father-in-law had also sexually assaulted her, and when the respondent/husband did not take any steps, she was forced to file a complaint with the police. The appellant /wife also stated that, rather, it was the respondent/husband who used to force her to commit suicide, for which, she had filed a complaint with the Mahila Ayog. Allegedly, the respondent /husband was a habitual drinker and even compelled the appellant to consume liquor on some occasions. The appellant stated that though she was employed and had to attend to her office, yet she used to do all household works. The appellant stated that she wanted to continue with the matrimonial alliance, and thus she filed the petition under Section 9 of the HMA. The Family Courts framed the following issues;

  1. Whether the respondent has exercised cruelty upon the petitioner after solemnization of marriage between the parities? OPP.
  2. Whether the petitioner is entitled to decree of divorce as prayed for? OPP.
  3. Relief."

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 5 that, "The respondent – husband examined himself as PW-1 and his father Sh. Charan Singh Yadva as PW- 2. The appellant had examined herself as RW-1."

To be sure, the Bench then discloses in para 6 that, "The Family Court after considering the material on records and submissions made by the learned counsel for the parties, noted that though, appellant had alleged extra marital affairs of her husband but failed to place any document or material in support of her allegations. The Family Court inter alia observed that the allegations made by the appellant regarding extra marital affairs, were unfounded and had resulted in causing mental cruelty upon the respondent. The Family Court also noted that the appellant had admitted that she had made the publication in newspaper – Dainik Jagran, regarding complaints of sexual harassment made by her against her father-in-law. The Trial Court noted that the parties were living separately for last more than 30 months. The Family Court inter alia concluded that the appellant had inflicted cruelty upon the respondent after solemnization of the marriage and granted decree of divorce."

Be it noted, the Bench then observes in para 10 that, "We have considered the submissions of the parties and perused the record carefully. The parties in the present case were married in June, 2014 and have been residing separately since June, 2016. The appellant/wife lodged the police complaint against her father-in-law FIR bearing No. 306/2016 under Section 354/354-A/354-B/354-C IPC, PS Palam Village. In March, 2017, the respondent/husband filed the divorce petition. Thus, the parties are in litigation since 2016, and are residing separately for the last around 6 years. The Family Court Judge in his detailed and reasoned judgment has correctly appreciated the evidence on the record and has found that the allegations of extra marital affairs made by the appellant/wife against the respondent /husband were unfounded. In the evidence before the Trial Court, the appellant failed to bring any credible evidence to prove her allegations. It is also a matter of record now, that the police case filed by the appellant against her father-in-law i.e. the father of the respondent has also resulted in acquittal."

Most significantly and also most remarkably, the Bench then lays bare in para 11 what forms the cornerstone of this learned judgment holding without mincing any words that, "We consider that the Family Court has correctly appreciated the evidence and has rightly found that the appellant - by making unfounded allegations amounting to character assassination against the respondent and his father has inflicted mental cruelty upon the respondent /husband. In the appeal, also, the appellant has failed to bring any credible material to suggest that the findings recorded by the Trial Court are incorrect. It has repeatedly been held that accusations of unchastity or extra marital relationship is a grave assault on character, status, reputation as well as health of the spouse against whom such allegations were made. It causes mental pain, agony, suffering and tantamount to cruelty. The allegations of extra marital affairs in relationship are serious allegations, which have to be made with all seriousness. The tendency of making false allegations has to be deprecated by the Courts. The mal-intent of the appellant is also evident from her admission of publicising her allegations against her father-in-law. His reputation would have been tarnished by such irresponsible conduct of the appellant."

As a corollary, the Bench then observes in para 12 that, "We consider that there is no material on the record to upset or set aside the order of the Family Courts."

Finally and far most significantly, the Bench then minced just no words to say most elegantly, eloquently and effectively in the last para 13 that, "In the present case the appellant has made serious allegations, but the same were not substantiated during the trial. The appellant also filed a serious complaint against the father of the husband, which also resulted in acquittal. We consider that these two aspects simply can be taken as acts of cruelty by the appellant, upon the respondent. The marriage is solemn relation and it's purity must be maintained for a healthy society. Thus, we see no reason to interfere with the impugned judgment and decree. Dismissed."

Of course, we must applaud, admire and appreciate most generously what the Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma have ruled in this leading case so remarkably and courageously which will definitely benefit those for whose benefit it is passed and restore to a large extent the loss of reputation that the husband and his family suffered immeasurably over the last couple of years! But it is high time and Centre too must now instead of just being a passive spectator spring into action and promptly amend our penal laws and in all such cases where whether it is husband or wife who indulges in character assassination must be made to undergo rigorous imprisonment for at least 5 years in my view or whatever years Centre may consider appropriate on this count! India cannot afford to ever allow such a key issue directly affecting the reputation of an individual to keep lying on the backburner for so long!

In hindsight, we all know that Centre is revising our criminal laws and is actively working on it. This most key issue directly affecting the life of an individual – "Right to clean reputation" too deserves to be earnestly given a food of thought! I am sure that if this key issue is dispassionately analyzed then the law makers too will be able to see the clear writing on the wall! There can definitely be just no denying or disputing it!

To conclude, there can certainly be no denying what my best friend Sageer Khan said so very rightly way back in 1993 which holds most dear to me that, "Reputation is what people think you are but, on the contrary, character is what actually you are. Never allow yourself to fall in your own eyes by doing anything wrong and never care a damn for what people say for you yourself know best what you actually are." But this definitely does not mean that we don't care for our reputation and allow anyone to hold our reputation to ransom as per their own whims and fancies which is certainly built after decades of toil, perseverance and good conduct! It is a no-brainer that the right to reputation is the most sacred right on earth and I very strongly feel that Centre must amend Constitution and make it a fundamental right and clearly mentioning it as a separate Article! The ball is now in the court of the Centre! This most burning issue brooks no more delay any longer now! It merits no reiteration that the earlier Centre realizes this, the better it shall be in our national interests also and so also in the interest of the husband and his family who suffer immeasurably for just no fault of theirs!

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Category Family Law, Other Articles by - Adv. Sanjeev Sirohi