In the Indian setting, instances of women being subjected to torture or cruelty by husband or his relatives with the purpose of coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security are common in the family. Although the legislature has inserted a statutory provision in the Indian Penal Code under section 498A with a view to avoiding cruelty against wife by her husband or in-laws, instances are not wanting where the wife is even drives to commit suicide. Usually as per the law if a married woman dies within 7 years of her marriage then it is mostly presumed that it is a case of dowry death.
- A criminal appeal was filed by the in-laws of the deceased (I.e. the groom's parents) before the Madras High Court [Cri.M.PNo. 2926 of 2021 in Cri.A.No. 114 of 2021]
- It is to be noted that the husband of the deceased filed no further appeal only the in-laws filed an appeal challenging the judgement passed by the lower court.
- The appeal was filed to suspend the punishment given by the lower court.
- The appeal was heard by a single judge bench of Madras High Court Justice P. Velmurugan.
- The deceased victim and the accused married on 20th June 2016. But within few months into this marriage, the deceased started being harassed and beaten by her in-laws and husband.
- Due to this, she suffered from mental agony and on 27th September 2017, the newlywed bride committed suicide. It was stated that they harassed the victim by demanding money and jewellery.
- It was stated that she committed suicide because of the constant harassment faced due to dowry demands by her in-laws’ also being continuously beaten and harassed by her husband for the same.
- A case was registered against her in-laws and her husband under section 498A (cruelty) and section 304B (Dowry Death) of the Indian Penal Code.
- The 3 accused that is the husband and his parents were found guilty and were sentenced by a lower court for simple imprisonment, up to 2 years and a fine of Rupees 5,000 were also imposed on them.
COURT OBSERVATIONS AND VERDICT
- The counsel for the petitioners contended that the prosecution case has several discrepancies and infirmities. It was stated that the deceased victim and their son lived separately from their in-laws since the beginning of their marriage.
- As they did not live under the same roof the parents of the groom said there is no chance that they harassed or tortured/showed barbarity towards the victim.
- The counsel representing the petitioners said that the components under section 498A have not been made out by the prosecution and without considering this the learned Sessions Judge convicted the petitioners and hence the sentence should be suspended.
- While the Government advocate said there were enough evidences which proved that they committed cruelty against the victim and thus on that basis the learned Sessions Judge of Mahila Court, Cuddalore convicted the 3 accused.
- The court in its order stated that suicide by women due to dowry demands by in-laws and husbands are on a rise. At the same time, the in-laws are trying to easily escape liability by saying that they were living separately from the newlyweds but though they live separately they induce their sons for getting dowry by way of jewellery, money, bike or a car.
- The court said that though they have considered several petitions on the same ground now people are taking advantage of the same and a wrong message is going to the society at large that one can escape liability from the alleged offence.
- The court further asserted that it has to be noted that merely giving birth, providing food and shelter and motivating a child to get a good job is not the only responsibility rather one should focus and give top priority towards making their child a responsible citizen.
- The court said that the learned sessions judge had rightfully convicted the accused petitioners in this case as per the available materials on record produced before the court.
- The court in its verdict pronounced that it is not bound to suspend the sentence and did not find any merits in this petition and thus the petitions stand dismissed.
Harassment doesn’t need to take place only when people live under the same roof. As the court rightly observed that a person can be harassed from a distance by provoking or instigating another person as in this case the victim's husband was instigated to demand dowry. As severe harassment can lead to mental agony and torture and in extreme cases a person may commit suicide.
Education from a top university or degree of the highest level or having a high IQ is of no use if a person is not at all humane or doesn’t know how to treat other human beings and has never learnt to be a responsible citizen. This implies also to those who indulge in cyberbullying and harassment in the name of freedom of speech and expression and say nasty things and target a person by saying demeaning, vulgar and negative things which has become common in the social media age.