NEW DELHI: In a first, the Supreme Court on Friday permitted settling of cases under Section 498A of IPC lodged by a woman against her husband and in-laws for alleged cruelty in her matrimonial home.
Though it was enacted to protect women from harassment and cruelty, there has been judicial recognition of the fact that on several occasions, false complaints under Section 498A were filed to teach the husband and his relatives a lesson as these cases were non-compoundable and bail was difficult.
"We feel that though offence punishable under Section 498A of the IPC is not compoundable, in appropriate cases, if the parties are willing and if it appears to the criminal court that there exists elements of settlement, it should direct the parties to explore the possibility of settlement through mediation," a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana P Desai said.
"If there is settlement, the parties will be saved from the trials and tribulations of a criminal case and that will reduce the burden on the courts which will be in the larger public interest," said Justice Desai, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench.
"During mediation, the parties can either decide to part company on mutually agreed terms or they may decide to patch up and stay together. In either case, for the settlement to come through, the complaint will have to be quashed. In that event, they can approach the high court and get the complaint quashed. If, however, they choose not to settle, they can proceed with the complaint. In this exercise, there is no loss to anyone," the bench said.
The judgment came in a case where a couple separated just two days after marriage as a row between the parents of the bride and groom resulted in a massive ego battle leading to a legal fight that lasted for 10 years.
During the time they were separated, the wife made several false complaints against her husband and his father, including a derogatory complaint that she was asked by her mother-in-law to sleep with her father-in-law. When the court found it to be false, she said it was an attempt to pressurize her husband to take her back.
The bench said, "This statement cannot be explained away by stating that it was made because the wife was anxious to go back to the husband. This is not the way to win the husband back. It is well settled that such statements cause mental cruelty. By sending this complaint, the wife has caused mental cruelty to the husband."
It said the high court erred by ruling that mental cruelty could be caused only if the husband and wife stayed under one roof. "Staying together under the same roof is not a pre-condition for mental cruelty. Spouse can cause mental cruelty by his or her conduct even while he or she is not staying under the same roof," Justice Desai said.
"In a given case, while staying away, a spouse can cause mental cruelty to the other spouse by sending defamatory letters or notices or filing complaints containing indecent allegations or by initiating number of judicial proceedings making the other spouse's life miserable. This is what has happened in this case," she added.
The bench said years of false and frivolous complaints had irretrievably broken down the marriage between the parties. It asked the husband to pay Rs 15 lakh as alimony for grant of divorce.
"Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not a ground for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. But where marriage is beyond repair on account of bitterness created by the acts of the husband or the wife or both, the courts have always taken irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a very weighty circumstance amongst others necessitating severance of marital tie," the court said.
"A marriage which is dead for all purposes cannot be revived by the court's verdict, if the parties are not willing. This is because marriage involves human sentiments and emotions and if they are dried up, there is hardly any chance of their springing back to life on account of artificial reunion created by the court's decree," it added.