Woman Driven Out Of Matrimonial House Can File Case Where She Has Taken Shelter: SC

Leaving not even an iota of doubt, the Supreme Court just recently on April 9, 2019 in a latest case titled Rupali Devi v State of Uttar Pradesh in Criminal Appeal No. 71 of 2012 with Criminal Appeal No. 619 of 2019 [Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 5695/2010], Criminal Appeal No. 620 of 2019 [Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 8246/2010], Criminal Appeal No. 621 of 2019 (Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 7387/2011), Criminal Appeal No. 622 of 2019 [Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 5052/2014], Criminal Appeal No. 623 of 2019 [Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 5139/2014] has laid down categorically that women can file matrimonial cases, including criminal matters pertaining to cruelty from the place where they have taken shelter after leaving or being driven out of their matrimonial home. This landmark and extremely laudable judgment came on an appeal filed by Rupali Devi against the Allahabad High Court which dismissed her plea to file a dowry harassment case from her parents house. We thus see that after failing to get any relief from Allahabad High Court, Rupali Dei ultimately gets justice from the top court!

To be sure, it must be mentioned here that the Allahabad High Court held that cruelty punishable under Section 498A of the IPC is not a continuing offence and thus cannot be probed or punished in a jurisdiction outside the one in which the matrimonial house of the complainant is situated. But this was overruled by the top court. The top court has laid down clearly and categorically the law in this regard!

To start with, this noteworthy and commendable judgment authored by CJI Ranjan Gogoi for himself, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul sets the ball rolling in para 1 by first and foremost observing that, “Whether a woman forced to leave her matrimonial home on account of acts and conduct that constitute cruelty can initiate and access the legal process within the jurisdiction of the courts where she is forced to take shelter with the parents or other family members”. It is then further said in this same para 1 that, “This is the precise question that arises for determination in this group of appeal.” Absolutely right!

Needless to add, it is then clarified in para 2 that, “The opinions of this Court on the aforesaid question being sharply divided, the present reference to a larger Bench has been made for consideration of the question indicated hereinabove.” There can be no denying it!

Furthermore, it is then brought out in para 3 that, “In

(i) Y. Abraham Ajith and Others . Inspector of Police, Chennai and Another (2004) 8 SCC 100.

(ii) Ramesh and Others v. State of Tamil Nadu (2005) 3 SCC 507.

(iii) Manish Ratan and Others v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Another (2007) 1 SCC 262.

(iv) Amarendu Jyoti and Others v. State of Chhattisgarh and Others (2014) 12 SCC 362.

a view has been taken that if on account of cruelty committed to a wife in a matrimonial home she takes shelter in the parental home and if no specific act of commission of cruelty in the parental home can be attributed to the husband or his relatives, the initiation of proceedings under Section 498A in the courts having jurisdiction in the area where the parental home is situated will not be permissible. The core fact that would be required to be noted in the above cases is that there were no allegations made on behalf of the aggrieved wife that any overt act of cruelty or harassment had been caused to her at the parental home after she had left the matrimonial home, it is in these circumstances that the view had been expressed in the above cases that the offence of cruelty having been committed in the matrimonial home the same does not amount to a continuing offence committed in the parental home to which place the aggrieved wife may have later shifted.”

While referring to the past relevant rulings, it is then elaborated in para 4 that, “In Sujata Mukherjee v. Prashant Kumar Mukherjee (1997) 5 SCC 30; Sunita Kumari Kashyap v. State of Bihar and Another (2011) 11 SCC 301 and State of M.P. v. Suresh Kaushal & Anr. (2003) 11 SCC 126 a seemingly different view has been taken. However, the said view may appear to be based in the particular facts of each of the cases in question. For instance, in Sujata Mukherjee (Supra) there was a specific allegation that the husband, after committing acts of cruelty in the matrimonial home, had also gone to the parental house of the wife where she had taken shelter and had assaulted her there. On the said facts this court in Sujata Mukherjee (Supra) held that the offence is a continuing offence under Section 178 (c) of the Cr.P.C. In Sunita Kumari Kashyap (Supra), there was an allegation that the wife was illtreated by her husband who left her at her parental home and further that the husband had not made any enquiries about her thereafter. There was a further allegation that even when the wife had tried to contact the husband, he had not responded. In the said facts, this court took the view that the consequences of the offence under Section 498A have occurred at the parental home and, therefore, the court at that place would have jurisdiction to take cognizance of the offence alleged in view of Section 179 of the Cr.P.C. Similarly in State of M.P. vs. Suresh Kaushal (Supra) as the miscarriage was caused to the wife at Jabalpur, her parental home, on account of cruelty meted out to her in the matrimonial home, it was held that the court at the place of the parental home of the wife would have jurisdiction to entertain the complaint under Section 179 Cr.P.C.”

To put it aptly, it is then unfolded in para 5 that, “The above two views which the learned referring bench had considered while making the present reference, as already noticed, were founded on the peculiar facts of the two sets of cases before the Court. It may be possible to sustain both the views in the light of the facts of the cases in which such view was rendered by this Court. What confronts the court in the present case is however difficult. Whether in a case where cruelty had been committed in a matrimonial home by the husband or the relatives of the husband and the wife leaves the matrimonial home and takes shelter in the parental home located at a different place, would the courts situated at the place of the parental home of the wife have jurisdiction to entertain the complaint under Section 498A. This is in a situation where no overt act of cruelty or harassment is alleged to have been committed by the husband at the parental home where the wife had taken shelter.”

Interestingly enough, it is then laid bare in para 6 that, “A look at the provisions of Chapter XIII of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C) dealing with the jurisdiction of the Criminal Court in inquiries and trials will now be required. Section 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure contemplates that “every offence shall ordinarily be inquired into and tried by a Court within whose local jurisdiction it was committed”. It is, therefore, clear that in the normal course, it is the court within whose local jurisdiction the offence is committed that would have the power and authority to take cognizance of the offence in question.”

Notably, it is then spelt out in para 7 that, “Sections 178 and 179 are exceptions to the above rule and may be set out hereinunder:

“178. Place of inquiry or trial –

(a)When it is uncertain in which of several local areas an offence was committed, or

(b) where an offence is committed partly in one local area and partly in another, or

(c) where an offence is a continuing one, and continues to be committed in more local areas than one, or

(d) where it consists of several acts done in different local areas, it may be inquired into or tried by a Court having jurisdiction over any of such local areas.”

“179. Offence triable where act is done or consequence ensues – When an act is an offence by reason of anything which has been done and of a consequence which has ensured, the offence may be inquired into or tried by a Court within whose local jurisdiction such thing has been done or such consequence has ensued”.”

What’s more, it is then envisaged in para 8 that, “Section 178 creates an exception to the “ordinary rule” engrafted in Section 177 by permitting the courts in another local area where the offence is partly committed to take cognizance. Also if the offence committed in one local area continues in another local area, the courts in the latter place would be competent to take cognizance of the matter. Under Section 179, if by reason by the consequences emanating from a criminal act an offence is occasioned in another jurisdiction, the court in that jurisdiction would also be competent to take cognizance. Thus, if an offence is committed partly in one place and partly in another, or if the offence is a continuing offence or where the consequences of a criminal act result in an offence being committed at another place, the exception to the “ordinary rule” would be attracted and the courts within whose jurisdiction the criminal act is committed will cease to have exclusive jurisdiction to try the offence.”

It would be instructive to take note of what para 9 illustrates. It stipulates that, “At this stage it may also be useful to take note of what can be understood to a continuing offence. The issue is no longer res integra having been answered by this court in State of Bihar v. Deokaran Nenshi (1972) 2 SCC 890. Para 5 may be usefully noticed in this regard.

“5. A continuing offence is one which is susceptible of continuance and is distinguishable from the one which is committed once and for all. It is one of those offences which arises out of a failure to obey or comply with a rule or its requirement and which involves a penalty, the liability for which continues until the rule or its requirement is obeyed or complied with. On every occasion that such disobedience or non-compliance occurs and reoccurs, there is the offence committed. The distinction between the two kinds of offences is between an act or omission which constitutes an offence once and for all and an act or omission which continues, and therefore, constitutes a fresh offence every time or occasion on which it continues. In the case of a continuing offence, there is thus the ingredient of continuance of the offence which is absent in the case of an offence which takes place when an act or omission is committed once and for all”.”

It cannot be lost on us that it is then mentioned in para 10 that, “The question that has posed for an answer has nothing to do with the provisions of Section 178 (b) or (c). What has to be really determined is whether the exception carved out by Section 179 would have any application to confer jurisdiction in the courts situated in the local area where the parental house of the wife is located.”

For the sake of brevity, it must be stated briefly that it is then mentioned in para 12 that, “Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code was introduced by the Criminal Law (second amendment) Act, 1983. In addition to the aforesaid amendment in the Indian Penal Code, the provisions of Section 174 and 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 relating to inquiries by police in case of death by suicides and inquiries by magistrates into cause of such deaths were also amended. Section 198A was also inserted in the Code of Criminal Procedure with regard to prosecution of offences under Section 498A. Further by an amendment in the first schedule to the CrPC the offence under Section 498A was made cognizable and non-bailable. Of considerable significance is the introduction of Section 113A in the Indian Evidence Act by the Criminal Law (second amendment) Act, 1983 providing for presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman to be drawn if such suicide had been committed within a period of seven years from the date of marriage of the married woman and she had been subjected to cruelty.”

In plain and simple language, it is then stated in para 13 that, “The object behind the aforesaid amendment, undoubtedly, was to combat the increasing cases of cruelty by the husband and the relatives of the husband on the wife which leads to commission of suicides or grave injury to the wife besides seeking to deal with harssament of the wife so as to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property, etc. The above stated object of the amendment cannot be overlooked while answering the question arising in the present case. The judicial endeavour must, therefore, always be to make the provision of the laws introduced and inserted by the Criminal Laws (second amendment) Act, 1983 more efficacious and effective in view of the clear purpose behind the introduction of the provisions in question, as already noticed.”

More importantly, it is then outlined in para 14 that, “ “Cruelty” which is the crux of the offence under Section 498A IPC is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary to mean “The intentional and malicious infliction of mental or physical suffering on a living creature, esp. a human; abusive treatment, outrage (Abuse, inhuman treatment, indignity)”. Cruelty can be both physical or mental cruelty. The impact on the mental health of the wife by overt acts on the part of the husband or his relatives; the mental stress and trauma of being driven away from the matrimonial home and her helplessness to go back to the same home for fear of being illtreated are aspects that cannot be ignored while understanding the meaning of the expression “cruelty” appearing in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The emotional distress or psychological effect on the wife, if not the physical injury, is bound to continue to traumatize the wife even after she leaves the matrimonial home and takes shelter at the parental home. Even if the acts of physical cruelty committed in the matrimonial house may have ceased and such acts do not occur at the parental home, there can be no doubt that the mental trauma and the psychological distress caused by the acts of the husband including verbal exchanges, if any, that had compelled the wife to leave the matrimonial home and take shelter with her parents would continue to persist at the parental home. Mental cruelty borne out of physical cruelty or abusive and humiliating verbal exchanges would continue in the parental home even though there may not be any overt act of physical cruelty at such place.”

Most importantly, it is then underscored in para 15 that, “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, as the object behind its enactment would indicate, is to provide a civil remedy to victims of domestic violence as against the remedy in criminal law which is what is provided under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The definition of the Domestic Violence in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 contemplates harm or injuries that endanger the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, as well as emotional abuse. The said definition would certainly, for reasons stated above, have a close connection with Explanation A & B to Section 498A, Indian Penal Code which defines cruelty. The provisions contained in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, undoubtedly encompasses both mental as well as the physical well-being of the wife. Even the silence of the wife may have an underlying element of an emotional distress and mental agony. Her sufferings at the parental home though may be directly attributable to commission of acts of cruelty by the husband and the matrimonial home would, undoubtedly, be the consequences of the acts committed at the matrimonial home. Such consequences, by itself, would amount to distinct offences committed at the parental home where she has taken shelter. The adverse effects on the mental health in the parental home though on account of the acts committed in the matrimonial home would, in our considered view amount to commission of cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A at the parental home. The consequences of the cruelty committed at the matrimonial home results in repeated offences being committed at the parental home. This is the kind of offences contemplated under Section 179 Cr.P.C which would squarely be applicable to the present case as an answer to the question raised.”

Lastly, we then see that para 16 concludes by saying that, “We, therefore, hold that the courts at the place where the wife takes shelter after leaving or driven away from the matrimonial home on account of acts of cruelty committed by the husband or his relatives, would, dependent on the factual situation, also have jurisdiction to entertain a complaint alleging commission of offences under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.”

All said and done, it is certainly a landmark and laudable judgment which has spoken vocally for the affected woman. This alone explains that why the three-Judge Bench of Apex Court headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi has held categorically and convincingly that, “498A case can be filed at a place where a woman driven out of matrimonial home takes shelter.” Very rightly so! This will certainly save a woman from being subjected to unnecessary inconveniences like travelling to some other place just to file a case! There can be no denying or disputing it!

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,

Meerut – 250001,

Uttar Pradesh.