The Supreme Court reaffirmed that wilful conduct that drives a wife to commit suicide or demand for dowry, both could attract conviction under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The Supreme Court observed,
“Conviction under Section 498A IPC is for subjecting a woman to cruelty. Cruelty is explained as any wilful conduct which is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health. Harassment of a woman by unlawful demand of dowry also partakes the character of ‘Cruelty’.”
The observations form part of a judgment which was rendered in an appeal filed by one Wasim against a decision of the Delhi High Court which had confirmed his conviction under Section 498A of the IPC.
After his wife committed suicide by hanging, the Appellant was convicted by the trial court for offences under Sections 306 and 498A of the IPC for abetment to suicide and cruelty respectively. It was alleged by the prosecution that the deceased was being harassed for dowry and also that the appellant was involved in an extra-marital relationship and intended to leave his wife. A suicide note left behind by the deceased was also examined during the trial to prove cruelty.
During the course of the trial, the allegation of demand for dowry was not proved. But the conviction under Section 498A by the trial court was on grounds of subjecting wife to mental cruelty as the Court was convinced by the prosecution’s case that the appellant was in an extra-marital relationship.
This decision when challenged before the High Court which partly allowed the appeal. It set aside the conviction under Section 306 of the IPC noting that no convincing evidence was found to hold that the Appellant abetted the commission of suicide.
On the question of conviction under Section 498A, however, the High Court upheld the conviction but on a different ground. It ruled that there existed sufficient evidence for the demand of dowry, as opposed to the ground on which trial court had convicted – subjecting wife to mental cruelty.
This led to the Appellant approaching the Supreme Court against the judgment of the High Court.
The Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta noted that the High Court had upheld the conviction under Section 498A on the ground of demand of dowry without delving into the evidence taken on record by the trial court on that allegation.
The trial court had convicted the appellant on grounds of mental cruelty while categorically stating that no evidence to support the allegations of demand of dowry was found.
The Supreme Court judgment observes,
“It is clear from a plain reading of Section 498A that conviction for an offence under Section 498A IPC can be for wilful conduct which is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide OR for dowry demand. Having held that there is no evidence of dowry demand, the Trial Court convicted the Appellant under Section 498A IPC for his wilful conduct which drove the deceased to commit suicide.”
The High Court had also observed that there was no element of physical or mental cruelty that could be proved in this case. It had, therefore, based its conviction on the prosecution’s case of demand for dowry immediately after marriage. The High Court had also noted that there was no demand for dowry soon before the deceased committed suicide.
The Supreme Court, therefore, ruled that the High Court could not have convicted the appellant on the ground of demand for dowry without a detailed discussion on the evidence relating to that aspect particularly since the trial court had found no evidence to show that there was any demand for dowry.
“The High Court ought not to have convicted the Appellant under Section 498A for demand of dowry without a detailed discussion of the evidence on record, especially when the Trial Court found that there is no material on record to show that there was any demand of dowry.”
Thus, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the High Court and allowed the appeal.