Extramarital Affair alone does not constitute Mental Cruelty or Abetment of Suicide
Manickam vs State of Tamil Nadu
Criminal Appeal No.32 of 2008
About/from the judgment:
The Madras High Court recently reiterated that the existence of an extramarital relationship by itself is not sufficient to point fingers at the husband for the suicide of his wife. Subjective facts must prove that the extent of mental cruelty flowing from such an affair was sufficient to drive the wife to commit suicide.
Consequently, a husband cannot be readily penalised for the offences of mental cruelty or abetment to commit suicide under Sections 498A and 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), only because he was involved in an illicit affair before the suicide of his wife.
The judgment rendered by Justice S Vaidyanathan makes reference to two cases which have already clarified this position i.e. the 2013 case of Pinakin Mahipatray Rawa v State of Gujarat and the 2016 case of KV Prakash Babu v State of Karnataka.
On a combined reading of both cases, it is apparent that while an extramarital affair by the husband would lead to civil consequences such as it being a ground for divorce, it does not automatically mean that the husband is responsible for his wife’s subsequent suicide. Whether or not Sections 306 and 498A IPC would be attracted would depend on the individual case. If the extramarital affair is such that it drives the wife towards suicide, then these provisions would be attracted.
However, the judge ultimately concluded that the accused in the case before it did not deserve such punishment. The wife of the accused committed suicide along with their child, aged a little over a year, in 2003. The father of the deceased woman had deposed that the accused was involved in an extramarital affair. The case registered initially was for murder. However, the police eventually charged the accused with Sections 498A and 306.
In 2006, a Sessions Court convicted the accused under these provisions. Also involved were dowry allegations, made primarily based on the testimony of the deceased woman’s mother. However, on appeal, the High Court found that there wasn’t sufficient material for a dowry charge to be levelled against the accused.
The Court proceeded to observe that, ultimately, the entire case relied on the basis that the accused was involved in an illicit relationship, Apart from this, there was nothing before the Court to show that the husband/accused had otherwise ill-treated his wife.
As for the extramarital relationship itself, the Court did not find any material to indicate that the extramarital affair itself had driven the woman to commit suicide. As observed in the judgment,
“Mental cruelty which is engraved in the first limb of Section 498-A IPC has nothing to do with the demand of dowry. It is associated with mental cruelty that can drive a woman to commit suicide and it depends upon the conduct of the person concerned. Mental cruelty varies from person to person, depending upon the intensity and the degree of endurance. Extra-marital relationship, per se, or as such, would not come within the ambit of Section 498- A IPC…
… In the instant case, even if the alleged illicit relationship between the Appellant/Accused and one Sarasu is proved, there is no other acceptable evidence on record to establish such high degree of mental cruelty, which has driven the wife of the Appellant to commit suicide. Hence, the offence under Section 498-A is not attracted.”
Therefore, the Sessions Court’s conviction was set aside and the accused was acquitted of all charges.
Read the Judgment
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