State of West Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal & Anr.

After reading this case analysis you will learn the amount of care and precaution required to be taken by the Court in dowry death cases where the suit can be malicious or truthful.
CITATIONAIR 1994 SC 1418
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice K.J. Reddy and Justice G. Ray
DATE OF JUDGEMENT25.09.1993

Introduction

One of the basic principles of criminal law is that for a person to be convicted for any offence, it is essential that the offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt. In the present case, the Supreme Court examined whether the evidence put forth by the prosecution was sufficient to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt under Section 498A, Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: As per the prosecution’s case, the deceased committed suicide by hanging herself in the house of her husband and in laws within a year from the date of marriage. It was a negotiated marriage and the family of the deceased had given sufficient dowry (colour TV, gold etc) according to the demands of the husband’s family. The deceased, who was only 20 years old, was continuously tortured and treated cruelly, both mentally and physically by the accused. Within a few days, the father in law of the mother in law (accused no. 2) of the deceased passed away and accused no. 2 taunted the deceased and treated her cruelly by calling her an evil luck for the family. Subsequently, the deceased conceived but it resulted in an abortion. Again, her mother in law tortured her and not only called her evil luck but even went as far as to tell the deceased that she swallowed her own baby and should commit suicide. Prosecution also alleged that the husband (accused no. 1) would often come home drunk and physically assault the deceased. Both accused nos. 1 and 2 would taunt her about the dowry gifts she had gotten with her, saying that they were of low quality and that new gifts of good quality should be bought. On several occasions, the deceased complained about the torture to her parents and family when she went to visit them. It was also alleged that on the day she committed suicide, accused no. 1 had gone to her parental home and told her mother that the deceased and accused no. 2 were quarrelling and that she should go to settle the matter. The mother of the deceased told accused no. 1 that she would send her son on the next day but shortly thereafter, brother of accused no.1 informed her and the deceased’s brother that something had happened to the deceased and she was taken to the hospital. Upon arriving at the hospital, they found her to be dead. The brother of the deceased made a statement on the same day in the police station that his sister was murdered but this was not treated as a FIR. Being shocked by the death of her daughter, the mother became unconscious and went to give a statement the next day, which was treated as FIR.

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This story was backed by the statements made by the deceased’s mother P.W. 2, sister P.W. 5 and elder brother P.W. 6.

As per the post mortem report, she died due to hanging but had a few marks of abrasions on her cheek and other parts of the body, which initially the doctor said were most likely caused by fist and blows. However, on cross examination, the doctor said that the abrasions on the cheek could have been caused if the deceased had dashed against a hard substance and the injury on the neck could be caused by the friction of the nylon rope.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether a case under sections 498A and 306 IPC is made out against any or all the accused.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The 12th Bench of the City Sessions Court, Calcutta, after appreciating evidence put forth by both the sides, convicted the accused u/s 306 read with section 34 IPC. They were given a sentence of 5 years’ rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs. 1000 in default simple imprisonment for 3 months.

However, upon appeal, the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court in Criminal Appeal No. 195 of 1990 set aside the conviction. The Court held that there was a grave doubt in the prosecution’s story due to the following grounds:

  1. No satisfactory explanation of delay in lodging the F.I.R;
  2. No dying declaration or suicidal note;
  3. No letter during the subsistence of marriage;
  4. There was no letter addressed to the mother who used to live outside of Calcutta
  5. No complaint by father or father in law of the victim;
  6. No evidence regarding injuries received by the deceased or the maltreatment;
  7. No specific date was given when the deceased allegedly told her mother about the torture or demand for dowry;
  8. Although the adult members of the family of the deceased consisting of four brothers, sisters and brother-in-law and father are the residents of Calcutta, the deceased had never complained anything to them; and
  9. The neighbour or tenants weren’t examined by the prosecution.
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The Supreme Court in its judgment dealt with all these grounds:

  1. The Sessions Judge had rightly observed that the mother gave satisfactory explanation as to why there was a delay in lodging the FIR. Upon reaching the hospital, when she found that her daughter had died, it caused her a great mental shock and she became unwell; she subsequently made a statement on the next day which was treated as the FIR. Meanwhile, the deceased’s brother had made a statement on the same day as the death, but this was not treated as FIR.
  2. The absence of dying declaration or suicide note was according to the Court, not a very important factor in deciding the case.
  3. With regard to absence of letters between the deceased and her family, it was noted that most of her family lived in Calcutta and her mother also often came to Calcutta and the deceased met them in person. Thus, the exchange of letters shouldn’t be reasonably expected.
  4. Question of complaint by the father wasn’t necessary as her mother has already given a statement regarding the maltreatment of her daughter.
  5. The mother, brother, sister and other relatives of the deceased deposed about the physical assault and torture of the deceased. The doctor had also noted some injuries on her post that were anti-mortem on the person of the deceased.
  6. Even though, exact date wasn’t given, the mother and brother deposed that after about a month of the marriage, the deceased came to her parental house and told them about the cruelty.
  7. There is no evidence that supports the High Court’s observation that deceased hadn’t complained to her family.
  8. No adverse inference can be drawn from non-examination of the tenants or neighbours. The Court observed that the depositions of the close relatives cannot be discarded simply because of absence of an independent witness.

The Court noted that the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt does not stand altered even after the introduction of Section 498A I.P.C. and Section 113A of Indian Evidence Act. Although, the court’s conscience must be satisfied that the accused is not held guilty when there are reasonable doubts about the complicity of the accused in respect of the offences alleged, it should be borne in mind that there is no absolute standard for proof in a criminal trial and the question whether the charges made against the accused have been proved beyond all reasonable doubt must depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case and the quality of the evidences adduced in the case and the materials placed on record.

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The Court also added that courts should be careful in assessing whether the cruelty in fact induced the victim into committing suicide or if the victim was hypersensitive to ordinary family discord. In the present case, there is no material evidence to show that the deceased was hypersensitive.

Finally, the Court held that in the given circumstances, the offence u/s 498A was clearly established against both the accused but they were given a benefit of doubt with regard to section 306 IPC. Thus, the appeal was allowed in part and both the accused were sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 2 years and a fine of Rs. 2,000 in default to suffer further imprisonment for four months. 

Analysis

The law regarding delay in lodging the FIR has not changed substantially. Since the passing of the present judgment, the Supreme Court in various cases[1], has held that the delay itself cannot be a ground for throwing away the prosecution case. The Court has to seek an explanation for delay and check the truthfulness of the version put forward. If the Court is satisfied, then the case of the prosecution cannot fail on this ground alone.

The Supreme Court has also held that delay in lodging FIR in cases relating to Section 498A should be dealt with sympathetically by the courts.[2] In the present case, the Court was sufficiently satisfied as to why there was a delay. Another important observation in the case was that the courts have to see whether the victim was hypersensitive. Ordinary tantrums and discord or differences in domestic life does not amount to cruelty.[3]

Conclusion

In cases u/s 498A, the role of the Court becomes even more important than in other cases. It is important that the court is sensitive towards the victim and acts with sympathy, but at the same time, this sympathy cannot be used to sway the court into the wrong direction. Since matrimonial disputes and suppression of women in marriages is common, the Court has to play a critical role in deciding whether the conduct of the husband and/or his relatives actually amounts to cruelty or if it is an ordinary dispute.


[1] State of Himachal Pradesh v. Gian Chand, AIR 2001 SC 2075; Ramdas v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2007 SC 155; Jitender Kumar v. State of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No.1763 of 2008.

[2] Satish Shetty v. State of Karnataka, Criminal Appeal 1358 of 2008.

[3] Neeraj Mehta v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLineBom 62.