U. Suvetha v. State by Inspector of Police & Anr.

After reading this judgement, the readers will learn how the Supreme Court did not involve girlfriends or concubines of husband under Section 498A and the reasons given by the Court for the same.
CITATION2009 (2) KLT 686
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice S.B. Sinha and Justice R.M. Lodha
DATE OF JUDGEMENT06.05.2009

Introduction

In this case, the Supreme Court made some very significant observations as to the extent of the term “relative of husband of a woman’ u/s 498A, Indian Penal Code, 1860, especially with regard to the girlfriend/concubine of the husband.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Respondent no. 2 was married to one Tutus Gunaraj. It was alleged that he had some connection with the Appellant and when the first informant (his wife) asked him about it, she was ill-treated and was left by him to live with her mother-in-law. It was also alleged that dowry demands were made. In the FIR, the first informant had alleged that her husband refused to end his illegal relationship with the Appellant and when confronted about it, he tortured her. Her mother-in-law, husband’s aunt, aunt’s son in law and lastly, the Appellant i.e. the husband’s concubine, all abetted her husband to torture and leave her.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the term “relative of husband of a woman” under Section 498A can be extended to include the girlfriend of the husband.

Summary of court decision and judgement

The High Court held the Appellant to be a relative of the husband under Section 498A. However, the Supreme Court before arriving at its decision, made the following observations:

  • The Court noted that Section 498A was introduced in Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act No. 46 of 1983 after much deliberation. It was made so that the penal code could suitably deal with cases of not only dowry deaths but also cases of cruelty to married women by their in laws.
  • Under section 498A, the offence must be committed by the husband of the woman or his relatives. The court observed that in absence of a statutory definition, the term ‘relative’ must be assigned a meaning as is commonly understood. Ordinarily, it includes father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, sister, brother, nephew, niece etc. i.e. a person related by blood, marriage or adoption. After citing several laws and cases, the Court held that, “by no stretch of imagination a girl friend or even a concubine in an etymological sense would be a relative”. The word implies a status conferred by blood, marriage or adoption. Thus, there is no question of the girlfriend being a relative.
  • The Court also observed that the torture alleged was inflicted by the husband either at the first informant’s in laws’ place or parents’ place and there is no allegation or evidence to prove that the appellant had any role to play in that regard.
Also Read  Amolakchand Chhazed v. Bhagwandas Arya & Ors.

The Court thus allowed the appeal and set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court.

Analysis

To bring a case within the purview of Section 498A, the essential ingredients that must be fulfilled are:

  1. The woman must be married
  2. She must be subjected to cruelty
  3. Cruelty must be of the nature of:
    1. any wilful conduct as was likely to drive such woman:  a. to commit suicide; b. cause grave injury or danger to her life, limb, either mental or physical;
    1. harassment of such woman, (1) with a view to coerce her to meet unlawful demand for property or valuable security, (2) or on account of failure of such woman or by any of her relation to meet the unlawful demand,
    1. Woman was subjected to such cruelty by: (1) husband of that woman, or (2) any relative of the husband.[1]

In the present case, the Court found that the appellant was not a relative of the husband. Since the basic object of the section is to protect a woman against the cruelties meted out by her husband or his relatives, the section could not be invoked in this case.

Conclusion

If the word ‘relative’ under Section 498A was to include the girlfriend or concubine of the husband as well, it would lead to disastrous results. This would result in the section being used to rope in unnecessary parties. A girlfriend cannot be made responsible for the husband’s cruelty. Thus, the Court rightly held that the term could in no sense include the girlfriend or even concubine of the husband.


[1] Bhaskar Lal Sharma v. Monica,[2009] INSC 1282.