Hindu Law & Family matters part 3
Summary of Question- 498A Offence and Territorial Jurisdiction
Question – Whether for offence under section 498A, Territorial Jurisdiction can be at the place where wife has taken shelter after cruelty committed on her at the matrimonial house.
Answer- Yes. With regard to offence under section 498A, Territorial Jurisdiction may, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case concerned, be at the place where wife has taken shelter after cruelty committed on her at the matrimonial house even though matrimonial place and the place of shelter fall under different court's Territorial Jurisdiction.
1. The question before a three judges bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case reported in 2019 (6) SCALE 96 was 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. I quote below the following observation and findings of the three judge Bench:
"14. "Cruelty" which is the crux of the offence Under Section 498A Indian Penal Code 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 ill-treated 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 cause 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.”
“15. 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 at 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 Code of Criminal Procedure which would squarely be applicable to the present case as an answer to the question raised.”
16. 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."
2. In the CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.1096 OF 2019 (NITIKA vs. YADWINDER SINGH), decided on the 23rd. July 2019, the Hon’ble Supreme Court relied upon the said decision in Rupali Devi’s case.