Suicide note alone will not prove the cruelty in 498A

Supreme Court of India

Smt. Raj Rani vs State (Delhi Administration) on 8 February, 2000

Bench: K Thomas, D Mohapatra

JUDGMENT

1. Appellant is Smt. Raj Rani whose brother Shashi Pal Malhotra had married one Veena in the year 1978. The said Veena committed suicide on 17-4-1984 after leaving a suicide note. The case was charge-sheeted against the appellant, her brother and her mother for the offence under Section 306 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. The trial Court convicted and sentenced the appellant to undergo imprisonment for 5 years and to pay a fine of Rs. 4,000 (it is not necessary to mention the sentences imposed on the other accused as they are not before us). When an appeal was filed by this appellant along with other 2 accused the High Court of Delhi found that there is no acceptable evidence to prove the offence under Section 306 and hence acquitted them. However, learned single Judge of the High Court felt that on the evidence an offence under Section 498A stood proved and accordingly all the accused were convicted under the altered sections and each of them was sentenced to undergo the period of imprisonment which they have already undergone.

2. The reason why the appellant has now challenged the said conviction and sentence has been stated by the learned Counsel for the appellant. She is a Government servant being a teacher attached to a Government school. Hence, the conviction will have devastating consequences on her career be sides the stigma attached to her even other wise. We, therefore, chose to hear the appeal on merits.

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3. Both sides submitted that the only reliable evidence which can be looked into is the suicide note left behind by Veena which should have been scribed by her on 17-4-1984, the date of the commission of suicide.

4. We have gone through the entire writings contained in the suicide note. It makes a serious castigation against her husband for being an addict to narcotic drugs. Then she made a general allegation against her mother-in-law and in a lesser degree towards the appellant. But unfortunately she did not advert to any concrete instance which can be termed as cruelty as defined in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The utterances said to have been made by the appellant towards the deceased were to her chagrin and she had taken them very seriously in the suicide note she described such utterances as not worthy of reproduction.

5. It is not enough that the deceased felt those words hurting, it must be subjected to judicial scrutiny and the Court must be in a position to hold that those words were sufficiently hurting enough as to amount to “cruelty” falling within the parameters fixed in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The area remains grey and vague. Not a single word said to have been spoken to by the appellant as against the deceased had been put on record by the deceased in the suicide note in spite of the fact that the said note is a very lengthy letter running into several paragraphs. The tenor and language of the suicide note would reflect that she was not an illiterate lady. As the Court is rendered helpless to judge whether the words which deceased heard from the appellant would amount to cruelty, it is far from possibility for the Criminal Court to hold that she is guilty of the offence of cruelty as envisaged in the section. It is also to be pointed out that the deceased did not mention a single deed which the appellant would have done against her. All that is said against the appellant were that she spoke same thing which she took objectionable.

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6. In the aforesaid circumstances, it is not possible to hold her guilty of the offence of which she was found guilty by the High Court. No offence at all has been proved against her. She is entitled to be acquitted of the charge as well as the offence now found against her by the learned single Judge.

7. In the result, we allow this appeal and set aside the conviction passed on her and acquit her. The fine, if any, paid by her shall be refunded to her.

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