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M. ABDUL SATHAR vs ANEESA

Kerala High Court IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM

Crl MC No. 8601 of 2002

1. M. ABDUL SATHAR, S/O. ERAMULLAN,                      …  Petitioner
                        Vs

1. ANEESA, D/O. ASSAINAR,                       …       Respondent
2. SUB INSPECTOR OF POLICE, HOSDURG
3. STATE OF KERALA REPRESENTED BY

                For Petitioner  :SRI.IMTHIYAZ AHAMED

                For Respondent  :PUBLIC PROSECUTOR
The Honble MRS. Justice K.HEMA

.HE 1

         Can a former/divorcee husband be held liable  for
        offence under section 498A of Indian Penal Code (IPC, for
        short)?  Is existence of marriage between accused and the
        victim, a requirement to constitute offence under section
        498A IPC?  Can the court take cognizance of offence under
        section  498A  IPC on the basis of a complaint filed by a
        divorced woman?  These are precisely, the questions to be
        answered in this case.

         2.   A  private complaint was filed by a divorced
        wife against her former husband and his relatives  before
        a Magistrate  of  First  Class.    It  was alleged in the
        complaint that petitioner subjected the complainant/first
        respondent  to  cruelty  during  subsistence   of   their
        marriage and   also   after   the  divorce.    Magistrate
        forwarded the complaint to police under section 156(3) of
        code of criminal procedure for investigation and a charge
        sheet was filed against the accused  under  section  498A
        and 34  of  IPC.   Petitioner is the first accused in the
        case.   He  seeks  to  quash  the   complaint   and   the
        proceedings initiated against him.

         3.   Learned  counsel  appearing  for  petitioner
        contended  that  petitioner  cannot  be  prosecuted   for
        offence  under  section  498A IPC since admittedly, he is
        not `the husband but only the `former  husband  of  the
        complainant.   According  to  him,  offence under section
        498A IPC will lie only against  `the  husband  and  `the
        relatives of  the  husband.    But,  on  account  of the
        divorce petitioner ceased to  be  the  `husband  and  no
        marital   relationship  exists  between  complainant  and
        petitioner.  Section 498A IPC deals  with  a  matrimonial
        offence  and  existence  of  a  matrimonial  relationship
        between the accused and the victim is a pre-requisite  to
        constitute offence   under   the   said  section.    But,
        petitioner not `being the husband of the complainant, he
        cannot be  proceeded  against  under  section  498A  IPC.
        These in short, are the arguments.

         4.   The  above argument appears to be built upon
        the language of section 498A IPC.   A  plain  reading  of
        section  498A IPC shows that the expressions used therein
        referring to the accused  are,  `the  husband  and  `the
        relatives of the husband.  But petitioner admittedly, is
        not `the  husband.    He  can be treated only as `former
        husband or `divorcee husband of the victim.    So,  the
        question  is,  can a former/divorcee husband be proceeded
        against for offence under section 498A  of  Indian  Penal
        Code?   In  existence of marriage between the accused and
        the victim, a requirement  to  constitute  offence  under
        section 498A  IPC?    Can  the  court  take cognizance of
        offence  under  section  498A  IPC  on  the  basis  of  a
        complaint filed by a divorced woman?

         5.  To seek answers to the above three questions,
        a  reading  of  section 498A IPC is absolutely necessary.
        The said section is therefore extracted as hereunder:

.SP 1
         S.498-A.  Husband or relative of  husband  of  a@@
        i
                woman subjecting her to cruelty.– Whoever, being
                the  husband  or the relative of the husband of a
                woman, subjects such woman to  cruelty  shall  be
                punished  with  imprisonment for a term which may
                extend to three years and shall also be liable to
                fine.

         Explanation.-  For  the purposes of this section,@@
        i
                cruelty means-

         (a) any wilful conduct which  is  of  such  a@@
            i
                        nature as is likely to drive the woman to
                        commit  suicide  or to cause grave injury
                        or  danger  to  life,  limb   or   health
                        (whether   mental  or  physical)  of  the
                        woman; or

         (b) harassment  of  the  woman   where   such@@
            i
                        harassment is with a view to coercing her
                        or  any person related to her to meet any
                        unlawful  demand  for  any  property   or
                        valuable  security  or  is  on account of
                        failure by her or any person  related  to
                        her to meet such demand.
.SP 2
         6.   From  a  reading  of section 498A IPC, it is
        clear that if  a  person  `being  the  husband  or  `the
        relative  of  the  husband  of  a  woman subjects her to
        cruelty, he can be held guilty of offence under the  said
        section.   The  relevant  expressions used in the section
        referring to the accused are,  `being  the  husband  and
        `the relative of the husband.  `Being the husband would
        ordinarily mean, `in his capacity as the husband, or `on
        account  of  his  being the husband or `on his being the
        husband.  That means, if a person subjects  a  woman  to
        cruelty  on  his  being her husband ie., in his status as
        the  husband,  offence  under  section   498A   will   be
        attracted.

         7.   From  the  above discussion it is clear that
        what is relevant to establish offence under section  498A
        IPC  is  the marital status of the accused at the time of@@
                                                   AAAAAAAAAAAAAA
        commission of  offence.    The  expression,  `being   the@@
        AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
        husband  used  in  the  section  relates  to the marital
        status of the accused at the time of  commission  of  the
        offence  and  not  such  status  at the time of filing of
        complaint.  Emphasis is seen given in section 498A IPC to
        the  marital  status  of  the  accused  at  the  time  of
        commission  of offence and not to what it was at the time
        of filing the complaint.  In such circumstances,  offence
        under   section  498A  IPC  will  lie  against  a  person
        irrespective of whether he  was  the  husband  or  former
        husband  of  a  woman at the time of filing of complaint.
        If a former husband had  committed  the  offence  in  his
        capacity   as  the  husband  during  subsistence  of  his
        marriage with the victim, he can be proceeded against for
        offence under section 498A IPC.

         8.  A reading of section 498A IPC further reveals
        that  the  expression  used in section 498A IPC to denote
        `the person aggrieved by the offence  is  significantly,
        `woman and  not  `wife.    This  in  a  way,  gives  an
        indication that there is no bar for a woman —  whether
        she  be  the  wife  or  the  divorced  wife — to proceed
        against the accused/husband  for  offence  under  section
        498A  IPC  if  she  is  aggrieved  by  commission of such
        offence.  But in such case, it has to be established that
        the offence was committed by the accused  while  marriage
        between the  accused  and victim was in existence.  It is
        not necessary that the victim should continue to be  `the
        wife  of  the accused at the time of filing of complaint
        also.

         9.  The above  position  is  further  clear  from
        section 198A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (the code,
        for short) also.  The said section reads as follows:

.SP 1
         S.198-A.  Prosecution of offences under  Section@@
        i
                498-A  of  the Indian Penal Code.- No court shall
                take cognizance of an  offence  punishable  under
                Section  498-A  of  the  Indian Penal Code (45 of
                1860) except upon a police report of facts  which
                constitute  such offence or upon a complaint made
                by the person aggrieved by the offence or by  her
                father,   mother,   brother,  sister  or  by  her
                fathers or mothers brother or sister  or,  with
                the  leave  of  the  Court,  by  any other person
                related to her by blood, marriage or adoption.

.SP 2
         10.  The expression used in Section 198A  of  the
        Code, referring to the victim is the person aggrieved by
        the offence  and not wife.  Thus, in section 198A of the
        code also, just as in section 498A  IPC,  the  expression
        `wife is  strikingly  kept away by the legislature.  The
        use of the word `wife appears to be deliberately avoided
        in this section also.  Though `the  person  aggrieved  by
        the  offence  under  section  498A  IPC  is normally the
        `wife, the expression used in section 198A of  the  code
        referring  to  such  victim is not `wife but it is, `the
        person aggrieved by the offence.    This  also  suggests
        that   there  is  no  bar  for  the  divorced  wife  from
        proceeding against the accused for the offence  committed
        by him during subsistence of marriage between them.

         11.   The  inclusion  of  the  word  `woman, the
        exclusion of the word `wife and use of  the  expressions
        `being  the  husband in section 498A IPC and `the person
        aggrieved by the offence in section 198A of the code  do
        not appear  to  be  merely  accidental.    There  must be
        certain  clear-cut,  unmistakable  intention  behind  the
        same.   Legislature  must  have  intended  that even if a
        victim of offence under section 498A IPC ceases to be the
        wife after commission of offence, such woman shall not be
        prevented from proceeding against  the  accused  for  the
        offence  which he had committed during the subsistence of
        marriage.  Legislature must have  also  planned  that  an
        accused   should  not  be  allowed  to  escape  from  the
        liability under section 498A IPC, by divorcing  his  wife
        after  committing  the  offence during a period while his
        marriage with the victim was in existence.    Both  these
        intentions   are   made   workable   by   the   skill  of
        draftsmanship in framing section  498A  IPC  as  well  as
        section 198A of the code.

         12.  Otherwise, it will be easy for  an  offender
        to  defeat  a  woman  and  also  the  very  object of the
        legislation by  pronouncing  `thalaq  immediately  after
        commission  of  offence  under  section  498A IPC and get
        himself absolved   from   criminal   liability.      This
        possibility  must  have  been  there  in  the mind of the
        framers of the section while  introducing  the  provision
        and  that  explains  the  cautious  usage of the relevant
        expressions in section 498A IPC and section 198A  of  the
        code.  Thus, a woman, whether she be the wife or divorced
        wife  can  proceed against the accused/husband, if she is
        aggrieved  by  the  offence  committed  by   him   during
        subsistence  of  their  marriage  under section 498A IPC.
        The court can take cognizance  of  such  offence  falling
        under Section 498A IPC on a complaint filed by a divorced
        wife.

         13.   Another  important  question also arises in
        this case.  Can a former husband  be  held  liable  under
        section  498A  IPC for alleged act of `cruelty committed
        by him on his divorced wife, after the divorce?   As  per
        the  allegations  in the complaint, petitioner who is the
        former/divorcee husband of the divorced  woman  continued
        to inflict  `cruelty  on  her  even after divorce.  But,
        going by the language of section 498 IPC,  he  cannot  be
        held guilty of offence under section 498A IPC because, as
        per  the said Section, the act committed by a person will
        be an offence only if he  has  done  it  in  his  marital
        status as  `the husband.  After divorce, he ceases to be
        `the husband and hence such acts committed by him  after
        divorce  will  not  constitute offence under section 498A
        IPC.  If such acts make out any other offence, he can  be
        proceeded against for such other offence or offences.

         14.  I  shall  now  sum up:  If a former/divorcee
        husband had subjected a divorced wife to cruelty  in  his
        status   as  her  husband  during  subsistence  of  their
        marriage, he will be liable  for  offence  under  section
        498A of  IPC.    But,  if  the  alleged act of cruelty is
        committed by a former husband on the divorced wife  after
        divorce,  no  offence  under  section  498A  IPC will lie
        against him.  He can however  be  proceeded  against  for
        such act, if it constitutes any other offence.

         15.  I would also hold that to constitute offence
        under  section  498A  IPC,  existence of marriage between
        accused/husband and victim at the time of  commission  of
        offence  is  what is relevant and not that at the time of
        filing of complaint.  There is also no bar under  section
        498A  IPC for a divorced wife to file a complaint against
        her former husband  for  the  offence  committed  by  him
        during  subsistence  of their marriage under section 498A
        IPC.  Section 198A of the Code enables  a  divorced  wife
        also  to  file  such  complaint  and  the  court can take
        cognizance of offence  under  section  498A  IPC  if  the
        offence was committed at a time when the marriage between
        accused/husband and victim was subsisting.

         16.   In  the  above  circumstances,  this  court
        cannot quash either  the  complaint  or  the  proceedings
        initiated  against  petitioner,  since the allegations in
        the records prima facie constitute offence under  section
        498A IPC.     But,  learned  counsel  appearing  for  the
        petitioner submitted that both petitioner and complainant
        got remarried after the divorce and they are well-settled
        in life and hence a lenient view may be  taken  to  quash
        proceedings.  I am not inclined to extend any leniency in
        this case.    Legally,  leniency  is  no ground to invoke
        section 482 of the code to quash proceedings.  On  facts,
        records   reveal  that  petitioner  continued  to  harass
        complainant even after the divorce.

         17.  This pattern of a crime  or  a  post-divorce
        syndrome  was evidently not within the legislative vision
        at the time of moulding section 498A IPC.  Concern of the
        framers did  not  foresee  perhaps,  hazard  of  a  crime
        breaking its  way into a womans next shelter also.  But,
        no wrong-doer deserves to escape for want  of  law.    No
        offender shall be set free on misplaced sympathy or undue
        leniency.  Accused  is  only one side of the coin.  Court
        has to tilt the coin and see the other side too.    While
        rendering justice,  both sides shall be viewed.  Criminal
        justice system cannot afford  to  forget  the  victim  or
        ignore her.    A  victim  must be assured that the system
        cares and feels for  her.    If  any  kind  of  forbidden
        compassion  is  extended  to  an  offender, it can give a
        wrong signal to her.

         18.  The law is not dead, it has only slept.   It
        can  wake  up  at any hour of the day and pave its way to
        another suitable legislation in this country to check the
        harm.  Judicial hopes have wings; those can  soar  higher
        and  higher,  longing  to  reach  the pleasant skyline of
        justice and fairness.  Butler, J.  of the U.S.    Supreme
        Court in Nice v.  Minnesota (283 U.S.  697) stated thus:
         Society  could  not  long  endure   under   such threats.  If the courts  did  not  protect the injured, the injured parties would then resort to  private vengeance. Lets this not happen.

         This petition is dismissed.

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