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JOHN IDICULLA vs STATE OF KERALA

Kerala High Court IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM

Crl MC No. 9610 of 2002

1. JOHN IDICULLA,
                      …  Petitioner
2. GLORY JOHN @ GLORY SAMUEL,
                        Vs

1. STATE OF KERALA,
                       …       Respondent
2. VALSAMMA JOHN,

                For Petitioner  :SRI.K.RAMAKUMAR

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

         An interesting question arises in this case.  Can
        the so-called second wife of the  husband  who  married
        her during the subsistence of his earlier legal marriage,
        be  treated  as  the  relative  of the husband, for the
        purpose of section 498A of the Indian Penal Code  (  IPC,
        for short) ?   If so, under what circumstances ?  Will an
        offence under section 498A of  IPC  lie  against  such  a
        second   wife   if   she   inflicts   cruelty   on  the
        legally-wedded wife of the husband?
       
         2.  Here are the  relevant  factual  details,  as
        unfurled from  the  records  :   Second respondent herein
        filed a complaint/Annexure-I against the  petitioners  as
        accused  1  and 2, and also against four other members of
        the husbands family as accused 3 to 6 alleging  offences
        under  sections  498A,  494  and  34  of  IPC  before the
        Magistrates court.  The complaint was forwarded  by  the
        lower court  to  Police under Section 156(3) Cr.P.C.  for
        investigation and report.   Police  after  investigation,
        registered  a  crime  and  filed  charge sheet Annexure-D
        against accused 1 to 6 for the  offences  under  Sections
        498A, 494  and 34 IPC.  But, the court below did not take
        cognizance of offence under section 494  IPC.    Specific
        instances  of  matrimonial  cruelty  are  narrated in the
        complaint.  Hence, the accused are proceeded against only
        under sections 498A and 34 IPC.
       
         3.  According to Learned  counsel  appearing  for
        the  petitioners,  an offence under section 498A IPC will
        lie only against the husband and/or `the relative of  the
        husband of  a  woman.  But, the second petitioner who is
        not a legally-wedded wife as per the allegations  in  the
        complaint  itself  cannot  be treated as `the relative of
        the husband and hence she  cannot  be  held  liable  for
        offence under  section 498A IPC.  To understand the depth
        of the above contention, it is necessary to  examine  the
        language of the section first.  Section 498A of IPC reads
        as follows:
.SP 1
       
         Section 498-A:    Husband or relative of husband@@
        i
                of a 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  nature@@
        i
                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 harassment@@
        i
                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
       
         4.  A reading of the section 498A IPC shows  that
        an  offence  under the said section will lie only against
        the husband and/or his relatives.  But who can be treated
        as a relative of the husband?  Borrowing meaning  of  the
        expression,  relative from other enactments like Mental
        Health  Act  etc.,  and  also  the  dictionary,  it   was
        strenuously  argued  that  a  person  can be said to be a
        `relative of another only if such person is  related  to
        the other  by  blood,  marriage  or  adoption.  Learned
        counsel for petitioners made reference to Section 2(t) of
        the Mental Health Act, 1987 which defines  `relative  as
        follows:   relative  includes any person related to the
        mentally ill person  by  blood,  marriage  or  adoption.
        Concise Oxford Dictionary, Eighth Edition was also relied
        upon to  explain  the meaning of the word relative.  As
        per the said Dictionary, `relative  means:    A  person
        connected   by   blood   or  marriage.  The  meaning  of
        relative in Websters Dictionary  can  also  be  looked
        into thus:   Having relation to or bearing on something;
        close in connection; pertinent; relevant; not absolute or
        existing by itself; depending on or incident to something
        else; something considered in its relation  to  something
        else; a  person connected by blood or affinity, esp.  one
        allied by blood; a kinsman or kinswoman.
       
         5.  Based on the above facts, it was argued  that
        a  relative  is a person who is connected to another by
        blood, marriage  or  adoption.    But,  nobody  has   a
        contention  in  this  case  that the petitioners have any
        connection between them by blood.  There is also no  case
        that there  is  an  adoption  in  this  case.    But, the
        allegations in the complaint in this case reveal that the
        connection between the petitioners is  only  through  the
        marriage.  The narration in the complaint also shows that
        the  marriage  between  the petitioners took place during
        the subsistence of the  earlier  legal  marriage  of  the
        first petitioner/husband  with the complainant.  Hence it
        was  strenuously  contended  by   Learned   Counsel   for
        petitioners that even if the allegations in the complaint
        is  accepted,  there  is  no valid marriage between the
        petitioners and consequently, it cannot also be said that
        they are related by marriage.
       
         6.  Another argument raised is that a relative of
        the  husband is a person with whom the wife will normally
        interact after marriage, but such an interaction  between
        the  first  and  second  wife  is  out of question in the
        peculiar facts of this case.  Therefore, on  this  ground
        also,  the  second  petitioner  cannot be said to be `the
        relative of the husband.  According to  learned  counsel
        for  petitioners,  law  can  treat  a  second  wife whose
        marriage is invalid only as a  mistress and  not  as  a
        wife   and  hence  it  will  be  paradoxical  and  even
        ridiculing for this court to hold that such a second wife
        will be liable for offence under  section  498A  of  IPC,
        conferring  upon her status of a wife and relative of the
        husband by marriage.
       
         7.  I do  agree  that  the  above  arguments  are
        thought-provoking.   But  on  a  deeper  probe  into  the
        relevant  aspects,  I  can  only  reject  them  for   the
        following reasons:    Firstly,  definition  of  a word or
        expression  given  under  other  enactments   cannot   be
        imported  into  the  situation  presently arising in this
        case to  interpret  the  word  `relative.     The   word
        `relative  appears  in  other  enactments  in  a totally
        different context than what is  stated  in  section  498A
        IPC.   It  cannot be disputed that there are instances in
        which even the same word which is undefined and  used  in
        the same enactment in different places may have different
        meanings depending upon the context in which the word may
        appear.   It  has  also to be borne in mind that the word
        relative  is not defined under the Indian  Penal  Code.
        This can be or may be a deliberate omission.  Legislature
        must  have  intentionally  left  it open for the court to
        interpret the meaning of the expression in a  given  case
        depending on the context.
       
         8.   So,  the  meaning  of word `relative coming
        under  section  498A  IPC  requires  to  be   interpreted
        independently, looking into the circumstances in which it
        is  used  in  the  section,  realising the purpose of the
        legislation, understanding the intention of the law-maker
        behind introduction  of  the  provision,  discerning  the
        object  sought  to be achieved and the mischief sought to
        be suppressed by the particular  provision.    In  short,
        mainly  Purposive  construction  has to be the rule which
        the  court  must  follow  to   interpret   the   relevant
        expression in section 498A of IPC.
       
         9.  While doing so, as a first  step  towards  my
        attempt  in  understanding  the  real  import of the word
        relative,  I  think  I  can  safely   rely   upon   its
        dictionary-meaning.   As  per  dictionaries, which I have
        already referred to earlier, a  `relative  is  a  person
        connected  to  another  by blood, marriage or affinity.
        But, as per personal law of the  parties  in  this  case,
        marriage  of the second petitioner cannot be said to be a
        valid one since it took place during the  subsistence  of
        an  earlier marriage of the first petitioner/husband with
        the complainant.  In the strict  legal  sense  therefore,
        there  cannot  be any relationship between such a man and
        woman by marriage.  A second wife for  the  above  reason
        cannot  normally  be  given status of a wife because of
        absence of a legally valid marriage.
       
         10.  But, such an inference may not  be  possible
        in all  circumstances.    It  will be interesting to note
        that in certain situations Law  itself  has  diluted  the
        rigidity of  concept  of  marriage.    For example, under
        section 125 of the Code of Criminal  Procedure.    Though
        the  section  deals  specifically  with  the  claim  of a
        legally-wedded wife, it is well-settled  that  even  if
        there  is no strict proof of a legal marriage between the
        man and woman, a woman will be entitled to maintenance as
        a wife  under  section  125  of  the  code,  if  it  is
        established  that  by continued cohabitation between them
        for a long period they are treated as husband and wife by
        the society.  In other words, strict proof of marriage is
        not insisted upon under section 125 of the  Code,  though
        as  per  language  of the section, it is a legally-wedded
        wife who will be entitled to maintenance.
       
         11.  It is also striking to note that the concept
        of marriage is liberally construed for the  purpose  of
        section  498A  IPC in a recent celebrated decision of the
        Supreme Court in Reema Agarwals case (2004)3  SCC  199).@@
                         AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
        It   was  held  in  the  said  decision  that  a  liberal
        interpretation  is  to  be  given   to   the   expression
        marriage, bearing in mind the object of section 498A of
        IPC.   While  deciding  the  question  as to who could be
        covered by the expression husband coming under  section
        498A  IPC,  it  was  held that the concept of marriage to
        constitute the relationship of husband and  wife  may
        require   a  liberal  and  different  approach  when  the
        question of curbing a social evil arises.  It was a  case
        in  which  it was contended that the marriage between the
        husband/accused and wife/complainant  was  not  legal  in
        view  of  an existing earlier marriage of the husband and
        hence the accused/husband cannot  be  held  liable  under
        section 498A IPC as the husband of the complainant.
       
         12.  It is worthy to extract the relevant portion
        from Reema  Aggarwal  v.    Anupam  [(2004)3  SCC 199] as@@
             AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
        follows:
.SP 1
       
           The  concept  of  marriage  to  constitute the@@
        i
                relationship of husband and wife may  require
                strict  interpretation  where  claims  for  civil
                rights, right to property etc.    may  follow  or
                flow   and   a  liberal  approach  and  different
                perception  cannot  be  an  anathema   when   the
                question    of   curbing   a   social   evil   is
                concerned……..  The absence of a definition of
                husband to specifically  include  such  persons
                who  contract  marriages  ostensibly  and cohabit
                with such woman, in  the  purported  exercise  of
                their  role  and status as husband is no ground
                to exclude them from the purview of Section 304-B
                or 498-A IPC, viewed in the context of  the  very
                object  and  aim  of the legislations introducing
                those provisions.
.SP 2
       
         13.   On  going  through the facts of the case in
        the decision cited above, I find that  the  complaint  in
        that  case  was  filed  by a second wife whose marriage
        with the accused/husband was not strictly legal  in  view
        of an  earlier  marriage  of the accused/husband.  ( Hers
        was also  a  second  marriage)  Despite  this  fact,  the
        Supreme  Court held that the alleged husband is covered
        by section 498A IPC, giving a liberal  interpretation  to
        the term  marriage.    Thus  it follows that as per the
        dictum laid down in the  said  case,  a  complaint  filed
        against  the  husband  by  such  a  second  wife  whose
        marriage is  not  legally  valid  is  maintainable  under
        section 498A  IPC.    If  then,  can  such a second wife,
        supposing she is guilty  of  inflicting  cruelty  on  the
        legally-wedded  wife of her alleged husband be exonerated
        from a charge under the same section  that  too,  on  the
        ground of an invalid marriage?
       
         14.  Certainly not.  Nothing confuses my  thought
        now.   I  have  no  doubt that it will be unjust, unfair,
        illogical and inequitable if I may hold otherwise.   When
        Law  and  Precedents  water  down  the  stiffness  of  an
        expression in aid of a victim-woman, I cannot even make a
        wild guess that the same expression will be  kept  harder
        and solid  for  protecting  an  erring-woman.  Law cannot
        blow hot and cold.  Precedents can neither play hide  and
        seek.   If  a  second wife whose marriage is not strictly
        legal commits matrimonial cruelty on  the  legally-wedded
        wife  of  her  alleged  husband, she cannot be allowed to
        wriggle out of the criminal liability under section  498A
        IPC on the ground of invalidity of marriage.
       
         15.  Before I proceed any further, I  shall  look
        at the  issue  from another angle also.  A glance through
        the facts of this case will be necessary here.    As  per
        the  allegations in this case, the second marriage of the
        petitioners was solemnised  at  the  instigation  of  the
        husbands relatives.    They  were  residing  together as
        husband and wife to the knowledge of all concerned.  Over
        more than half of the husbands  property  was  allegedly
        assigned  in  favour  of the second wife, treating her as
        his own wife.  It was the  third  accused  who  is  the
        brother-in-law of the husband who executed the assignment
        deed  in favour of the second petitioner, on the strength
        of a power of attorney executed by the husband in  favour
        of him.     The  assignment  was  effected  allegedly  as
        instigated by the second wife.  The property conveyed  to
        the  second  wife was the one in which the legally-wedded
        wife was residing.   It  prima  facie  appears  from  the
        allegations  in  the  complaint that for all purposes the
        second wife was treated  as  none  other  than  the  wife
        herself.
       
         16.    So,  what  could  be  the  nature  of  the
        relationship between such  a  second  wife  and  husband?
        Firstly,  a  second wife who is accepted as wife by the
        husband and relatives gets recognised as such by  friends
        and society also.  She then, as a `wife starts exploring
        under  the  shade  of  matrimonial shelter, the warmth of
        consortium.   She  experiences  from  her  husband,   the
        intensity of  emotional  security.    She shares his bed,
        bears his child.  As she becomes the mother of his child,
        she treasures an everlasting bond which is inbred through
        the blood of their child.  She handles also the  strength
        of her  husbands  financial  support.    She thus enjoys
        everything  that  his  former  legally-wedded  wife  once
        possessed  and  enjoyed  in  her  status as a wife at the
        matrimonial home.  Is not such a woman anybody to him?
       
         17.  It is significant in this context to bear in
        mind,  some of the probable consequences which are caused
        by the entry of a second wife to the matrimonial home.  I
        do keep in mind, the inescapable anguish which the second
        wife  caused  by  permanently  destroying  all   possible
        chances of   a   re-union.      I  also  understand,  the
        ever-lingering and burning  ache  of  the  havoc  that  a
        second     wife     might    have    inflicted    on    a
        once-upon-close-knit family which was bound  by  a  legal
        marriage.   I  am  also  reluctant  to  overlook what she
        unmindfully overturned over night for  the  children  (if
        any)  who may be totally innocent in the whole interlude.
        If as a matter of fact, the second wife played a  willing
        role  in  the  second  marriage, ignoring all the painful
        consequences, she along with her husband committed  on  a
        legally-wedded  woman  nothing  short  of  an  offence of
        matrimonial cruelty.  Can such  a  woman  be  allowed  to
        escape?
       
         18.  No.   I am of strong view that non-existence
        of a strictly legal marriage cannot be made a ground  for
        an offending  second wife to run away.  The invalidity of
        the marriage can under no circumstances be granted  as  a
        licence   to   her   to   harass   none  other  than  the
        legally-wedded wife.    She  shall  not  be  allowed   to
        skip-out of  the strong grip of law.  I do not think that
        arms of Law  are  that  slender  and  weak.    Those  can
        certainly  hold  within  the  fold,  such erring woman as
        well.  A court cannot remain divinely silent  to  forgive
        her  or  calmly  shut  its eyes to this tragic situation,
        assert and justify that a second wife  is  not  precisely
        referred  to  in the section and hence she is not covered
        by section 498A IPC.  The legal system  in  this  country
        cannot  shy  away  and  hide  itself under the mask of an
        evasive explanation that a second wife cannot  be  teated
        as  a  `relative  as  legislature  did  not specifically
        include the second wife in section 498A etc.
         19.  A court cannot allow  the  guilty  to  leave
        unhurt.    Court   cannot  lightly  blame  the  skill  of
        draftsmanship for  that  purpose.    Court  cannot  plead
        helplessness or extend an apology to the society that the
        second  wife  is  not  specifically brought under section
        498A of IPC.  Society has faith in  court.    Legislature
        has confidence  in  court.  Both have great expectations.
        The court cannot fail.  It shall not.    It  is  wise  to
        remember  that  framers of law cannot foresee all sets of
        facts which may arise in each case and include all  those
        in a  particular  provision.   Even if the framers had in
        their minds a particular situation and they  intended  to
        include  the  same in the provision, it may not always be
        possible to do it for  various  reasons.    It  can  also
        happen   that   in  some  cases  legislature  would  have
        knowingly left open the expression undefined  leaving  it
        to  the  courts  to  define  it  in a given set of facts,
        keeping  in  mind  the  object  to  be  achieved  by  the
        provision.   Courts  have  therefore  to  make  a serious
        effort  to  understand  the  import  of  the   provision,
        consistent  with  the  intention  of  the legislature and
        interpret the same.
       
         20.   While  doing  so,  I  find  that  the  main
        purpose, as discernible from section 498A IPC is to deter
        a  person  –whether  it  be  a  man  or  a  woman– from
        inflicting cruelty on a woman  who  is  considered  as  a
        wife.   Legislature  intended  that  on  account  of  the
        marital relationship, no woman shall be subjected to  any
        harassment either physical or mental of the nature stated
        in the  section.    The  introduction  of  the section no
        doubt, is a visible step paced by the legislature towards
        eradication of evil of  domestic  violence,  being  quite
        wakeful  of  the  social conditions of a married woman in
        this country.  Section 498A IPC is  introduced  into  the
        statute  to  curb  the social evil of matrimonial cruelty
        which a woman is made to suffer because of  her  marriage
        and her  status as a wife.  So, whatever be the gender of
        the offender, he or she is bound to meet the consequences
        under section 498A IPC.
       
         21.  When  cruelty  to  a  married  woman  became
        rampant   and  widespread  in  our  society,  legislature
        thought it fit to introduce section 498A into the  Indian
        Penal Code.  It became necessary for law to protect women
        who suffer  the brunt of matrimonial cruelty.  One cannot
        forget the unclad reality that an ordinary Indian girl is
        brought up in the family by inducing into her, a  greater
        sense  of responsibility as a life-partner than even that
        of a  man.    She  grows  up  as  a  woman,  hearing  the
        preachings  of  grand-parents,  parents, and other elders
        that she is bound to preserve the sacred  matrimonial-tie
        by paying  whatever  price  it  may command.  Fingers are
        often pointed to the ideal of Bhoomi Devi  (Goddess  of
        Earth)  as  a  symbol of an Indian woman who humps on her
        palms patiently, the entire weight of the whole world.
       
         22.  A girl in the family is normally disciplined
        at home to bear any hardship and suffering that may shoot
        up in the matrimonial life with high degree of  patience,
        courage and strength for maintaining the matrimonial bond
        strong and  firm.    Her  role  in  life  as  a  wife  is
        considered to be greater than that of a man as a  husband
        and  she is the one who is expected to make sacrifices to
        preserve the marriage for the sake of  her  children  and
        family.  This  is  the  culture of this country.  This is
        the tradition of this land.  This is  the  concept  which
        runs through  every  vein  of  Indian  society.    It  is
        therefore quite common to  drive  a  woman  back  to  the
        matrimonial   home,  either  slighting  or  ignoring  the
        physical and mental hurt which she  must  have  suffered,
        reminding  her  of  the  future of the children, with the
        oft-repeated advice:  think of your children! It cannot
        be disputed that in  certain  families  in  our  society,
        elders  even  forewarn  and  prepare  a  girl to accept a
        beating or two from her husband as an ordinary  tear  and
        wear of  family  life.  Neither a man nor woman of such a
        family considers it as a sin.
       
         23.  Thus, when a  girl  who  is  brought  up  in
        normal  Indian conditions and her character is groomed in
        the traditional way and when she makes an attempt to live
        a life for the family and the  children  by  making  many
        sacrifices,  she hardens herself in the process to put up
        with any form of matrimonial  cruelty.    She  learns  to
        endure  major  part  of  the  injury, whether physical or
        mental in her own taught-way.  She accepts it as part  of
        the  solemn  duty  of a wife believing that those are all
        for the sake of a sacred purpose.  She thus gets equipped
        herself to suffer any form of matrimonial cruelty without
        raising much of  a  protest  because  she  knows  that  a
        married  woman  is  expected  even  by  the  members of a
        traditional  Indian  family  and  also  the  society   to
        silently languish  her  grievances.    It  may  not be an
        exaggeration that in certain cases, her voice and wail go
        unheard even by her own kith and kin.
       
         24.  It  is  in  this  context  that  Legislature
        rightly  sensed  the  gravity  of  the problem of married
        women in this country and came up to the rescue  of  such
        women of  our society who genuinely suffer.  In the above
        scenario of all  what  I  have  discussed,  I  find  that
        Legislature  would  not  have intended that to unfetter a
        woman of  this  country  from  matrimonial  cruelty,  she
        should  plead  and prove before court in the strict legal
        terms, the legality of the matrimonial relationship which
        exists between the man and woman who are involved in  the
        case.   I  also  find it extremely difficult to hold that
        the legislature did not intend to include a  second  wife
        in section 498A IPC as a person not related to the man by
        marriage.   I  cannot  ignore  all the unveiled realities
        encircling the issue and  make  an  unrealistic  approach
        while interpreting the relevant expression.
       
         25.   The  test under section 498A IPC is whether
        in the facts of each case, it is probable that a woman is
        treated by friends, relatives, husband or  society  as  a
        wife or  as  a  mere mistress.  If from the pleadings
        and evidence the court finds that the woman concerned  is
        regarded  as  wife and not as a mere mistress, she can be
        considered to  be  a  `wife  and  consequently  as  `the
        relative of the husband for purpose of section 498A IPC.
        Proof  of a legal marriage in the rigid sense as required
        under  civil  law  is  unnecessary  for  establishing  an
        offence under   section   498A   IPC.     The  expression
        marriage or relative can  be  given  only  a  diluted
        meaning  which  a  common man or society may attribute to
        those concepts in the common parlance, for the purpose of
        section 498A IPC.  A second wife who is treated  as  wife
        by  the  husband,  relatives,  friends  or society can be
        considered to be `the relative of the  husband  for  the
        purpose of  section 498A of IPC.  If she inflicts cruelty
        on the legally-wedded wife of  the  husband,  an  offence
        under section 498A IPC will lie against her.
       
         26.   Coming  to  the  facts of this case, I find
        that there are cogent  assertions  in  the  complaint  to
        proceed against the petitioners under section 498A and 34
        of IPC.    The  court  can  go  only  by  the allegations
        disclosed from  the  records  at  this  stage.    It   is
        well-settled  that a meticulous or a forensic search into
        such allegations is not what is contemplated at the stage
        of taking cognizance.    If  the  court  is  prima  facie
        satisfied  that  the  facts disclosed from the records on
        the face of it  constitute  an  offence,  the  court  can
        proceed against  the  accused  for  such  offence.    The
        records  in  this   case   support   such   prima   facie
        satisfaction  and  therefore,  the court below acted only
        well within its  jurisdiction  in  taking  cognizance  of
        offences under  section  498A  and 34 of IPC.  I will not
        interfere.  I cannot also.
       
         The petition is dismissed.

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