New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday sought to further protect women suffering “cruelty” at the hands of their husbands or his relatives, ruling that such aggrieved women can file a complaint at the place where they seek shelter after leaving or being driven away from their husband’s home.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that courts, where an affected woman finds refuge, have the jurisdiction to look to her complaint against her husband or his relatives under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Section 498A relates to a woman being subjected to “cruelty” by her husband or his relatives.
“The courts at the place where a 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,” the bench said.
The verdict was delivered on a batch of appeals before the apex court. One of the appeals challenged a high court order, which held that cruelty, as defined in the IPC, was not a “continuing offence”.
A continuing offence refers to whether an offence committed at one place carries over to a place under a different jurisdiction. Thus, as per the high court order, the complaint filed by a woman who was abused or harassed could only be investigated or punished in the jurisdiction of her matrimonial house.
Cruelty towards women
The apex court also noted that “cruelty”, as defined by Section 498A, can be both physical and mental.
“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 illtreated are aspects that cannot be ignored while understanding the meaning of the expression “cruelty” appearing in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code,” it added.
Various amendments were introduced in the IPC to combat the increasing cases of cruelty by the husband and the relatives of the husband on the wife which leads to commission of suicides or grave injury to the wife besides seeking to deal with harassment of the wife so as to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property, etc. “The above-stated object of the amendment cannot be overlooked while answering the question arising in the present case,” the verdict read.
The apex court observed that 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 caused by the acts of the husband 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,” the court said. “Even the silence of the wife may have an underlying element of emotional distress and mental agony.”