Rajbabu & ANR Vs.
State of M.P.  INSC 1217 (24 July 2008)
JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.895 OF 2003 Rajbabu & Anr. .... Appellants
Versus State of M.P. .... Respondent
this Judgment and order we propose to dispose of the appeal filed by the
appellants against the judgment and order dated 23-9-2002 of the High Court of
Madhya Pradesh at Jabalpur whereby the Learned Single Judge dismissed the
appeal filed by the appellants against the judgment and order dated 17-6-1989
of the Learned Additional Sessions Judge, Khurai, convicting the appellants
under the provisions of Sections 306 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code (for
short `the IPC') and sentencing each of them to undergo rigorous imprisonment
for three years on each count.
deceased, Shanti Bai, daughter of Janak Rani (PW.1) and Gyan Das (PW.2) was
married to Rajbabu-appellant No.1 two years prior to the date 2 of occurrence.
On 17.7.1988 Shanti Bai set herself on fire in her matrimonial home and she
died because of burn injuries received by her. At the time when the occurrence
took place the Appellant No.2, Smt. Munnibai (mother-in-law of the deceased)
had gone to fetch water from the well. The husband of Appellant No.2, Shri
Jagat Bandhu (father-in- law of the deceased), who was acquitted by the trial
court, was away to some other place, whereas Appellant No.1 had gone for
cutting wood from the forest. Appellant No.1 immediately coming to know about
the incident came back and lodged the first information report at police
station Bhangarh which was recorded by the Head Constable Narbada Prasad, who
was examined as PW.9 during the trial. The said report which was lodged by the
appellant No.1 was exhibited during the trial and was marked as Ex. P.16. The
deceased was carried to the railway station Karonda for being taken to the
Government Hospital at Bina for treatment. The police station Incharge, Mr.
Ashok Chourasia (PW.8), also arrived at the railway station and recorded the
dying declaration, wherein it was noted that Shanti Bai died in the accidental
fire while cooking food in the house. In the said dying declaration the
deceased exculpated all the members of her matrimonial home. Immediately
thereafter she died at the railway station itself. The police thereafter sent
the body for post mortem examination which was conducted and exhibited as Ex.
P.20 during the trial. According to the said post mortem report the deceased
suffered 90% burns which were found to be ante mortem. The police thereafter
started investigation and on completion thereof, submitted a charge-sheet
against Rajbabu-appellant No.1, Smt. Munnibai-appellant No. 2, who is mother of
appellant No.1 and Jagat Bandhu, father of the appellant No.1 under Sections
306 and 498A of the IPC. On the basis of the aforesaid charge- sheet, charges
were framed against all the three accused-appellants under Sections 306 and
498A of the IPC for treating the deceased with cruelty and abetting her to
commit suicide as a result of which allegedly she committed suicide.
the course of the trial, altogether eight witnesses were examined in order to
prove the charges against the accused persons. Trial court after hearing the
arguments and on appreciation of the evidence on record acquitted accused No.3,
the father of the Appellant No.1, whereas an order was passed convicting
appellant No.1 and appellant No.2 under Sections 306 and 498A of the IPC after
holding that offences against both of them are proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The learned trial court thereafter passed an order of sentence, sentencing both
the appellants to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years on each count.
Both the sentences were to run concurrently. No fine was imposed. Against the
aforesaid judgment both the appellants filed an appeal before the High Court
which was dismissed by its judgment on 23rd September, 2002.
Being aggrieved by
the said judgment this appeal has been filed by the appellants. During the
course of the trial they were granted bail. In the present appeal order was
passed by this Court enlarging them on bail.
have heard the learned counsel appearing for the appellants.
However, counsel for
the respondent-State did not appear in the hearing of the appeal although her
name was shown in the daily cause list.
Counsel appearing for
the appellants at the very outset brought to our notice that Appellant No.1,
namely, Rajbabu son of Jagat Bandhu had died on 27th September, 2005 at village
Sabgah. The said appellant having died, the appeal filed by him stands disposed
off having been abated and therefore having been rendered infructuous. This
appeal, therefore, survives only so far as accused/appellant No.2, namely, Smt.
Munni Bai is concerned.
counsel appearing for the appellant, Smt. Munni Bai submitted that the deceased
had died of burn injuries received by her while she was cooking food in the
kitchen in her matrimonial home and that it is clearly established from the
records that all the other members of the family, at the time of occurrence
were not present. It was also submitted that the prosecution case itself
indicates that appellant No. 2 had gone out of the house for fetching water
and, therefore, she could not have been held guilty for an offence either under
Section 306 or 498A of the IPC. He further submitted that the only
incriminating evidence that could be said to be available against her is the
letter which was allegedly written by the deceased and was exhibited as Ex. P.1
and a dying declaration which was recorded by Shri Ashok Choursia, the
investigating officer who was examined as PW 8. It was submitted by him that
none of the aforesaid documents pin point the guilt of the appellant in the act
of commission of suicide by the deceased.
have considered the aforesaid submissions in the light of the record including
the evidence adduced on behalf of the prosecution. There is no eye witness to
the occurrence of the act of suicide committed by the deceased who was the
daughter-in-law as she was the only person 6 available at the relevant time in
the matrimonial home. At that point of time she was cooking food for all the
members of the family who had gone out of the house. Her husband, appellant
No.1 had gone to the forest for collecting wood whereas her father-in-law, who
was original accused No.3 had gone out of the house for some other work and
whereas the sole appellant before us, had gone out of the house to fetch water.
The only evidence that has been produced and was used for leveling accusations
against the present appellant was the dying declaration and the contents of Ex.
P.1 which is stated to be a letter written by the deceased. Some of the
witnesses like PW 1 and PW 3, the family members of the parental home of the
deceased have stated in their deposition about the alleged ill- treatment meted
out to the deceased by the in-laws family. Let us therefore analyse and
appreciate the said pieces of evidence as available on record.
dying declaration was recorded on 17.7.1988 at about 12.45 hrs. by the
investigating officer, PW 8 at the railway station from where the deceased was
to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment. The incident had taken place
at about 10.30 AM. Deceased had stated in the said dying declaration which was
recorded in the presence of some of the villagers that while pouring kerosene
oil, one end of her sari caught fire as 7 she was cooking food and that in the
aforesaid manner she got burnt. It is also stated by her in the said dying
declaration that she did not set fire on her own and no body set fire on her
and that while preparing meal her sari caught fire accidentally. She has
categorically stated in the said dying declaration that no quarrel had taken
place and that there was no problem in her matrimonial home. The said statement
was read over to her and her thumb impression was put as she could not sign
because of the burn injuries received by her.
courts below have questioned the evidentiary value of the said dying
declaration. A perusal of the said dying declaration would prove and establish
that there is nothing incriminating in the said statement against the appellant
and, therefore, the said dying declaration, which was exculpatory in nature, so
far as the prosecution is concerned is of no relevance and would rather help
the accused appellants. As there is nothing incriminating in the said document
against the appellants, neither are we inclined nor are we
other incriminating document against the accused appellants is the undated
letter exhibited as exhibit P.1. The said letter appears to have been written
by the deceased, addressing to father, mother and the younger brothers of the
husband. In the said statement the deceased has stated that she is unable to
tolerate the atmosphere in the family in her matrimonial home. She also stated
that she prefer to live in hell because in-laws have done such acts with her
which are of no use to mention. She has also stated that whatever has been done
was all-right. In her letter she has stated that she had always considered her
father-in-law and mother-in- law more than her parents and that even then they
have treated her in such a manner which she never expected. It is mentioned
therein that the matrimonial house was ruined after her arrival and that she
was treated like an enemy. She has stated that her mother-in-law had told that
if she (Shanti Bai) is kept in their house then nothing will remain. In that
view of the matter she did not want to become burden on herself nor on her in-
laws and that moment was the last time of her life. Of course, in the letter
there is no date written but towards the end of the letter it was mentioned
that it was the last day of her life. She also stated that she had a long life
but the hard words had made her life incomplete and she has no further time to
write further. The said letter appears to have been written on the 9 date of
occurrence and in the said letter she had given vent to all her expressions,
feelings and contempt for the family. The said letter was found in the box seized
from the room where the incident occurred.
issue, therefore, that falls for our consideration is whether the conviction
can be based against the appellant No. 2 on the basis of the said letter alone.
prosecution has examined the mother of the deceased as PW 1. She had stated in
her deposition that her daughter told her that in her in-laws house, her
mother-in-law used to ask her to run hand flourmill. She also stated that her
son-in-law Rajbabu also used to quarrel with her daughter and used to beat her.
She has also stated that her daughter told her that her mother-in-law used to
use filthy language for her father and brothers.
It is further stated
by her that once her husband had gone to bring Shanti Bai, at that time her
mother-in-law did not send her rather she was beaten by her in his presence for
not cleaning the utensils. Thereafter her husband came back. In her cross
examination she stated that her daughter wanted to become educated and wanted
to go for employment. Her daughter told her after coming back from the
matrimonial home that her 10 husband is not educated and the family is poor
for which she had expressed pain. Her daughter told her that her life would be
spoiled in that house and on that issue she was very unhappy. It was also
stated by her that her daughter never sent any letter from her in-laws house.
She further replied in her cross-examination that the deceased never told
anything to her relatives and members of the society regarding her troubles
because she never wanted to make her life public.
have also on record the deposition of the sister-in-law of the deceased Smt.
Kamla Rani who was examined as PW 3. She has also deposed that when Shanti Bai
came back from her in-laws house for the first time she told her that her
husband and mother-in-law are troubling her very much. She is forced to run
hand driven flourmill which she was not habitual and when she was not able to
run the flourmill, her mother-in- law and husband used to beat her. It has also
been stated in her deposition that after coming back from her in-laws house
Shanti Bai told her that once there had been a quarrel between her and her
mother-in-law and on the said issue her husband wanted to burn her but at that
moment her mother-in-law stopped her husband not to do so at that time. It was
further stated in her deposition that Shanti Bai told her not to narrate this
11 story to any of her brothers. The contents of exhibit P.1 were approved by
PW 3, stating that the said letter was written by the deceased Shanti Bai.
appears from the statement of PW 1 and also corroborated by the statement of PW
3 (sister-in-law of the deceased) that the deceased studied upto XI standard
and wanted to study further and wanted to be employed but since her husband was
not literate and since the family was poor, they could not make arrangements
for her further studies and they could not have even allowed her to go for
employment, for which she was upset. In her statement PW 1 had, of course,
brought in some allegations about the mother-in-law but only from that
statement it cannot be said that she had directly any hand in the act of
commission of suicide. So far as the evidence of PW 1 and PW 3 are concerned,
there is only evidence to the extent that at times the deceased was not treated
well by the appellant.
course, reliance is placed by the learned courts below on the provisions of
Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (for short `the Evidence Act').
Any person who abets the commission of suicide is liable to be punished under
Section 306 IPC. Section 107 IPC lays down the ingredients of abetment which
includes instigating any person to do a 12 thing or engaging with one or more
persons in any conspiracy for the doing of a thing, if an act or illegal
omission takes place in pursuance of that conspiracy and in order to the doing
of that thing, or intentional aid by any act or illegal omission to the doing
of that thing.
the instant case there is no direct evidence to establish that the appellant
either aided or instigated the deceased to commit suicide or entered into any
conspiracy to aid her in committing suicide. In the absence of direct evidence
the prosecution has relied upon Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, under which
the court may presume on proof of circumstances enumerated therein, and having
regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that the suicide had been
abetted by the accused. The explanation to Section 113-A further clarifies that
cruelty shall have the same meaning as in Section 498-A of the IPC. Under
Section 113-A of the Evidence Act, the prosecution has first to establish that
the woman concerned committed suicide within a period of seven years from the
date of her marriage and that her husband or any relative of her husband had subjected
her to cruelty. Section 113-A gives a discretion to the court to raise such a
presumption, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, which
means that where the allegation is of 13 cruelty it must consider the nature
of cruelty to which the woman was subjected, having regard to the meaning of
the word "cruelty" in Section 498-A IPC. The mere fact that a woman
committed suicide within seven years of her marriage and that she had been
subjected to cruelty by her husband or any relative of her husband, does not
automatically give rise to the presumption that the suicide had been abetted by
her husband or any relative of her husband. The court is required to look into
all the other circumstances of the case. One of the circumstances which has to
be considered by the court is whether the alleged cruelty was of such nature as
was likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or
danger to life, limb or health of the woman. The law has been succinctly stated
in Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh reported in (2001) 9 SCC 618 wherein
this Court observed:
provision was introduced by the Criminal Law (Second) Amendment Act, 1983 with
effect from 26-12-1983 to meet a social demand to resolve difficulty of proof
where helpless married women were eliminated by being forced to commit suicide
by the husband or in-laws and incriminating evidence was usually available
within the four corners of the matrimonial home and hence was not available to
anyone outside the occupants of the house. However, still it cannot be lost
sight of that the presumption is intended to operate against the accused in the
field of criminal law. Before the presumption may be raised, the foundation
thereof must exist. A bare reading of Section 113-A shows that to attract
applicability of Section 113-A, it must be shown that (i) the woman has
committed suicide, (ii) such suicide has been committed within a period of
seven years from the date of her marriage, (iii) the husband or his relatives,
who are charged had subjected her to cruelty. On 14 existence and availability
of the above said circumstances, the court may presume that such suicide had
been abetted by her husband or by such relatives of her husband. Parliament has
chosen to sound a note of caution. Firstly, the presumption is not mandatory;
it is only permissive as the employment of expression `may presume' suggests.
Secondly, the existence and availability of the above said three circumstances
shall not, like a formula, enable the presumption being drawn; before the
presumption may be drawn the court shall have to have regard to `all the other
circumstances of the case'. A consideration of all the other circumstances of
the case may strengthen the presumption or may dictate the conscience of the
court to abstain from drawing the presumption. The expression -- `the other
circumstances of the case' used in Section 113-A suggests the need to reach a
cause-and-effect relationship between the cruelty and the suicide for the
purpose of raising a presumption. Last but not the least, the presumption is
not an irrebuttable one. In spite of a presumption having been raised the
evidence adduced in defence or the facts and circumstances otherwise available
on record may destroy the presumption. The phrase `may presume' used in Section
113-A is defined in Section 4 of the Evidence Act, which says -- `Whenever it
is provided by this Act that the court may presume a fact, it may either regard
such fact as proved, unless and until it is disproved, or may call for proof of
In State of W.B. v.
Orilal Jaiswal reported in (1994) 1 SCC 73 this Court observed:
"15. We are not
oblivious that in a criminal trial the degree of proof is stricter than what is
required in a civil proceedings. In a criminal trial however intriguing may be
facts and circumstances of the case, the charges made against the accused must
be proved beyond all reasonable doubts and the requirement of proof cannot lie
in the realm of surmises and conjectures. The requirement of proof beyond
reasonable doubt does not stand altered even after the introduction of Section
498-A IPC and Section 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act. Although, the court's
conscience must be satisfied that the accused is not held guilty when there are
reasonable doubts about the complicity of the accused in respect of the
offences alleged, it should be borne in 15 mind that there is no absolute
standard for proof in a criminal trial and the question whether the charges
made against the accused have been proved beyond all reasonable doubts must
depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case and the quality of the
evidences adduced in the case and the materials placed on record. Lord Denning
in Bater v. Bater (1950) 2 All ER 458 (All ER at p. 459) has observed that the
doubt must be of a reasonable man and the standard adopted must be a standard
adopted by a reasonable and just man for coming to a conclusion considering the
regard to the principles aforesaid, we may now advert to the fact of the
present case. Here is a case where the evidence on record discloses that the
deceased wanted to be married in a literate family. She was not happy with the
fact that her husband was illiterate and also with the status and condition of
the family of her husband. She was also required to do some domestic work as
the family was poor, for which she was not happy.
The deceased was of
the view point that her life has been spoiled by marrying Appellant No. 1. The
letter reflects the attitude of the in-laws of the deceased towards the
deceased. In the said letter there was no reference of any act or incident
whereby the appellants were alleged to have committed any willful act or
omission or intentionally aided or instigated the deceased to commit suicide.
such slender evidence, therefore, we are not persuaded to invoke the
presumption under Section 113-A of the Evidence Act to find the appellant
guilty of the offence under Section 306 IPC.
next question which remains for our consideration is whether an offence is made
out under section 498A of IPC. Though the letter allegedly written by the
deceased mentions the fact that the attitude of the family was not good towards
the deceased and she was not treated well but there is no mentioned about any
of such incident. PW1 and PW3 in their statements have emphasized that the
mother-in-law of the deceased used to ask the deceased to run hand driven
flourmill to which she was not habitual. In the year 1988 when the abovementioned
incident occurred, the hand driven flourmills were generally used by women in
the poor families in the villages and even till today one may find use of the
same in some villages in the country. Thus asking one to run the same at that
point of time may not amount to an act of cruelty.
the said statements there is also a mention of an incidents were the deceased
had been beaten by her husband. The mother-in-law (appellant No. 2) cannot be
held liable for the said act; rather there is evidence on 17 record of PW3 who
had stated that appellant No. 2 had once restrained her son. Though in the
statement of PW 1 there is mention of one or two incident when the present
appellant had beaten the deceased but there appears to be possibility of embellishment.
The father of the deceased (PW2), in his statement has not made any statement
regarding cruelty being committed on his daughter in her in-laws house. After
analyzing the said evidence and the statements made by PW1 and PW3 we are of
the opinion that the benefit of doubt should be granted to appellant No. 2.
therefore, set aside the conviction under Sections 306 and 498A of the IPC
passed against the appellant No. 2 and acquit her granting her benefit of
doubt. The appeal is allowed in so far as appellant No. 2 is concerned. The
appeal has abated in so far as appellant No. 1 is concerned. The appellant No.
2 is already on bail. She is released from the terms of her bail bonds.