U.Suvetha Vs. State by
Insp. of Police & ANR.  INSC 981 (6 May 2009)
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CIVIL APPELALTE JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 938 OF 2009 (Arising
out of Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No.7163 of 2008) U. Suvetha .... Appellant
Versus State by Inspector of Police and another .... Respondents
S.B. SINHA, J.
the term "relative of husband of a woman" within the meaning of
Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code should be given an extended meaning is
the question involved herein.
No.2 was married to one Tutus Gunaraj on 18th May, 2005. Allegedly, he had some
connection with the appellant. On coming to know about the same the first
informant asked her husband thereabout. She was allegedly ill treated. She was
left by her husband to live with her mother-in-law at Cuddalore while he went
to his place of work at Sivagangai.
dowry demands were again made, the details whereof are not necessary to be
noticed. However, we may notice that portion of the allegations made in the
first information report, which is relevant for our purpose. It reads as under
:- "Even though properly advised my husband he has not cut the illegal
relationship with the said Swetha. If I talk about her, my husband beat me and
tortured me. My mother-in-law also abetting him. If my husband received the
salary, he gave the same with his aunt Thangam, then whenever required, at that
time he get the money from her for his expenses. Even though my mother-in-law
has known very well about the illegal intimacy of the husband with Swetha wantonly
given married me with him. The address of the said lover Swetha is D/o. Venka
Takrishnan, No.167, Majestic Colony Valasaravakkam, Alwarthirunagar,
Chennai-50, for not paying the money and jewellery my husband of my
mother-in-law compelled me to get divorce and tortured me. I am tolerating all
these hardships. In the deepavali of the year 2006 my husband told me that he
is going to his native and left me with my parents' house.
2 Hence my father
send/issued a legal notice to my husband and my mother-in-law on 13.11.2006,
then even though conciliation talks made, but the said conciliation failed on
12.1.07. My husband filed petition for divorce. Hence I request you to take
immediate action on my complaint and get back my dress and my TV Scooty NoTN05
C 4971. My husband and my mother-in-law concealed the true facts and married me
and spoiled my life. Hence, I also request you to take action against them and
file a case against them and get punished them in accordance with law.
My husband and
mother-in-law tortured and ill- treated me by demanding dowry. They have
scolded me with untoward and untolerable words and beat me so many times and
treated me very badly. Hence, I pray to take action in accordance with law
against them and punish them. My husband's aunt Tmt. Thangam, her son-in-law
Utha, and his concubine Swetha all are inducing my husband and my mother-in-law
to ill treat me and tortured me. Hence I request you to take action against
those persons and punish them in accordance in law after filing a case."
alia on the premise that the allegation made against the appellant in the first
information report, even if it be given face value, does not disclose an
offence under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, an application for
discharge was filed by her. The same was dismissed on 25 th March, 2008. A
revision application filed thereagaisnt has been dismissed by the High Court by
reason of the impugned judgment dated 1st August, 2008.
the first information report except at one place the appellant has been
described by the first informant as `girl friend' of her husband and only at
the end the word `concubine' has been used.
The core question
which arises for consideration is as to whether the `girl friend' would be a
`relative of husband of a woman' in terms of Section 498A of the Indian Penal
Section 498A of the
Indian Penal Code reads as under:- "498A. Husband or relative of husband
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.
purpose of this section, "cruelty" means- (a) Any willful conduct
which is of such a 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 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 meet such demand."
aforementioned provision was inserted in the Indian Penal Code by reason of The
Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 (Act No.45 of 1983). The statement of
objects and reasons thereof reads as under :- "The increasing number of
Dowry Deaths is a matter of serious concern. The extent of the evil has been
commented upon by the Joint Committee of the Houses to examine the working of
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Cases of cruelty by the husband and the relatives
of the husband which culminate in suicide by, or murder of, the hapless woman
concerned, constitute only a small fraction of the cases involving such
cruelty. It is therefore proposed to amend the Indian Penal Code, the Code of
Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act suitably to deal effectively not
only with cases of Dowry Death but also cases of cruelty to married woman by
their in laws."
High Court opined that the word `paramour' and the `concubine' stand on the
same footing. In arriving at the said opinion, it agreed with the decision of a
Division Bench of Andhra Pradesh High in Vungarala Yedukondalu v. State of
Andhra Pradesh, [ 1988 CRI. L.j. 1538 ] and differed with the decision of the
Bombay High Court, to opine :- "The term "relative" has not been
defined in Indian Penal Code and in the absence of any such definition, we have
to go by the precedents.
Assuming that the
allegations made against the 5 petitioner viz., that she is the concubine of
A1 is true, then, it is to be held that there is a living relationship between
the petitioner and A1 in the case and there are specific allegations to the fact
that only at the instigation of the revision petitioner, A1 is harassing the
second respondent and as such this Court is of the considered view that a
charge under Section 498-A of IPC among other offence has also been rightly
framed against the revision petitioner."
of 498A of the Indian Penal Code are :- a). The woman must be married b) She
must be subjected to cruelty or harassment; And
c) Such cruelty or
harassment must have been shown either by husband of the woman or by the
relative of her husband."
herein had not been charged for abetment of a crime. Any conspiracy amongst the
accused persons has also not been alleged. A woman in terms of the
aforementioned provision must be subjected to cruelty by her husband and/or his
relative. The word `cruelty' has also been defined in the explanation appended
thereto. It is in two parts. Clause (a) of the said explanation refers to a
conduct which is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave
injury or danger to her life, limb or health (whether mental or physical);
clause (b) provides for harassment of the woman, where such 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.
It is not the case of
the first informant that the appellant had any role to play with regard to
demand of dowry.
word `cruelty" having been defined in terms of the aforesaid explanation,
no other meaning can be attributed thereto. Living with another woman may be an
act of cruelty on the part of the husband for the purpose of judicial
separation or dissolution of marriage but the same, in our opinion, would not
attract the wrath of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
An offence in terms
of the said provision is committed by the persons specified therein. They have
to be the `husband' or his `relative". Either the husband of the woman or
his relative must be subjected to her to cruelty within the aforementioned
If the appellant had
not been instigating the husband of the first informant to torture her, as has
been noticed by the High Court, the husband would be committing some offence
punishable under the other provisions of the Indian Penal Code and appellant
may be held guilty for abetment of commission of such an offence but not an
offence under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
the absence of any statutory definition, the term `relative' must be assigned a
meaning as is commonly understood. Ordinarily it would include father, mother,
husband or wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew or niece, grandson or
grand-daughter of an individual or the spouse of any person. The meaning of the
word `relative' would depend upon the nature of the statute. It principally
includes a person related by blood, marriage or adoption.
The word `relative'
has been defined in P. Ramanatha Aiyar Advanced Law Lexicon - Volume 4, 3rd
Edition as under :- "Relative, "RELATIVE" includes any person
related by blood, marriage or adoption. [Lunacy Act ].
"REALTIVE" means a husband wife, ancestor, lineal descendant, brother
[Estate Duty Act].
means in relation to the deceased, a) the wife or husband of the deceased;
b) the father,
mother, children, uncles and aunts of the deceased, and c) any issue of any
person falling, within either of the preceding sub-clauses and the other party
to a marriage with any such person or issue [Estate Duty Act].
8 A person shall be
deemed to be a relative of another if, and only if, - a) they are the members
of a Hindu undivided family, or b) they are husband and wife; or c) the one is
related to the other in the manner indicated in Schedule I-A [Companies Act,
in relation to an individual means - a) The mother, father, husband or wife of
the individual, or b) a son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew or niece of the
individual, or c) a grandson or grand-daughter of the individual, or d) the
spouse of any person referred to in sub- clause (b) [Income tax Act].
means - 1) spouse of the person ;
2) brother or sister
of the person ;
3) brother or sister
of the spouse of the person;
4) any lineal
ascendant or descendant of the person;
5) any lineal
ascendant or descendant of the spouse of the person;
[Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances Act]."
Webster's Concise College Dictionary defines `relative' at page 691 to mean :-
"Relative n. 1. a person who is connected with another or others by blood
something having, or
standing in, some relation to something else. 3. something dependent upon
external conditions for its specific nature, size, etc.
9 (opposed to
absolute). 4. a relative pronoun, adjective, or adverb. - adj. 5. considered in
relation to something else; comparative: the relative merits of gas and
electric heating. 6. existing or having its specific nature only by relation to
not absolute or
independent: Happiness is relative.
7. having relation or
connection. 8. having reference : relevant; pertinent (usually fol. by to):
two facts relative to
the case. 9. correspondent;
depending for significance upon something else: "Better" is a
relative term. 11. of or designating a word that introduces a subordinate
clause and refers to an expressed or implied element of the principal clause:
the relative pronoun who in "That was the woman who called." 12. (of
a musical key) having the same key signature as another key: a relative
more, the provision is a penal one. It, thus, deserves strict construction.
Ordinarily, save and except where a contextual meaning is required to be given
to a statute, a penal provision is required to be construed strictly.
This Court in T.
Ashok Pai v. Commissioner of Income Tax, Bangalore, [ 2007 (8) SCALE 354 ] held
as under :- "19. It is now a well-settled principle of law that the more
is the stringent law, more strict construction thereof would be necessary. Even
when the burden is required to be discharged by an assessee, it would not be as
heavy as the prosecution. [See P.N. Krishna Lal and Ors. v. Govt. of Kerala and
Anr. 1995 Supp (2) SCC 187]."
[See also Noor Aga v.
State of Punjab, [ 2008 (9) SCALE 681].
Three Judge Bench of this Court, however, in Shivcharan Lal Verma and another
v. State of M.P., [2002 (2) Crimes 177 SC = JT (2002) 2 SC 641] while
interpreting Sedction 498A of the Indian Penal Code, in a case where the
prosecution alleged that during the life of the first wife- Kalindi, appellant
therein married for the second time, Mohini, but after marriage both Kalindi
and Shiv Charan tortured Mohini as a result thereof, she ultimately committed
suicide by burning herself, opined :-.
the prosecution under Section 498A can at all be attracted since the marriage
with Mohini itself was null and void, the same having been performed during the
lifetime of Kalindi. Second, whether the conviction under Section 306 could at
all be sustained in the absence of any positive material to hold that Mohini
committed suicide because of any positive act on the part of either Shiv Charan
or Kalindi. There may be considerable force in the argument of Mr. Khanduja,
learned counsel for the appellant so far as conviction under Section 498A is
concerned, inasmuch as the alleged marriage with Mohini during the subsistence
of valid marriage with Kalindi is null and void. We, therefore, set aside the
conviction and sentence under Section 498A of the IPC."
Two Judge Bench of this Court, however, in Reema Aggarwal v. Anupam, [ (2004) 3
SCC 199 ], while construing the expression 'husband' opined that the word
should not be given a restricted meaning to include those, who had married for
the second time strictly in accordance with law, stating :- "...If such
restricted meaning is given, it would not further the legislative intent. On
the contrary, it would be against the concern shown by the legislature for
avoiding harassment to a woman over demand of money in relation to marriages.
The first exception
to Section 494 has also some relevance. According to it, the offence of bigamy
will not apply to "any person whose marriage with such husband or wife has
been declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction". It would be
appropriate to construe the expression "husband"
to cover a person who
enters into marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or
feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerces
her in any manner or for any of the purposes enumerated in the relevant
provisions -- Sections 304-B/498- A, whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage
itself for the limited purpose of Sections 498-A and 304-B IPC. Such an
interpretation, known and recognized as purposive construction has to come into
play in a case of this nature. 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."
is not necessary to go into the controversy as to whether Reena Agarwal (supra)
was correctly decided or not as we are not faced with such a situation here. We
would assume that the term `husband' would bring within its fold a person who
is said to have contracted a marriage with another woman and subjected her to
as noticed hereinbefore, relationship of the appellant with the husband of the
first informant, is said to have been existing from before the marriage.
Indisputably they lived separately. For all intent and purport the husband was
also living at a separate place. The purported torture is said to have been
inflicted by the husband upon the first informant either at her in- law's place
or at her parents' place. There is no allegation that appellant had any role to
play in that regard.
no stretch of imagination a girl friend or even a concubine in an etymological
sense would be a `relative'. The word `relative' brings within its purview a
status. Such a status must be conferred either by blood or marriage or
adoption. If no marriage has taken place, the question of one being relative of
another would not arise.
may notice that the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Rajeti Laxmi v. State of
Andhra Pradesh, [ 1 (2007) DMC 797 ], held as under :- "4. The entire
reading of the charge-sheet and the statements of L.Ws. 1 to 7, goes to show
that it is nobody's case of the accused or the prosecution that A-6 is the
relative of husband of L.W. 1. She 13 is only concubine of A-1 and having
illicit intimacy with him. Therefore, in the absence of any averment in the
charge-sheet or any statement that she is a relative of A1, I am of the opinion
that the offence under Section 498A, IPC do not attract to A-6. Even as per the
dictionary meaning "relative" means a person connected by blood or
marriage or `a species' related to another by common origin". Simply
because A-6 is having illicit intimacy with A-1, it cannot be said that she is
a relative of A-1. Accordingly, the Criminal Petition is allowed quashing the
proceedings in C.C. No.233 of 2004 for the offence under Section 498-A, IPC,
against the petitioner,A-6. Insofar as the other offences are concerned, it may
A learned Single
Judge of the Bombay High Court, Bench at Aurangabad, in Swapnaja v. State of
Maharashtra and another, [ Criminal Application No.388 of 2008 decided on
21.4.2008 ], opined :- "....Even assuming that due to her extramarital
relation with husband of the respondent No.2, she is being ill-treated or
subjected to harassment by her husband and his relatives, then also it is
difficult to say that the applicant is accountable to answer the charge for
offence punishable under Section 498-A of the I.P.C. For, she is not related to
husband of the respondent No.2 nor can be regarded as the person, who can fall within
explanation (a) or (b) of Section 498-A of the I.P.C."
To the similar effect
is the law laid down by the same High Court in Ranjana Gopalrao Thorat v. State
of Maharasthra, [ 2007 CRI.L.J. 3866 ].
14 A learned Single
Judge of the Delhi High Court, however, preferred to follow Shivcharan Lal
Verma (supra) in preference to Reena Aggarwal (supra) to hold that
precedentially the former is binding on the High Court, stating :- "
Therefore the decision in Shivcharan Lal Verma (supra) will clearly take precedence
over the decision in Reema Aggarwal (supra). That being the case, the arguments
advanced by the learned Counsel for the petitioners would have to be accepted
that the provisions of Section 498-A IPC would not be attracted inasmuch as the
marriage between Mohit Gupta and Shalini was null and void and Mohit Gupta
could not be construed as a `husband' for the purposes of Section 498-A IPC.
Clearly, therefore, the charge under Section 498-A IPC cannot be framed and the
Metropolitan Magistrate had correctly declined to frame any charges under
Section 498-A IPC."
Similar view was
taken by a learned Single Judge of the same High Court in Capt. Rajinder Tiwari
v. The State (NCT of Delhi), [ Criminal Revision P. No. 872 of 2006 decided on
14.12.2006 ], stating :
"9. As already
indicated above, insofar as the charge under Section 498A IPC is concerned,
that issue is no longer open for debate. The same has been decided by this
Court in the case of Mohit Gupta & others (supra) applying the ratio of the
Supreme Court decision in the case of Shivcharan Lal Verma (supra). Since the
marriage between 15 Rajidner and Meenakshi was a nullity in view of the
pendency of Rajinder's divorce proceedings qua his first wife, the offence
under Section 498A, which is specific to "husband", would not be
maintainable, therefore, the impugned order needs to be corrected on this
are, however, not oblivious of the fact that a learned Single Judge of the
Kerala High Court in John Idiculla v. State of Kerala, [ 2005 M.L.J. (Crl.) 841
] relying on Reema Agarwal (supra) gave a wider meaning to the word
"second wife" to hold :- "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 not lie against her."
the principles laid down in various decisions referred to above, we have no
doubt, in our mind, that the appellant is not a relative of the husband of the
the reasons aforementioned, the impugned judgment cannot be sustained. It is
set aside accordingly. The appeal is allowed.
[ S.B. Sinha ]
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