Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh

Rupali   Devi    v.       State of Uttar Pradesh

April 09, 2019,   Supreme Court

“Whether a woman forced to leave her matrimonial home on account of acts and conduct that constitute cruelty can initiate and access the legal process within the jurisdiction of the courts where she is forced to take shelter with the parents or other family members”? 

This is in a situation where no overt act of cruelty or harassment is alleged to have been committed by the husband at the parental home where the wife had taken shelter.

A look at the provisions of Chapter XIII of Cr.P.C dealing with jurisdiction of Criminal Courts in inquires and trials will now be required.  Section 177 of the Code contemplates that “every offence shall ordinarily be inquired into and tried by a Court within whose local jurisdiction it was committed”.  It is, therefore, clear that in the normal course, it is the court within whose local jurisdiction the offence is committed that would have the power and authority to take cognizance of the offence in question. 

Section 178 creates an exception to the “ordinary rule” engrafted in Section 177 by permitting courts in another local area where the offence is partly committed to take cognizance.  Also if the offence committed in one local area continues in another local area, the courts in the latter place would be competent to take cognizance of the matter. 

Under Section 179, if by reason of the consequence emanating from a criminal act an offence is occasioned in another jurisdiction, the court in that jurisdiction would also be competent to take cognizance. 

Thus, if an offence is committed partly in one place and partly in another; or if the offence is a continuing offence or where the consequences of a criminal act result in an offence being committed at another place, the exception to the “ordinary rule” would be attracted and the courts within whose jurisdiction the criminal act is committed will cease to have exclusive jurisdiction to try the offence.

At this stage it may also be useful to take note of what can be understood to a continuing offence.  The issue is no longer res integra having been answered by this court in State of Bihar v. Deokaran Nenshi [1972 SC]:

“A continuing offence is one which is susceptible of continuance and is distinguishable from the one which is committed once and for all.  It is one of those offences which arises out of a failure to obey or comply with a rule or its requirement and which involves a penalty, the liability for which continues until the rule or its requirement is obeyed or complied with.  On every occasion that such disobedience or non-compliance occurs and reoccurs, there is the offence committed. The distinction between the two kinds of offences is between an act or omission which constitutes an offence once and for all and an act or omission which continues, and therefore, constitutes a fresh offence every time or occasion on which it continues.  In the case of a continuing offence, there is thus the ingredient of continuance of the offence which is absent in the case of an offence which takes place when an act or omission is committed once and for all.”

“Cruelty” which is the crux of the offence under Section 498A IPC is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary to mean “The intentional and malicious infliction of mental or physical suffering on a living creature, esp. a human; abusive treatment; outrage (Abuse, inhuman treatment, indignity)”.

Cruelty can be both physical or mental cruelty.  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 ill-treated are aspects that cannot be ignored while understanding the meaning of the expression “cruelty” appearing in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

The emotional distress or psychological effect on the wife, if not the physical injury, is bound to continue to traumatize the wife even after she leaves the matrimonial home and takes shelter at the parental home.

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 cause by the acts of the husband including verbal exchanges, if any, that had compelled the wife to leave the matrimonial home and take shelter with her parents 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 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, as the object behind its enactment would indicate, is to provide a civil remedy to victims of domestic violence as against the remedy in criminal law which is what is provided under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. The definition of the Domestic Violence contemplates harm or injuries that endanger the health, safety, life, limb or well being, whether mental or physical, as well as emotional abuse.

The said definition would certainly, for reasons stated above, have a close connection with Explanation A & B to Section 498A which defines cruelty.  The provisions contained in Section 498A undoubtedly encompasse both mental as well as the physical well-being of the wife.  Even the silence of the wife may have an underlying element of an emotional distress and mental agony.  Her sufferings at the parental home though may be directly attributable to commission of acts of cruelty by the husband at the matrimonial home would, undoubtedly, be the consequences of the acts committed at the matrimonial home.  Such consequences, by itself, would amount to distinct offences committed at the parental home where she has taken shelter.

The adverse effects on the mental health in the parental home though on account of the acts committed in the matrimonial home would, in our considered view, amount to commission of cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A at the parental home.

The consequences of the cruelty committed at the matrimonial home results in repeated offences being committed at the parental home.  This is the kind of offences contemplated under Section 179 Cr.P.C which would squarely be applicable to the present case as an answer to the question raised.

We, therefore, hold that the courts at the place where the 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.