Varadarajan v. State of Madras [1965 SC]

This is an appeal by special leave from the judgment of the High Court of Madras affirming conviction of the appellant under Section 363 of the Indian Penal Code.

Facts of the case:

Savitri is the third daughter of S. Natarajan. At the relevant time, he was living along with his wife and two daughters, Rama and Savitri. The former is older than the latter and was studying in the Madras Medical College while the latter was a student of second year B.Sc., class in Ethiraj College.

A few months before September 30, 1960 Savitri became friendly with the appellant Varadarajan who was residing in a house next door to that of S. Natarajan. On September 30, 1960 Rama found them talking to each other at about 9.00 a.m. and had also seen her talking like this on some previous occasions. That day she asked Savitri why she was talking with the appellant. Savitri replied saying that she wanted to marry the appellant. Savitri’s intention was communicated by Rama to their father. The same day Natarajan took Savitri to Kodambakkam and left her at the house of a relative of his, K. Natarajan, the idea being that she should be kept as far away from the appellant as possible for some time.

On the next day, i.e., on October 1, 1960 Savitri left the house of K. Natarajan at about 10.00 a.m. and telephoned to the appellant asking him to meet her on a certain road in that area and then went to that road herself. By the time she got there the appellant had arrived there in his car. She got into it and both of them went to the Registrar’s office. Thereafter the agreement to marry entered into between the appellant and Savitri, which was apparently written there, was got registered. Thereafter they went to Coimbatore and then on to Tanjore where they were found by the police who were investigating into a complaint of kidnapping made by S. Natarajan and were then brought to Madras on November 3rd.

It is not disputed that Savitri was born on November 13, 1942 and that she was a minor on October 1st. The other facts which have already been stated are also not disputed. A twofold contention was, however, raised and that in the first place Savitri had abandoned the guardianship of her father and in the second place that the appellant in doing what he did, did not in fact take away Savitri out of the keeping of her lawful guardian.

The question whether a minor can abandon the guardianship of his or her own guardian and if so the further question whether Savitri could, in acting as she did, be said to have abandoned her father’s guardianship may perhaps not be very easy to answer. Fortunately, however, it is not necessary for us to answer either of them upon the view which we take on the other question raised before us and that is that “taking” of Savitri out of the keeping of her father has not been established.

The law:

It will be seen that taking or enticing away a minor out of the keeping of a lawful guardian is an essential ingredient of the offence of kidnapping. Here, we are not concerned with enticement but what we have to find out is whether the part played by the appellant amounts to “taking” out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of Savitri. We have no doubt that though Savitri had been left by S. Natarajan at the house of his relative K. Nataranjan she still continued to be in the lawful keeping of the former but then the question remains as to what is it which the appellant did that constitutes in law “taking”.

There is not a word in the deposition of Savitri from which an inference could be drawn that she left the house of K. Natarajan at the instance or even a suggestion of the appellant. In fact she candidly admits that on the morning of October 1st, she herself telephoned to the appellant to meet her in his car at a certain place, went up to that place and finding him waiting in the car got into that car of her own accord. No doubt, she says that she did not tell the appellant where to go and that it was the appellant himself who drove the car to Guindy and then to Mylapore and other places. Further, Savitri has stated that she had decided to marry the appellant. There is no suggestion that the appellant took her to the Sub-Registrar’s office and got the agreement of marriage registered there (thinking that this was sufficient in law to make them man and wife) by force or blandishments or anything like that. On the other hand the evidence of the girl leaves no doubt that the insistence of marriage came from her side.

The appellant, by complying with her wishes can by no stretch of imagination be said to have taken her out of the keeping of her lawful guardian. After the registration of the agreement both the appellant and Savitri lived as man and wife and visited different places. There is no suggestion in Savitri’s evidence, who it may be mentioned, had attained the age of discretion and was on the verge of attaining majority that she was made by the appellant to accompany him by administering any threat to her or by any blandishments. The fact of her accompanying the appellant all along is quite consistent with Savitri’s own desire to be the wife of the appellant in which the desire of accompanying him wherever he went was course implicit.

In these circumstances we find nothing from which an inference could be drawn that the appellant had been guilty of taking away Savitri out of the keeping of her father. She willingly accompanied him and the law did not cast upon him the duty of taking her back to her father’s house or even of telling her not to accompany him. She was not a child of tender years who was unable to think for herself, but as already stated, was on the verge of attaining majority and was capable of knowing what was good and what was bad for her. She was not an uneducated or unsophisticated village girl but a senior college student who had probably all her life lived in a modern city and was thus far more capable of thinking for herself and acting on her own than perhaps an unlettered girl hailing from a rural area.

It must be borne in mind that there is a distinction between “taking” and allowing a minor to accompany a person. The two expressions are not synonymous though we would like to guard ourselves from laying down that in no conceivable circumstances can the two be regarded as meaning the same thing for the purposes of Section 361. We would limit ourselves to a case like the present where the minor alleged to have been taken by the accused person left her father’s protection knowing and having capacity to know the full import of what she was doing voluntarily joins the accused person.

In such a case we do not think that the accused can be said to have taken her away from the keeping of her lawful guardian. Something more has to be shown in a case of this kind and that is some kind of inducement held out by the accused person or an active participation by him in the formation of the intention of the minor to leave the house of the guardian.

It would, however, be sufficient if the prosecution establishes that though immediately prior to the minor leaving the father’s protection no active part was played by the accused, he had at some earlier stage solicited or persuaded the minor to do so. In our opinion, if evidence to establish one of those things is lacking it would not be legitimate to infer that the accused is guilty of taking the minor out of the keeping of the lawful guardian merely because after she has actually left her guardian’s house or a house where her guardian had kept her, joined the accused and the accused helped her in her design not to return to her guardian’s house by taking her along with him from place to place. No doubt, the part played by the accused could be regarded as facilitating the fulfilment of the intention of the girl. That part, in our opinion, falls short of an inducement to the minor to slip out of the keeping of her lawful guardian and is, therefore, not tantamount to “taking”.

It must be borne in mind that while Sections 497 and 498 IPC are meant essentially for the protection of the rights of the husband, Section 361 and other cognate sections of the Indian Penal Code are intended more for the protection of the minors and persons of unsound mind themselves than of the rights of the guardians of such persons.

The law in England is stated thus in Halsbury’s Laws of England:

The defendant may be convicted, although he took no part in the actual removal of the girl, if he previously solicited her to leave her father, and afterwards received and harboured her when she did so. If a girl leaves her father of her own accord, the defendant taking no active part in the matter and not persuading or advising her to leave, he cannot be convicted of this offence, even though he failed to advise her not to come, or to return, and afterwards harboured her.

We are satisfied, upon the material on record, that no offence under Section 363 has been established against the appellant and that he is, therefore, entitled to acquittal.