More Serious Offence When One Woman Makes Another Vulnerable: Supreme Court

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An offence against a woman becomes more serious when a woman puts her through torture, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while confirming the conviction of a mother-in-law in a dowry case.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna said if a lady does not protect another lady, the other lady, a daughter-in-law, would become vulnerable.

“When an offence has been committed by a woman by meting out cruelty to another woman, i.e., the daughter-in-law, it becomes a more serious offence. If a lady, i.e., the mother-in-law herein does not protect another lady, the other lady, i.e., the daughter-in-law would become vulnerable,” the bench said.

The top court’s judgement came on an appeal filed by a woman who was convicted by the Madras High Court for the offence under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The mother of the victim had lodged a complaint that her son-in-law, his mother, her daughter and father-in-law were harassing the woman who later died, and she was subjected to torture for want of jewels.

Due to this, she alleged, her daughter had set herself on fire.

The trial court on appreciation of evidence acquitted accused No. 4, however, it convicted accused Nos. 1 to 3 for the offences punishable under Sections 498A and 306 IPC.

The trial court sentenced the accused to undergo one year jail with a fine of ₹ 1,000 for the offence under Section 498A IPC and three years jail with a fine of Rs.2,000 for the offence under Section 306 (Abetment of suicide) IPC.

The High Court partly allowed the said appeal and acquitted all the accused for the offence under Section 306 IPC.

It also set aside the conviction in respect of accused Nos. 1 and 3 for the offence under Section 498A IPC, however, it maintained the conviction and sentence in respect of accused No. 2 (mother-in-law) for the offence under Section 498A IPC.

The top court in its judgement said that it has been established and proved that the woman who died was subjected to torture by the mother-in-law with regard to jewels.

Being a lady, who was the mother-in-law, ought to have been more sensitive vis-a-vis her daughter-in-law, the bench said.

“In the present case, even the husband of the victim was staying abroad. The victim was staying all alone with her in-laws. Therefore, it was the duty of the appellant, being the mother-in-law and her family to take care of her daughter-in-law, rather than harassing and/or torturing and/or meting out cruelty to her daughter-in-law regarding jewels or on other issues,” the bench said. The top court said no leniency is required to be shown to the appellant in this case and there must be some punishment.

“However, considering the fact that the incident is of the year 2006 and at present, the appellant is reported to be approximately 80 years old, in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, as a mitigating circumstance, we propose to reduce the sentence from one year to three months rigorous imprisonment with fine imposed by the Trial Court to be maintained,” the bench said.

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