[Section 498A IPC] Married woman made to do household work for family not cruelty: Bombay High Court

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The Aurangabad Bench of Bombay High Court recently opined that if a married lady is asked to do household work for family, the same cannot be equated to the work of maid servant, and would not amount to cruelty towards her [Sarang Diwakar Amle & Ors. v. State of Maharasthtra & Anr.]

A division bench of Justices Vibha Kankanwadi and Rajesh S Patil, therefore, quashed a first information report (FIR) registered against the husband and in-laws of a woman for cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“If a married lady is asked to do household work definitely for the purpose of the family, it cannot be said that it is like a maid servant. If she had no wish to do her household activities, then she ought to have told it either prior to the marriage so that the bridegroom can rethink about the marriage itself or if it is after marriage, then such problem ought to have been sorted out earlier,” the Bench reasoned.

The wife had lodged a complaint against the in-laws and the husband alleging she was treated properly for a month after marriage, but thereafter, they began treating her like a maid servant.

The wife also claimed that a month after the marriage, the in-laws and husband started demanding an amount of ₹4 lakh for purchasing a four-wheeler.

The husband then harassed her physically and mentally for the same, the wife alleged.

Besides Section 498A, the husband was also booked for offences under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC.

He then moved the High Court for quashing the same claiming that the complaint was concocted version of the events.

It was also pointed out that the woman was earlier married to another man and had filed similar complaint against him and his family members too in which all of them were acquitted.

The Court said that those earlier complaints cannot be reason to conclude that the wife had a habit of levelling allegations and extracting money and such submission advanced by the husband would have to be proved by him.

However, the Court aemphasized that mere use of the words harassment ‘mentally and physically’ is not sufficient to attract ingredients of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code unless such acts are described.

“Mere use of the word harassment ‘mentally and physically’ are not sufficient to attract ingredients of Section 498-A of IPC. Unless those acts are described it cannot be concluded that whether those acts amounted to harassment or subjecting a person to cruelty”, the order stated.

The omnibus allegations that the wife made against the husband would not attract the offence under the provision, the Court emphasized.

“The allegations those have been made and collection of evidence is not sufficient even at this prima facie stage to attract the ingredients of offence punishable under Section 498-A of IPC, further as regards offence under Section 323, 504, 506 read with Section 34 of IPC is concerned, it is in fact already conferred under Section 498-A of IPC and unless those other offences are shown which would amount to “cruelty”, offence under Section 498-A of IPC cannot be made out and, therefore, it would be a futile exercise to ask the petitioner to face the trial,” the bench said, allowing the petition filed by the husband.

The Court, therefore, quashed the FIR against the husband and the in-laws and also set aside the criminal proceedings pending them before a local judicial magistrate.

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