Date:June 17, 2022
When a husband is discharged or acquitted under a criminal case filed by the wife under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 will it be a ground for divorce? Will it be a ground on which the husband can file a petition for divorce or dissolution of marriage under a court of law?
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As per section 498A of IPC, if the husband or relative of the husband of a woman subjects her to cruelty, he/they shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 3 (three) years and shall also be liable to a fine.
Section 498A IPC 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.
Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful 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 to meet such demand.
Now the question is whether after being acquitted or discharged under a case under section 498A, can this acquittal or discharge be a ground of divorce?
Hon’ble Supreme court in Rani Narasima Sastry vs. Rani Suneela Rani in Civil Appeal No. 8871 of 2019 (Arising out of SLC (Civil) No. 1981 of 2019) answered this question.
Hon’ble Supreme Court held : When a person undergoes a trial in which he is acquitted of the allegation of offence under Section 498-A IPC, levelled by the wife against the husband, it cannot be accepted that no cruelty has meted on the husband.
Thus, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that when wife filed a criminal case under section 498A labelling false accusation ultimately resulting in discharge or acquittal of husband, the same can be treated as cruelty meted out by the wife / woman. And, this shall be a ground of divorce under section 13(1)(i-a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Facts of the case
An FIR Criminal No.148/2007 was filed, in which charge-sheet No. 672 of 2007 was submitted against the husband / appellant and his sister- in-law on the basis of which charge under Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code (IPC) was framed and the husband / appellant was tried by the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate, Cyberabad.
The Husband / appellant thereafter filed a divorce petition in the Court of Principal Senior Civil Judge, R.R. District, L.B. Nagar under Section 13(1)(i-a) praying for dissolution of the marriage with the respondent. One of the grounds on which petition was filed was cruelty.
The Trial Court decided against the husband appellant and held that appellant failed to prove that he was treated with cruelty by the wife.
Supreme Court’s decision
Hon’ble Court held :
In the present case the prosecution is launched by the respondent (wife) against the appellant (husband) under section 498-A IPC making serious allegations in which the appellant had to undergo trial which ultimately resulted in his acquittal.
In the prosecution under 498-A IPC not only acquittal has been recorded but observations have been made that allegations of serious nature are levelled against each other. The case set up by the appellant seeking decree of divorce on the ground of cruelty has been established.
It is true that it is open for anyone to file complaint or lodge prosecution for redressal for his or her grievances and lodge a first information report for an offence also and mere lodging of complaint or FIR cannot ipso facto be treated as cruelty.
But when a person undergoes a trial in which he is acquitted of the allegation of offence under 498-A IPC, levelled by the wife against the husband, it cannot be accepted that no cruelty has meted on the husband.
Thus acquittal or discharge under a case under section 498A Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a valid ground on the basis of which a mental cruelty can be claim and this ground a divorce petition can filed in court of law for dissolution of marriage.
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