The Supreme Court on July 18, 2019, in the case of Wasim v. State NCT of Delhi has observed that when the Trial Court conviction under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, was not for demand for dowry, the High Court could not convict the accused under the same for demand of dowry without a detailed discussion of the evidence on record.
In this case, the Trial Court convicted the accused under Section 306 and 498A of IPC. Conviction under Section 498A was not for demand of dowry, but on account of finding that the accused caused mental cruelty by having an extra marital relation and the threats held out by him to the deceased that he would leave her and marry the other woman.
In appeal before the High Court, it acquitted the accused under Section 306 IPC by reaching a conclusion on the basis of evidence that the charge of abetment of suicide was not proved. However, it convicted him under Section 498A finding that though there was no demand of dowry soon before the death, the prosecution proved dowry demand immediately after the marriage.
When the matter came before the Supreme Court, the Bench comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta observed that there is no discussion of the evidence pertaining to demand of dowry and the findings recorded by the Trial Court regarding the demand of dowry.
Elucidating the meaning of 'cruelty' dealt with in the Explanation to Section 498A IPC, the Bench said: “Conviction under Section 498A IPC is for subjecting a woman to cruelty. Cruelty is explained as any wilful conduct which is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health. Harassment of a woman by unlawful demand of dowry also partakes the character of 'Cruelty'. It is clear from a plain reading of Section 498A that conviction for an offence under Section 498A IPC can be for wilful conduct which is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide OR for dowry demand.”
Further, explaining Section 306 IPC, the court said: “Section 306 IPC provides for punishment with imprisonment that may extend to ten years. There should be clear mens rea to commit the offence for conviction under Section 306 IPC. It also requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide seeing no option and this act must have been intended to push the deceased into such a position that he/she committed suicide.”
The court observed that any wilful conduct which is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide is sufficient for conviction under Section 498A IPC. But In this case, the Bench observed, that the High Court recorded a categorical finding that neither mental nor physical cruelty on the part of the accused was proved.
Setting aside the High Court judgment, the Bench observed: “The High Court ought not to have convicted the Appellant under Section 498A for demand of dowry without a detailed discussion of the evidence on record, especially when the Trial Court found that there is no material on record to show that there was any demand of dowry. The High Court did not refer to such findings of the Trial Court and record reasons for its disapproval.”