The High Court of Bombay on November 13, 2019, in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Anil Kurkotti & Ors. acquitted Anil Kurkotti, a 35-year old man who was facing charges under Sections 498Aand 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for cruelty and abetment to suicide respectively. The wife of the accused had committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan with a cotton rope after being married to the accused for about ten years.
A Single Judge Bench of Justice K.R. Shriram gave the ruling in an appeal filed by the Maharashtra State Government against the order of the trial court dated March 21, 1997, in which it had acquitted all the accused persons comprising of Anil, his brother and parents.
According to Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, there is a presumption of abetment of suicide against the in-laws of the deceased if the life of the marriage is seven years or less. This provision was heavily relied upon by the prosecution while arguing the matter. But based on the testimonies of all the parties the marriage appeared to have taken place in 1985 while the deceased committed suicide on September 23, 1995, making it clear that it had been about ten years to the marriage.
Noting discrepancies in the statements made by the father of the deceased who was not even sure of the date of the marriage the court clarified that most of the evidence produced by the prosecution was ambiguous and hearsay and hence could not be heavily relied upon. In ten years of marriage and alleged constant harassment there wasn’t a single eye witness to any incident of cruelty which the prosecution could produce before the court.
The deceased and the accused were involved in frequent tiffs about the husband’s late night shifts at work and absence from dinners at home. The Court clarified that the usual wear and tear of a marriage cannot be accounted for as cruelty under the IPC and clashes or differences of opinion cannot amount to harassment leading to abetment of suicide.
In this regard, the Court held that, “Cruelty under Section 498A means any willful conduct which is of such nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide. It also means 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. Therefore, the prosecution has to prove a willful conduct, which is of such nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide.
Under Section 306, any person who abets the commission of suicide shall be punished with imprisonment and fine, as the court may decide. Abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person in doing something. A person abets the doing of a thing when he instigates any person to do that thing or engages one or more persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing or he intentionally aids, by acts or illegal omission, the doing of that thing.
There will be ordinary wear and tear in any matrimonial life but that does not amount to cruelty or harassment. It is settled law that every type of harassment or every type of cruelty, would not attract Section 498A or Section 306 of IPC.”