Mental Cruelty Possible Even If In-Laws Reside Separately: Bombay HC

While being very direct and not mincing any words whatsoever, the Bombay High Court has in an extremely laudable, learned, landmark, logical and latest oral judgment titled Sunita Kumari and Ors vs State of Maharashtra and Anr. in Criminal Application (APL) No. 1660 of 2022 that was pronounced some time back on December 22, 2022 has minced just no words to hold that mental cruelty is an abstract concept and can be committed even if in-laws reside separately. The Court unequivocally expounded that, “The mental cruelty is an abstract concept and it is a matter of experience for a person who is subjected to cruelty … Sometimes, the taunts might be seen to be innocuous by one person, while they may not be necessarily so perceived by another person … Such being the nature of mental cruelty, it is not necessary that it must take place in the physical presence of persons and that it can be handed out even from a distant place.” It must be mentioned here that a Division Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Sunil B Shukre and Hon’ble Mr Justice MW Chandwani of Nagpur dismissed with costs an application that was filed by the relatives of a man seeking quashing of criminal proceedings against them instituted by his wife. At the very outset, this pragmatic, progressive, practical, persuasive and powerful oral judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Sunil B Shukre for a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “Heard learned counsel for the applicants and learned APP for State, who has assisted this Court.” To put things in perspective, the Division Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “This is application filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) for quashing the First Information Report (FIR) vide Crime No. 201/2022, registered for offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 323, 524 read with 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under Sections 3 and 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act and also consequent charge-sheet registered as Regular Criminal Case No. 2688/2022 pending before Court of Judicial Magistrate First Class, Nagpur.” Simply put, the Division Bench then states in para 3 that, “We have not yet issued any notice to the nonapplicants as we would like to consider as to whether or not the applicants have any case deserving issuance of notice on merit to the non-applicants. In order to satisfy this Court on this aspect of the matter, learned counsel for the applicant has submitted his argument and also prayed for grant of stay to the criminal proceeding initiated in pursuance of chargesheet no. 183/2022, bearing R.C.C. No. 2688/2022 pending before the Court of Judicial Magistrate, First Class, M. V. Court, Nagpur. We have also heard learned APP.” As we see, the Division Bench points out in para 6 that, “No doubt, the applicants appear to be residing at some different places than the marital residence of non-applicant no. 2 but, the allegations contained in the FIR and also statements of witnesses do indicate that there used to be several occasions, when all these applicants or some of them had on one or the other occasion gathered together in the house, where non-applicant no. 2 had resided and these applicants, on different occasions, also had opportunities to talk personally or on telephone with non-applicant no. 2 and during their such encounters with non-applicant no. 2, at the house where non-applicant no. 2 resided or on telephone, they subjected non-applicant no. 2 to humiliation, harassment and cruelty.” Most notably, what constitutes the nucleus of this most commendable judgment is then laid bare in para 7 wherein it is postulated by the Division Bench that, “These allegations in the FIR some of which can be found in the statements of the witnesses show that these applicants, prima facie, subjected non-applicant no. 2 to humiliation, harassment and cruelty of such a nature as is contemplated under Section 498-A of the IPC and therefore, we are of the view that there is prima facie case made out against each of the applicants, inspite of their sometimes residing away from the place where non-applicant no. 2 resided. One cannot forget the fact that cruelty as envisaged under Section 498-A of the IPC is not only physical, it also takes within its fold several other forms of cruelty, including mental cruelty. The mental cruelty is an abstract concept and it is a matter of experience for a person who is subjected to cruelty. Many a times certain taunts are made against another person but it all depends upon the manner in which the person takes those remarks or responds to them. Sometimes, the taunts might be seen to be innocuous by one person, while they may not be necessarily so perceived by another person. There are also certain derogatory remarks, which have been held by Supreme Court to be presumptively constituting cruelty within the meaning of Section 498-A of the IPC, as for example consistently suspecting fidelity of wife {See A. Jayachandra Vs. Annel Kaur [(2005) 2 SCC 22] }. Such being the nature of mental cruelty, it is not necessary that it must take place in the physical presence of persons and that it can be handed out even from a distant place. Here, in this case, for meting out mental cruelty to non-applicant no. 2, of course, in prima facie way, these applicants seems to have employed modern means of communication i.e. telephone etc. and on many occasions, they have also remained present in the company of non-applicant no. 2. Therefore, this is not a case where the applicants, by virtue of their separate residence, could be presumed to not have treated non-applicant no. 2 in a cruel manner.” Quite ostensibly, the Bench then rightly enunciates in para 8 that, “In fact, as stated earlier, there is sufficient material present on record which is indicative of the mental cruelty handed out by each of these applicants to non-applicant no. 2. This can be seen from the allegations made against each of the applicants in the FIR and also from the statements of witnesses. Besides, there is a reference to influential position of Mamta Singh- applicant no. 2. She has been stated to be working in Police Force. 

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