Single incident of harassment not enough to penalise someone for domestic abuse, cruelty: Bombay High Court

Mumbai: In a significant ruling, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has said a single and solitary incident of harassment is not enough to attract the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which penalise domestic abuse and cruelty. The ruling was delivered earlier this month by a single-judge bench of Justice Kishor Sonawane while dealing with a criminal appeal filed by a man challenging his conviction under section 498 A of the IPC, which penalises husbands who subject their wives or in-laws to cruelty or harassment by demanding dowry.

In his judgement, Justice Sonawane said, “It must be noted that the word ‘harassment’ used in clause (b) of the explanation of section 498-A of the IPC has nowhere been defined in this section or anywhere in the IPC or any other statute.” “Therefore, in view of the dictionary meaning, it appears that the word harassment implies some continuous course, though not necessarily on a large number of occasions, and it may not take within its fold only one such solitary incident of harassment. Thus, it must be borne in mind that mere harassment is not enough to prove charges under Section 498-A of the IPC; it must be with a view to coercing the wife or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security, or it should be on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand,” Justice Sonawane ruled.

The ruling was made while the bench acquitted Brahmaji Patil on the charges of cruelty and domestic harassment. He was booked after his in-laws lodged an FIR accusing him of abetting the suicide of their daughter. They claimed that Patil harassed their daughter for dowry which led to her death within seven months of their marriage.

Having considered the arguments advanced by all the parties, Justice Sonawane said, “It cannot be overlooked that where a woman is subjected to cruelty or harassment, the independent evidence regarding the same can hardly be available. Therefore, in view of particular circumstances, only the relative witnesses of a victim could be the natural witnesses. But, the possibility of false involvement or exaggeration on the part of such relatives could not be ruled out due to possible prejudice.”

“The intense scrutiny of the evidence of star-witnesses of the prosecution reflects that these witnesses cast allegations against Patil in a very vague and of a general nature. They did not describe the particulars of the ill-treatment meted out to their daughter; thus the prosecution has miserably failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The appellant Patil is absolved from all the charges,” Justice Sonawane said while acquitting Patil.


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