SC recalls ’09 verdict,to examine if kicking daughter-in-law is cruelty

Section 498A defines cruelty against a woman and makes the offence punishable with a three year-maximum jail term besides fine.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published:March 15, 2013 12:31 am

Until a day ago,kicking a daughter-in-law or threatening to “force” her son to take divorce did not make a woman liable for cruelty under the dowry law — courtesy a 2009 Supreme Court verdict. On Thursday,the controversial ruling,however,reached the end of the road when the Supreme Court,in an uncommon order,recalled its verdict and called for a fresh look at its own views.

Allowing a curative petition by the National Commission for Women (NCW),a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir set aside the two judge-verdict of July 27,2009. It held that in view of the clarifications sought by the NCW,the 2009 ruling required a re-consideration because of its contentious findings. It has ordered for re-hearing the entire matter.

The 2009 judgment had quashed dowry harassment charges under Section 498A of the IPC instituted against Bhaskar Lal Sharma and his wife by their daughter-in-law,Monica,who accused them of physically assaulting her and threatening her with divorce. Section 498A defines cruelty against a woman and makes the offence punishable with a three year-maximum jail term besides fine.

“Allegations that appellant No 2 (mother-in-law) kicked the respondent (daughter-in-law) with her leg and told her that her mother is a liar may make out some other offences but not the one punishable under Section 498A,” read the 2009 judgement. It added “even threatening that her son may be divorced for the second time could not bring out the offence under Section 498A of the IPC”.

As the judgment stirred up a polemic,the NCW filed a curative petition,stating that the ruling would defeat the very purpose of the provision to protect women from cruelty and harassment in matrimonial homes. A curative petition is the last remedy in the apex court after the dismissal of main and review petitions. A curative petition is rarely allowed by the court.

The petition filed through advocate Jyotika Kalra sought a judicial clarification: “Whether threatening a daughter-in-law that she (the mother-in-law) would force the son to take a divorce not amount to mental cruelty thereby clearly attracting Section 498A (dowry harassment) of the IPC?”

It has further asked the court to decide if “advising” a daughter-in-law to take divorce by mutual consent and inducing her with a monetary compensation amounts to cruelty as defined under Section 498A.

The petition asked the court whether “constantly interfering in the marriage of a newly married couple by advising a daughter-in-law to give divorce,kick her,and criticise her on a regular basis” match the definition of cruelty under Section 498A of the IPC.

The commission said it had,during the course of its work,found dowry harassment and domestic violence “more of a norm than an aberration and the law has to be interpreted in a manner beneficial to women in distress”.

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