Husband’s illicit affair does not always amount to Mental Cruelty

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In an important ruling that could affect the outcomes of numerous divorce pleas across the country, the Supreme Court has ruled that a husband’s illicit relationship with another woman may not always amount to “cruelty” towards his wife and hence cannot be seen as a ground for abetment of her suicide.

The apex court made this observation while hearing a rather unfortunate case where the wife committed suicide after breakdown of her marriage. Based in Gujarat, the couple had developed a strained relationship and considering divorce. They were living separately in the same house.

The wife reportedly informed her sister about the dysfunctional marriage and said that she would leave her marital home. However, later she committed suicide by consuming poison.

The prosecution accused the husband and his family of cruelty, alleging that the illicit relationship of the man with another woman led the sad demise of his wife. The trial court as well as the High Court had convicted the man.

However, after considering the arguments of appellant’s counsel H A Raichura, a bench comprising S J Mukhopadhaya and Dipak Misra said: “In the present case, in fact, there is no demand of dowry. If the evidence is appropriately appreciated, the deceased was pained and disturbed as the husband was having an illicit affair with a woman. Will such a situation amount to cruelty under Section 498A of IPC?”

“True, there is some evidence about the illicit relationship and even if the same is proven, we are of the considered opinion that cruelty, as envisaged under the first limb of Section 498A IPC, would not get attracted. It would be difficult to hold that the mental cruelty was of such a degree that it would drive the wife to commit suicide,” it said.

Justice Misra added: “Mere extra-marital relationship, even if proved, would be illegal and immoral, as has been held by the Supreme Court earlier but it would take a different character if the prosecution brings some evidence on record to show that the accused had conducted in such a manner to drive the wife to commit suicide.”

“In the instant case, the accused may have been involved in an illicit relationship with a woman, but in the absence of some other acceptable evidence on record that can establish such high degree of mental cruelty, the explanation to Section 498A which includes cruelty to drive a woman to commit suicide, would not be attracted.”


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