Asking to cook properly doesn’t amount to ill-treatment of wife: Bombay High Court

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In a 17-year-old case while passing judgment Bombay High Court observed that ill-treatment of wife does not amount to criticising her cooking or scolding her for not doing household chores. The Court held that the prosecution failed to prove their case of ill-treatment of wife by husband and in-laws and hence allowed their acquittal.

Facts of the case

Sangli (Maharashtra) resident Vijay Shinde had married a girl way back in 1998. The marriage was not a happy one as the couple often argued over household chores, even the woman’s in-laws found faults with her cooking and scolded her numerous times. On June 5, 2001, the woman’s family members, her grandfather and maternal cousin, visited her home and found her arguing with her husband.

She complained to them about her husband having an illicit affair and also the general dissatisfaction with the marriage. Her grandfather comforted her for the time being and then left. A few hours later, on the same day, the grandfather and her other family members received the news that she has consumed poison. She died later, and her family lodged a complaint with the police, the next day, accusing her husband and in-laws of torture, violence, aiding and abetting suicide.

Bombay High Court rules

The case was heard by Honourable Justice Sarang Kotwal of Bombay High Court after a lengthy period of trial, about 17 years. Justice Kotwal after hearing both sides of the argument opined that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the accused Vijay Shinde. He pointed out, “telling the deceased to cook properly or to do her household work properly, by itself, would not mean that she was ill-treated. There is no further evidence to show that the treatment was of such a nature which would fall under harassment or abetment of suicide sections of the IPC.”

He also rebuked the prosecution for accusing Shinde of having an illicit affair which according to prosecution’s account was the basis of his wife committing suicide. Justice Kotwal further reiterated, “the prosecution has not examined any other family member who could have thrown light on this aspect. In fact, these allegations do not travel beyond the realm of suspicion and therefore, none of the accused can be held responsible for the same.”

The argument raised by the prosecution that couple’s fight on the day of her suicide, on June 5, 2001, was so serious and upsetting for her that she took the ultimate step of suicide was also reportedly rejected by the Court. Justice Kotwal stated that when her family members witnessed the argument if they had thought it was of serious nature they would have intervened. Neither they intervened then, nor they thought her suicide to be linked with the verbal spat of the couple, it was only the day after her death, that they lodged a complaint. So, the Bombay High Court held, “the quarrel, if at all it was there, was of not such a serious nature which would have driven the deceased to commit suicide. The trial judge has rightly held that the FIR was lodged as an afterthought.”

Impact of the judgment

The judgment in itself can be taken in quite a few contexts. On one hand, the widespread misuse of Section 498A by some unscrupulous people had created havoc over the lives of many an innocent person. It is often heard about young men facing criminal charges over a couple’s quarrel resulting in numerous divorces and sometimes amounting to unfortunate incidents such as suicides. The family of these young men, their parents, even their married sisters and brothers and their spouses, are sometimes unfortunately embroiled in these situations.

But there also have been plenty of cases in which the wife was killed after refusing to cook food for her husband. A dispute over food and household chores oftentimes turns deadly nowadays with husbands beating wives to death over minor conflicts. Yet, it is true that in our country the legal system is still not strong enough to protect innocent women from the torture and violence at their in-law’s houses. Dowry deaths, suicides and murders of hapless women, aside from sexual violence, are still very much prevalent. Because of the ineffective implementation of laws, prolonged trials when the real criminals can roam free on bail and threaten the victims, corrupt system working against the innocent people and malicious complaints by abusing legal loopholes are becoming an impediment on the road to justice forcing people to lose faith in our legal system. A trifecta of executive goodwill, prompt justice and effective security system need to be implemented urgently by our lawmakers to address this grave issue.

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