Calcutta High Court: Harassing Wife for Having ‘Black Complexion’ Amounts to Cruelty

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In the case of Mazidul Miah & Others v. State of West Bengal, an appeal was filed by the accused. This appeal is against the judgment passed the Sessions Court of Cooch Behar. The Sessions Court convicted the accused under Sections 498A/302/34 I.P.C. It also sentenced rigorous imprisonment to the accused. The Court sentenced him to 3 years in jail, and a fine of Rs.500 per month.

Background

The victim married the accused/ appellant according to Muslim rituals. She satisfied his demands according to Mohammedan rites and customs. Her family gave Rs.11,000/- cash, silver ornaments of three descriptions. They also gave one Hero cycle and other valuables to the accused.

During her stay in the in-law’s house, she was treated harshly. Her husband tortured her for her black complexion. He also threatened to end the marriage and forced her to leave the matrimonial house.

After 3 days of her marriage, she was forced to stay in a cowshed. The accused expressed their dissatisfaction on the grounds of her black complexion. The husband beat her with a cycle chain. There was also an attempt to murder her. The victim reported everything to her parents when she visited them.

Brief Facts of the Case

On 11.06.1998, she went back to her in-law’s house, persuaded by her parents to withstand the torture. In 1998, the victim informed her mother of physical assault committed upon her by her in-laws. The father/ complainant learned about the same from his wife when she returned home. On 24.06.1998, the accused ( son-in-law) informed him that his daughter had died by hanging herself. After, receiving the information he rushed to see his deceased daughter.

The police conducted an inquiry. They found two tape recorder cords of different sizes. These were used as weapons to assault the victim. The dead body of the victim was sent for autopsy after due consultation. The autopsy report revealed that the victim has died from asphyxia (an effect of strangulation by ligature).

On 26.07.1998, the father of the victim filed a complaint. It was filed after the investigation was complete and charges were filed. The police filed charges against the accused after collecting evidence. As many as 11 witnesses had testified. The Trial Court based his conviction on the testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses. The Court also considered the autopsy report submitted by the Investigating Officer.

Arguments of the Appellant

The counsel submitted that the deceased victim was tortured due to her complexion. He made the following arguments to render it improbable:

He argued that the Trial Court had laid too much emphasis on the Autopsy Surgeon’s report. The counsel submitted that there was no supporting evidence to make it a case of strangulation. This is because there was no weapon of assault this could be a suicide. Further, he argued that two pieces of tape recorder cords were insufficient to prove murder.

The counsel contested the judgment as the Court did not entertain PW-5’s testimony. Prosecution Witness no. 5 was a neighbor of the accused who had seen the hanged body. By disregarding his testimony the Court had refused the possibility of suicidal death. He also questioned the testimonies of PW no. 1, 2, 3, and 4 as they were all related to the victim. He argued that their testimonies were partisan and thus, not reliable.

Further, he submitted that there were many discrepancies and contradictions in their testimonies. He asked the Court to give the appellant benefit of the doubt. He submitted that as the body was found in the cowshed it was a case of foul-play. The learned counsel also pointed out that there was a delay of two days in lodging the F.I.R. at the police station. It left enough room for embellishment in the version of the prosecution case.

Arguments of the Respondents

Respondent/state contested the appeal of the accused. They supported the order of conviction and made the following arguments:

They submitted that the cross-examination of Autopsy Surgeon revealed a case of homicidal death of the victim beyond doubt. The learned trial judge had rightly believed the report of Autopsy Surgeon. It described the prosecution case within the meaning of homicidal death. So, it was not a suicidal death.

The plea of suicidal death was argued in the trial even during cross-examination. Thus, the Court should not reopen the case. They submitted that the Court had used Sections 106/113 (A) of the Evidence Act. Hence, the conviction was right and should remain undisturbed.

Court’s Decision

The Court observed that this was not a case of dowry harassment. The death of the deceased was caused due to the dissatisfaction with the victim’s completion. The Court relied on the surgeon’s autopsy report. The surgeon had found clear marks of strangulation on the neck. The definite opinion of Autopsy Surgeon was that the death of the deceased was asphyxia. The marks were ante-mortem and homicidal in nature.

Five accused persons were put up for a trial, including the present appellants. Out of three appellants herein appellant no. 1 is the husband, appellant no. 2 is the father-in-law, while appellant no. 3 is the mother-in-law of the deceased. Out of five persons put up for a trial, two accused persons were favored with an acquittal.

The Court also said that it is unlawful to harass wife for her black complexion. It is punishable under Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code.


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