A two-judge Bench of Justice MR Shah and Justice BV Nagarathna while upholding conviction of an 80-year-old mother-in-law of the deceased for offence under section 498A IPC, has held that since the deceased was staying alone with her in-laws, it was the duty of the Appellant being the mother-in-law to take care of her daughter-in-law rather than harassing or torturing her. Hence, no leniency could be shown to the Appellant.
Senior Advocate Mr S. Nagamuthu appeared for the Appellant before the Court.
The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal assailing the judgment of the Madras High Court which had held the Appellant-Original Accused 2 guilty of the offence under Section 498A IPC. Aggrieved, the Original Accused 2 – Mother-in-law of the deceased approached the Apex Court.
In this case, it was alleged by the mother of the victim-deceased that all the accused - her son-in-law, his mother, her daughter and father-in-law were harassing the deceased and she was subjected to torture/cruelty for want of jewels. Further, it was alleged that due to which her daughter had immolated herself and died. The accused were charged under Sections 498A and 306 IPC.
The Trial Court had acquitted Accused No. 4 and sentenced the rest of the accused to undergo RI of one year along with a fine of Rs. 1,000/- for the offence under Section 498A IPC, and three years of RI with a fine of Rs. 2,000/- for the offence under Section 306 IPC.
The High Court on an appeal filed, acquitted the rest of the accused except Original Accused 2 – mother-in-law of the victim.
The Appellant contended before the Supreme Court that the deceased did not want her husband to go to Saudi Arabia and for that she quarrelled with her husband and his family members after which she committed suicide. This would not amount to harassment under Section 498A IPC.
Further, it was argued that the Appellant- mother-in-law of the victim is an old lady who was now 80 years old and therefore, the Court must not interfere with the conviction, hence, a lenient view could be taken while imposing the sentence.
The Apex Court noted that while going through the testimonies of all the PWs, the Appellant was rightly held guilty for the offence under Section 498A IPC.
Further, the Bench opined, "The incident is of the year 2006. Therefore, merely because long time has passed in concluding the trial and/or deciding the appeal by the High Court, is no ground not to impose the punishment and/or to impose the sentence already undergone. It is to be noted that the appellant – mother-in-law is held to be guilty for the offence under Section 498A of IPC."
"Being a lady, the appellant, who was the mother-in-law, ought to have been more sensitive vis-à-vis her daughter-in-law. When an offence has been committed by a woman by meting out cruelty to another woman, i.e., the daughter-in-law, it becomes a more serious offence. If a lady, i.e., the mother-in-law herein does not protect another lady, the other lady, i.e., daughter-in-law would become vulnerable," the Court added.
Additionally, the Bench reduced the sentence keeping in mind the age of the Appellant and held, "However, considering the fact that the incident is of the year 2006 and at present the appellant is reported to be approximately 80 years old, in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, as a mitigating circumstance, we propose to reduce the sentence from one year R.I. to three months R.I. with fine imposed by the Trial Court to be maintained."
Accordingly, the Court partly allowed the appeal and confirmed/maintained the conviction of the Appellant-mother-in-law. The Court, however, reduced the sentence imposed on the Appellant from one year RI to three months RI with a fine and the default sentence imposed by the Trial Court. The Court further directed the Appellant to surrender within a period of four weeks.