Supreme Court: Mere Fact of Commission of Suicide Itself Not Sufficient to Raise Presumption U/S 113A Evidence Act8 min read
Published on: 12 March 2023 at 15:58 IST
While deciding on a leading case pertaining to the liability of the accused in abetment to suicide case, the Apex Court in a most remarkable, refreshing, robust, rational and recent judgment titled Kashibai & Ors vs The State of Karnataka in SLP (Crl.) No. 8584/2022 that was pronounced recently on February 28, 2023 has held that mere fact of commission of suicide by itself would not be sufficient for the court to raise the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act, and to hold the accused guilty of Section 306 IPC.
In this case, the accused (husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law) were convicted under Section 498A and Section 306 read with Section 34 of IPC. This conviction was upheld by the High Court. The Apex Court acquitted the accused of offence under Section 306 IPC but the conviction for the offence of cruelty under Section 498A IPC was upheld.
Since the appellants had already undergone the punishment of imprisonment for a period of two years for the offence under Section 498A read with Section 34 of IPC, the Apex Court directed to set free the appellants forthwith.
At the very outset, this most commendable, composed, cogent, courageous, concise and convincing judgment authored by Hon’ble Ms Justice Bela M Trivedi for a Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Ajay Rastogi and herself sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “The judgment and order dated 06.03.2021 passed by the High Court of Karnataka, Kalaburagi Bench in Criminal Appeal No.200027/2014 is under challenged before this Court, whereby the High Court has dismissed the said appeal filed by the appellants-accused against the judgment and order dated 11.02.2014 passed by the II Additional Sessions Judge, Bijapur (hereinafter referred to as “the Sessions Court”) in Sessions Case No.5/2011,”.
“The Sessions Court vide the said judgment and order had convicted and sentenced the present appellant i.e., the accused nos. 1, 2 and 3 for the offences under Section 498A and Section 306 read with Section 34 of IPC, and acquitted the accused no.4 Santosh Jangamshetti, son of Kallappa Jangamshetti, who happened to be the brother-in-law of the deceased Jayashree, from the said charges.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 3 that, “The deceased Jayashree had married the appellant no. 3, Chandrashekhar about three years prior to the alleged incident. The appellant nos.1 and 2 happened to be the mother-in-law and father-inlaw of the said deceased respectively. Smt. Annapurna, wife of Sadashiv Limbikai, mother of the deceased lodged a complaint before the Bableshwar Police Station alleging inter alia that her daughter Jayashree was given in marriage to accused no.3, Chandrashekhar,”.
“After the marriage, her parents-in-law, brother-in-law and her husband ill-treated Jayashree both physically and mentally on account of demand of dowry. Her daughter Jayashree because of such harassment committed suicide on 07.02.2010 at about 11:00 am by jumping into an open well situated in a land bearing Survey Number 53/4 at the Tigani Bidari village,”.
“The said complaint came to be registered against the accused for the offences under Section 498A and 306 read with Section 304 of IPC. The Sessions Court conducted the trial and after appreciating the evidence on record, convicted the appellants for the said offences and sentenced them to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of two years and to pay a fine of Rs. 2,000/- each for the offences under Section 498A read with Section 34 of IPC, and to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of five years and to pay a fine of Rs.5,000/each for the offences under Section 306 read with Section 34 of IPC. The High Court confirmed the said conviction and sentence as per the impugned order.”
As it turned out, the Bench then points out in para 4 that, “After having heard the learned counsels for the parties and thoroughly gone through the record of the case, it appears that the prosecution to bring home the charges levelled against the appellants-accused had examined 21 witnesses and also adduced the documentary evidence,”.
“However out of the 21 witnesses, PW-10, PW11, PW-12 and PW-14 had turned hostile and not supported the case of the prosecution. The case of the prosecution as such mainly depended upon the PW-1 and PW-4 who happened to be the parents of the deceased and PW-6 who happened to be the uncle of the deceased,”.
“They all had deposed inter alia about the demand of the dowry in the form of cash and gold, and about the harassment meted out by them to the deceased mentally and physically. PW-5 who happened to be the person known to both the sides and who was instrumental in arranging the marriage between the deceased and the appellant no. 3 also had deposed that there was a demand for additional gold and cash made by the appellants-accused and that there was harassment caused by the appellants to the deceased Jayashree,”.
“The neighbours, PW-7 and PW-9 also had supported the case of the prosecution by deposing inter alia that the deceased was subjected to mental and physical harassment by the appellants-accused.”
Quite significantly, the Bench then points out in para 13 that, “The PW-21 Dr. Jayashree Masali though had opined that the death of the deceased was due to the drowning as a result of Asphyxia, there was no opinion given by her nor any opinion was sought from her as to whether it was a suicide committed by the deceased or it was an accident by which she fell down in the well,”.
“Even if it is presumed that the deceased had committed suicide, there was no evidence whatsoever adduced by the prosecution that there was an abetment on the part of any of the accused which had driven her to commit suicide. There is no evidence worth the name to show that any of the appellants-accused had either instigated or intentionally aided or abetted the deceased to commit suicide or had caused any abetment as contemplated under Section 107 of the IPC.”
Most significantly, the Bench minces absolutely no words to hold precisely in para 14 that, “Though it is true that as per Section 113A of the Evidence Act, when the question arises as to whether commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband, and when it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court can presume, having regard to the other circumstances, that such suicide has been abetted by her husband or such relative of her husband,”.
“However, mere fact of commission of suicide by itself would not be sufficient for the court to raise the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act, and to hold the accused guilty of Section 306 IPC.”
While citing the relevant case laws, the Bench observes in para 15 that, “In Mangat Ram Vs. State of Haryana (2014) 12 SCC 595, this Court considering the provisions of Section 498A and 306 of IPC in the light of the presumption under Section 113A of the Evidence Act, observed as under: –
“30. We are of the view that the mere fact that if a married woman commits suicide within a period of seven years of her marriage, the presumption under Section 113-A of the Evidence Act would not automatically apply.
The legislative mandate is that where a woman commits suicide within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that her husband or any relative of her husband has subjected her to cruelty, the presumption as defined under Section 498- A IPC, may attract, having regard to all other circumstances of the case, that such suicide has been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.
The term “the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband” would indicate that the presumption is discretionary.
So far as the present case is concerned, we have already indicated that the prosecution has not succeeded in showing that there was a dowry demand, nor would the reasoning adopted by the courts below would be sufficient enough to draw a presumption so as to fall under Section 113-A of the Evidence Act.
31. In this connection, we may refer to the judgment of this Court in Hans Raj v. State of Haryana [(2004) 12 SCC 257 : 2004 SCC (Cri) 217] , wherein this Court has examined the scope of Section 113-A of the Evidence Act and Sections 306, 107, 498-A, etc. and held that, unlike Section 113-B of the Evidence Act, a statutory presumption does not arise by operation of law merely on the proof of circumstances enumerated in Section 113-A of the Evidence Act.
This Court held that, under Section 113- A of the Evidence Act, the prosecution has to first establish that the woman concerned committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband has subject her to cruelty.
Even though those facts are established, the court is not bound to presume that suicide has been abetted by her husband. Section 113-A, therefore, gives discretion to the court to raise such a presumption having regard to all other circumstances of the case, which means that where the allegation is of cruelty, it can consider the nature of cruelty to which the woman was subjected, having regard to the meaning of the word “cruelty” in Section 498-A IPC.””
Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 16 that, “So far as the evidence adduced by the prosecution in the instant case is concerned, in our opinion the prosecution had failed to adduce any clinching evidence to enable the Court to conclude that the appellants-accused had abetted the deceased to commit suicide. In absence of any satisfactory evidence having been brought on record, in our opinion both the Courts below had committed grave error in holding the appellants guilty of the offence under Section 306 of IPC.”
As a corollary, the Bench then directs in para 17 that, “In that view of the matter while upholding the conviction of the appellants under Section 498A, we acquit the appellants from the charges levelled against them under Section 306 of IPC by giving them benefit of doubt. Since the appellants have already undergone the imprisonment for a period of two years for the offence under Section 498A read with Section 34 of IPC, as directed by the courts below, it is hereby directed to set free the appellants forthwith.”
Finally, the Bench concludes by holding in para 18 that, “The appeal stands partly allowed accordingly.”
In essence, we thus see that the Apex Court while ruling on this leading case makes it indubitably clear that the mere fact of commission of suicide is itself not sufficient to raise presumption under Section 113A of Evidence Act.
There was no satisfactory evidence that was brought on record to prove the complicity of the appellants in abetting suicide. So they were certainly very rightly acquitted by the Apex Court! No denying it!