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Two wives under one roof not cruelty

New Delhi, July 26: A husband moving his first wife to the house where the second wife lives does not amount to cruelty, the Supreme Court has held while acquitting a man accused of mentally torturing his second wife, who committed suicide.

The apex court set aside the concurrent findings of the Sabarkantha district sessions judge and Gujarat High Court that Kantilal Martaji Pandor was guilty of harassment and cruelty to Amriben under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.

Pandor, a schoolteacher, had married Laxmiben in 1980 and Amriben, a fellow teacher, in 1990 after a love affair. He put up Amriben in a different house but in 1992, brought Laxmiben to the same house, causing Amriben considerable mental pain.

Amriben, mother of a baby, jumped into a well on March 26, 1992. Before her suicide, she wrote a letter to the local police alleging mental torture by Pandor as well as Laxmiben and her parents. She specifically said that Pandor’s bringing Laxmiben into her home had caused her mental agony.

On February 10, 1994, the sessions court sentenced Pandor to two years in jail under Sections 498A and 306 (abetment to suicide). However, on September 13, 2007, Gujarat High Court acquitted Pandor of abetment to suicide while holding him guilty of cruelty and harassment. It reduced the sentence to a year in jail.

Pandor then appealed to the apex court, which interpreted sub-clause (a) of 498A as saying that “cruelty” means “any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide”.

It pointed out that the high court had acquitted Pandor of the Section 306 charge of driving Amriben to suicide, and noted that the acquittal had become “final” since the Gujarat government had not challenged it in the apex court.

Therefore, it said, the defendant could not be held guilty of cruelty as defined under 498A sub-clause (a), either.

Nor can he be held guilty of cruelty as defined under 498A sub-clause (b), the apex court said, “as there was no harassment by the husband with a view to coercing her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or on account of failure by her to meet such demand”.

The bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and S.J. Mukhopadhyaya also rejected the allegation in Amriben’s letter to the police that Pandor denied her food and was demanding money from her.

It cited how Amriben’s mother “has stated in her cross-examination: ‘I have not recorded in my statement before police that Amri was giving her salary to her husband. It is not true that when I went to see Amri, at that time, my daughter was crying she had food problem, I say it is false’.”

The apex court added: “This being the evidence of the mother of the deceased, the high court could not have come to the conclusion that the deceased was subjected to financial exploitation and starving and mental cruelty.”