The Calcutta High Court has held that causing cruelty to a wife for dark complexion by her husband and in-laws will attract the offense of cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“Causing cruelty to the deceased victim for her black complexion even after her marriage by the in-laws would definitely attract Section 498A/34 I.P.C. against the in-laws, including the accused husband”, said the Court while sustaining the conviction of a man for the murder of his wife.

In its judgment delivered on June 25, the Calcutta High Court has held that cruelty meted out to a woman after marriage over her dark complexion would attract the penalty under Section 498A of the India Penal Code (IPC) (Mazidul Miah @ Mia & Ors. v. State of West Bengal).

A Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court comprising Justices Sahidullah Munshi and Subhasis Dasgupta said that ill-treatment over a woman’s complexion constitutes the offense of cruelty under Section 498A of the IPC while deciding on an appeal against conviction of a man and his family for causing the death of his wife in less than a year of her marriage.

“Causing cruelty to the deceased victim for her black complexion even after her marriage by the in-law’s members would definitely attract Section 498A/34 I.P.C. against the in-law’s members, including the accused husband.”

Calcutta High Court

The deceased woman had died by hanging just months into her marriage owing to which her husband and his family were convicted by the Trial Court for murder under Section 302 of the IPC and cruelty under Section 498A of the IPC, both read with Section 34 of the IPC.

The death of the victim was not one of dowry death, the Court noted. The prosecution had mounted the case in this matter on the grounds of cruelty highlighting the disaffection of the accused persons towards the deceased woman on account of her dark complexion.

Just seven months into the marriage between the deceased woman and her accused husband solemnized back in 1997, the deceased was found dead under unnatural circumstances in her matrimonial home. The Court also noted that in her matrimonial home, the victim had faced cruelty and ill-treatment on account of her dark complexion. As noted in its judgment,

“… the deceased victim was put to suffer cruelty, oppression and ill-treatment by her in-law’s members, including her accused husband for her black complexion. She was not loved by family members of in-law’s house, and frequently abused her with a threat that the accused husband would be given marriage shortly after repealing her marriage and driving her out of the matrimonial home.”

The victim was made to stay in the cow-shed just a few days after moving to her matrimonial home and was also often beaten by her husband in what was physical torture, the Court said while recording the factual matrix of the case. The Court said, “Accused husband beat her physically with cycle chain while causing physical torture upon the deceased victim. She was attempted to be killed.”

The deceased victim had informed her maternal family of the entire ordeal she faced at her matrimonial home. However, she was persuaded by her parents to bear with the conduct of her in-laws and husband and to return to her matrimonial home. Ultimately, the family was informed of the victim’s death by hanging by a rope.

The case of the prosecution was questioned on the grounds that it was not a believable case. The accused-appellants said that it is not believable that a girl’s family would not inform the Police if she were being ill-treated. However, considering not only the financial condition of the parents of the deceased as well as the normal conduct in our society, but Court also said that immediate lodging of the complaint without considering conciliation first is not an invariable rule.

“… this cannot be an invariable rule that parent would immediately lodge a complaint immediately after knowing commission of cruelty upon their daughter, ignoring the possibility of reconciliation mutually. It is ordinary conduct that parents would prefer to persuade their daughter ignoring the torture, and the cruelty for the future benefit of their daughter.”

Calcutta High Court said.

Further, the non-production of the offending weapon was also invoked by the defense to argue that the prosecution’s case was improbable and that the death was suicidal.

The High Court, however, relied on the autopsy report of the surgeon which revealed the cause of death of the victim to be by strangulation and asserted that death was homicidal, not suicidal. After due regard to all aspects, the Court said,

“The established fact is that there was an unnatural death of deceased held within seven months of her marriage. Such unnatural death was admittedly held in the in-law’s house of the deceased victim. There 22 was sufficient evidence to show that the victim received oppression, ill-treatment, torture, cruelty in her in-law’s house by her in-law’s members for her black complexion.”

The telephone chord used to cause the victim’s death was seized and examined by the autopsy surgeon and the same aspect was unchallenged in cross-examination. As such, the High Court said that the mere nonproduction of the offending weapon is not enough to disbelieve the testimony of the autopsy surgeon. As such, the Court held that death cannot be ruled to be suicidal.

Noting that the disaffection and dissatisfaction over the victim’s complexion was the motive, the Court said that the facts and circumstances pointed at the husband’s guilt under Section 302 of the IPC.

As regards the other accused, since the victim’s father-in-law had passed away during the proceedings, the appeal on his behalf stood abated. Based on the circumstantial evidence to show mother-in-law’s conduct, her conviction was modified to remove charges of murder. The Court, however, sustained her conviction under Section 498A of the IPC for cruelty.