Women can file matrimonial cases, including criminal matters pertaining to cruelty, from the place where they have taken shelter after leaving or being driven out of their matrimonial home, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
The apex court's verdict came on an appeal filed by Rupali Devi against the Allahabad High Court which dismissed her plea to file a dowry harassment case from her parents' house.
The high court order held that cruelty punishable under Section 498A of the IPC is not a continuing offence, and thus cannot be investigated or punished in a jurisdiction outside the one in which the matrimonial house of the complainant is situated.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the impact on the mental health of the wife by "overt acts" by the husband or his relatives, mental stress and trauma of being driven away from the matrimonial home cannot be ignored while understanding the meaning of "cruelty" in Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.
"We, therefore, hold that the courts at the place where the wife takes shelter after leaving or driven away from the matrimonial home on account of acts of cruelty committed by the husband or his relatives, would, dependent on the factual situation, also have jurisdiction to entertain a complaint alleging commission of offences under Section 498A of the IPC", said the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S K Kaul.
The top court said that Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act provides a civil remedy to victims, as against the remedy in criminal law which is what is provided under Section 498A (subjecting married woman to cruelty by her spouse and in-laws) of the Indian Penal Code.
The provisions contained in Section 498A undoubtedly encompasses both mental as well as the physical well-being of the wife, it said.
"Even the silence of the wife may have an underlying element of an emotional distress and mental agony. Her sufferings at the parental home though may be directly attributable to commission of acts of cruelty by the husband at the matrimonial home would, undoubtedly, be the consequences of the acts committed at the matrimonial home," the bench said.
"Such consequences, by itself, would amount to distinct offences committed at the parental home where she has taken shelter. The adverse effects on the mental health in the parental home though on account of the acts committed in the matrimonial home would, in our considered view, amount to commission of cruelty within the meaning of Section 498A at the parental home," it added.