In its latest order dated January 2022, the Supreme Court of India has observed that the fundamental right of personal liberty to travel abroad cannot be denied to a person only because he is arrayed as an accused in a 498A complaint filed by his brother’s wife against his brother and family, especially when the allegations as against him do not disclose criminal offence.
The complainant Annupriya Sharma, a permanent resident of Kurukshetra was married to Nitin Sharma, brother of the Appellant Deepak Sharma, according to the Hindu rites and customs in January 2019.
Nitin had been working as Application Engineer and had been residing at Charlotte in North Carolina in the United States of America since 2009 on H1B-Visa.After their wedding, early February 2019, the complainant’s husband went back to the United States of America, where he had been working. Mid February 2019, the complainant left for the United States of America, to join her husband. She had to travel alone.
The Appellant is the brother-in-law (husband’s brother) of the complainant (brother’s) wife. The Appellant is employed in Texas in the United States of America.
There were differences and matrimonial disputes between the complainant and her husband Nitin, brother of the Appellant from the inception of their marriage. According to the complainant she was also harassed for dowry by her parents-in-law, particularly mother-in-law.
In August 2019, the complainant wife returned to India, allegedly at the behest of her in-laws. In November 2019, the complainant’s parents-in-law returned to India. After the complainant’s parents-in-law returned, the complainant and her parents alleged that they tried to contact them and also tried to contact the complainant’s husband Nitin Sharma. However, the complainant’s in-laws allegedly tried to avoid the complainant and her parents on one pretext or the other and the complainant’s husband Nitin Sharma did not answer their calls. The complainant was allegedly not allowed to live in her matrimonial home at Faridabad.
In September 2020, an FIR was filed in by the complainant-wife against her husband and in-laws under:
- Section 323
- Section 34
- Section 406
- Section 420
- Section 498A
- Section 506
…of the IPC.
Complainant’s brother in law, Appellant in this case, was arrayed as one of the accused.
The Apex Court was considering an appeal against the order passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana which dismissed an application filed by him for permission to travel back to the United States of America.
The court, examining the complaint, noted that there is nothing specific against the Appellant except the vague allegation that the Appellant and his mother, that is the complainant’s mother-in-law kept her jewellery.
Allowing the appeal, the court deleted the condition imposed by the CJM of ‘not to leave the country without prior permission of Court’.
The top court added that failure to control an adult brother, living independently, or giving advice to the complainant to adjust to avoid vindictive retaliation from his brother (complainant’s husband) cannot constitute cruelty on his part within the meaning of Section 498A of the IPC.
The Bench observed that the allegations in the complaint against the Appellant prima facie do not disclose, against the Appellant, any offence under Section 498A of the IPC, which contemplates cruelty, that is willful conduct of such a nature, as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to the life, limb or health (whether physical or mental) of the woman.
The Bench observed that the husband of the complainant wife who had been working in the U.S.A. might leave the country cannot be ground to deny the Appellant’s prayer to go back to the U.S.A. to resume his duties in a Company in which he has been working for about 9/10 years.
According to the Bench, the High Court has also not considered the allegations against the Appellant, and there is not even any prima facie finding with regard to liability, if any, of the Appellant to the complainant, and no specific allegations against the Appellant.
About Section 498A IPC
Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.— Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
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