Mere Allegations Of Harassment Without Proximate Positive Action Not Sufficient For Conviction: SC
It has to be said right at the outset that in a landmark, latest and laudable judgment titled Rajesh v State of Haryana in Criminal Appeal No. 93 of 2019 (Arising out of SLP (Cri.) No. 8867 of 2016) by a two Judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justice L Nageshwara Rao who authored the judgment for himself and Justice MR Shah and delivered on January 18, 2019, the Supreme Court very clearly and convincingly reiterated that conviction under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (Abetment of Suicide) is not sustainable on the allegation of harassment without there being any positive action proximate to the time of occurrence on the part of the accused, which led or compelled the person to commit suicide. The Bench was considering an appeal in this case against the High Court judgment that had confirmed the conviction of Rajesh for abetting suicide of his brother-in-law, Arvind. It may be recalled that in his suicide note, Arvind had disclosed that false allegations of demand of dowry were made against him and that a Panchayat was also conducted in which he was slapped by the accused. He took the extreme step of committing suicide as he was unable to withstand the harassment and had said in the suicide note that his in-laws including the accused are responsible for his death.
To start with, this landmark judgment begins by first and foremost pointing out in para 1 that, “The Appellant was convicted under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as “the IPC”) and sentenced to undergo five years rigorous imprisonment. The appeal filed by the Appellant was dismissed by the High Court. Hence, this appeal.”
To recapitulate, the ball is then set rolling in para 2 wherein it is pointed out that, “According to the complaint filed by Bharat Singh (PW-1), his son Arvind was married to Manju, daughter of Laxmi Narayan on 07.11.2000. Indera is the sister-in-law of Arvind and the Appellant Rajesh is his brother-in-law. Arvind committed suicide on 23.02.2002 by consuming Sulfas tablets. On 01.03.2002 when Bharat Singh and other family members entered into the room of Arvind to sprinkle Gangajal, they found a suicide note on the bed of the deceased. It was stated that Arvind committed suicide due to the behavior of the Appellant, Laxmi Narayan and Indera who made false allegations against deceased regarding demand of dowry. A Panchayat was held in the village at the instance of the accused during which the Appellant slapped the deceased. The Appellant and his sister Indera used to threaten the deceased on telephone at the instance of their father Laxmi Narayan.”
Elaborating further, it is then pointed out in para 3 that, “In the suicide note, the deceased Arvind stated that false allegations of demand of dowry were made against him and that a Panchayat was also conducted in which there was an attempt to assault him. There were continuous threats from his father-in-law (Laxmi Narayan), his brother-in-law (Appellant) and the sister-in-law (Indera) that his family members will also be implicated in a criminal case. Unable to withstand the harassment, the deceased took the extreme step of committing suicide and held his father-in-law, the Appellant and his sister-in-law responsible for his death.”
Going forward, para 4 then goes on to further elucidate that, “On completion of investigation, a charge-sheet was filed under Section 306 IPC. 12 witnesses were examined on behalf of the prosecution and Manju, wife of the deceased was examined as DW-1. On a consideration of the oral and documentary evidence, the Trial Court held the Appellant, his father and sister guilty of committing the offence under Section 306 IPC. The Appellant and his father Laxmi Narayan were sentenced to imprisonment of five years. Accused Indera was sentenced to three years imprisonment on being convicted for committing an offence under Section 306 IPC. The Trial Court took note of the Panchayat that was held in September 2001 which was five months prior to 23.02.2002 on which date Arvind committed suicide. Reference was also made to the evidence of PW-1 (Bharat Singh) who stated that he and his son Arvind (deceased) had forgotten about the Panchayat episode in view of the apology tendered by the accused. However, the Trial Court observed that continuous threats held out by the accused to implicate the deceased and his family members in a false dowry case assume importance. The Trial Court also relied upon the suicide note to hold the accused guilty of the offence of abetment to suicide. The version of the defence that Arvind Committed suicide due to his depression, due to unemployment and lack of income, was rejected.”
Not stopping here, para 5 then goes on to further elaborate stating that, “The appeal filed by the Appellant was dismissed by the High Court. The conviction and sentence of Laxmi Narayan and Indera were set aside by the High Court by the same judgment. The High Court referred to the suicide note Exhibit ‘PA’ to conclude that there was no error committed by the Trial Court in convicting the Appellant. The High Court also relied upon the evidence of PW-1 and PW-5 who spoke about the convening of the Panchayat by the accused in September, 2001 during which false allegations were made against the deceased. The High Court upheld the conviction of the Appellant while acquitting his father and sister, only on the ground that the Appellant slapped Arvind during the Panchayat which was conducted in September, 2001.”
Be it noted, para 6 then goes on to illustrate that, “It is no doubt true that Arvind committed suicide on 23.02.2002. He left a suicide note which was found by his family members on 01.03.2002. There is also no dispute that Arvind blamed his father-in-law (Laxmi Narayan), his sister-in-law (Indera) and the Appellant for harassment and threats that he would be implicated in a false case of demand of dowry. Admittedly, a Panchayat was held in September, 2001 during which the accused leveled allegations of demand of dowry by Arvind. More than five months thereafter, Arvind committed suicide on 23.02.2002. In the meanwhile, according to the prosecution, Arvind was being threatened by the accused through telephone conversations. The point that arises for our consideration is whether the Appellant can be held guilty for committing an offence under Section 306 IPC in the facts and circumstances of the case.”
It would be pertinent to mention here that para 8 then goes on to add stating that, “Conviction under Section 306 IPC is not sustainable on the allegation of harassment without there being any positive action proximate to the time of occurrence on the part of the accused, which led or compelled the person to commit suicide. In order to bring a case within the purview of Section 306 IPC, there must be a case of suicide and in the commission of the said offence, the person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide must have played an active role by an act of instigation or by doing certain act to facilitate the commission of suicide. Therefore, the act of abetment by the person charged with the said offence must be proved and established by the prosecution before he could be convicted under Section 306 IPC. (See Amalendu Pal alias Jhantu v. State of West Bengal (2010) 1 SCC 707).”
More importantly, it is very rightly held in para 11 that, “We are of the opinion that the evidence on record does not warrant conviction of the Appellant under Section 306 IPC. There is no proximity between the Panchayat held in September 2001 and the suicide committed by Arvind on 23.02.2002. The incident of slapping by the Appellant in September, 2001 cannot be the sole ground to hold him responsible for instigating the deceased to commit suicide. As the allegations against all the three accused are similar, the High Court ought not to have convicted the Appellant after acquitting the other two accused.”
Most importantly, it is then held in para 12 that, “We are not in agreement with the findings of the Trial Court that the deceased (Arvind) committed suicide in view of the continuous threats by the accused regarding his being implicated in a false case of demand of dowry. The evidence does not disclose that the Appellant instigated the deceased to commit suicide. There was neither a provocation nor encouragement by the Appellant to the deceased to commit an act of suicide. Therefore, the Appellant cannot be held guilty of abetting the suicide by the deceased.” Very rightly so!
Finally, the last para 13 then concludes by stating that, “For the aforementioned reasons, the appeal is allowed and the conviction and sentence of the Appellant is set aside. His bail bonds stands discharged.” There can be no denying or disputing it! The Apex Court has given valid and compelling reasons for holding so as we have already discussed above!
It also rightly cited the case of Praveen Pradhan v State of Uttaranchal (2012) 9 SCC 734 in para 10 wherein it was held that, “Words uttered in a fit of anger or omission without any intention cannot be termed as instigation.”
The accused neither provoked nor encouraged the deceased to commit an act of suicide then how could he be held liable for the same? This was what the Apex Court also very rightly concluded in this landmark, latest and laudable judgment for which it has to be richly commended!
By Sanjeev Sirohi