Dowry disputes Karnataka High Court decision

Family members named in 498A case without allegations of active involvement cannot be tried

You might have heard of matrimonial or dowry disputes in your circles. Often such stories have a multitude of named culprits who allegedly collude with the main perpetrator in committing the crime of abusing the bride to extract money and dowry.

Since the law sides with the bride in the initial investigation stages where police usually locks up all those named by the bride, their long journey starts even if they had been silent spectators in the matter without any direct, active participation in the crime committed.

Well, the Karnataka High Court in India has come to the rescue of all such accused persons – who are named by the bride purely for completeness reasons – just to get the whole family.

Delivering the decision in a recent such case, the Karnataka High Court recently ruled that family members named in matrimonial mattes without allegations of active involvement cannot be proceeded against for harassment merely on “casual reference”.

A single-judge Bench of Justice Ashok G Nijahannavar took a bold and brave exception to the general attitude of the courts to involve all family members of a household in a matrimonial dispute.

“When the contents of the FIR and complaint are perused, it is apparent that there are no specific allegations that these petitioners have directly caused harassment to the complainant to get dowry and gold ornaments. Almost all allegations are against the accused No.1 viz., the husband of the complainant. Thus, mere casual reference of the names of the family members in a matrimonial dispute without allegation of active involvement in the matter would not justify taking cognizance against them overlooking the fact borne out of experience that there is a tendency of involve the entire family members of the household in the domestic quarrel taking place in the matrimonial dispute……..”  the order said.

These observations were made by Justice Ashok G Nijahannavar quashing the proceedings against a mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law of a woman who had lodged a dowry harassment complaint.

After marriage, the complainant bride and her husband – accused no 1 in the matter, lived in the matrimonial house with the in-laws. She alleged that her husband – the accused no. 1 harassed and humiliated her and demanded huge amount of money as dowry.

She further alleged that accused Nos. 2 to 4 – being the mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, supported the husband, accused no. 1 in his illegal acts. She further alleged all the accused named by her – her husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law colluded and took away more than 450 grams of gold ornaments from her.

On December 12, 2013, the complainant bride and her parents asked the husband and accused No.1 to return her gold ornaments. According to the complainant bride, this resulted in accused persons abusing the complainant bride and her parents and threatening them.

On these grounds, the complainant bride filed a private complaint before the Addl. Civil Judge and Judicial Magistrate, Udupi, against the all of the accused persons for offenses punishable under Sections 384, 498A, 504 and 506 read with 34 of Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act.

Aggrieved by this, all the accused (petitioners) except the husband filed a plea before the High Court to quash the proceedings before the subordinate court which was before the High Court single judge bench of Justice Ashok G Nijahannavar.

The counsel for the petitioners, who live in Australia, contended that there were no specific allegations in the complaint against the petitioners. The counsel submitted that living in Australia they could not have caused any harassment to the complainant bride.

The counsel thus submitted there was no prima-facie case made out against the petitioners and the proceedings against them under the Dowry Prohibition Act or the Indian Penal Code were unwarranted and thus should be quashed.

The complainant bride maintained her allegations against them of instigating the accused No.1 to commit the illegal acts to harass the complainant to get dowry and gold ornaments. But in the absence of any specific dates and incidents and record thereof, and the fact of them living in Australia not challenged by the complainant bride, Justice Ashok G Nijahannavar quashed the proceedings against them for lack of evidence.

“The allegations in this case are mainly against accused No.1. These petitioners are also involved by making general allegations without mentioning even a single incident against them. There are no specific dates on which these petitioners had personally caused harassment to the complainant,” the order noted.

The involvement of all these petitioners in the whole incident appears to be a “casual inclusion of their names,” the court added.

The case against the accused no. 1, the husband proceeds.

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