There is tendency to involve entire household in matrimonial disputes, says Bench

Taking note of the increasing dowry-related complaints, the Supreme Court has held that a casual reference to the names of family members of the husband in the FIR filed by the wife without any allegation of their active involvement in the offence will not justify a case against them.

There is a tendency to involve the entire household in a matrimonial dispute, especially if it happens soon after the wedding. This has been borne out of experience, said a Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra

Writing the judgment, Justice Misra said: “If the FIR as it stands does not disclose the specific allegation against the accused, more so against the co-accused, specially in a matter arising out of matrimonial bickering, it would be clear abuse of the legal and judicial process to mechanically send the accused named in the FIR to undergo trial.” Only if the FIR disclosed specific allegations would the court be persuaded “to take cognisance of the offence alleged against the relatives of the main accused who are prima facie not found to have indulged in physical and mental torture of the complainant-wife.”

The Bench said: “It is a well-settled principle laid down in cases too numerous to mention that if the FIR did not disclose the commission of an offence, the court would be justified in quashing the proceedings, [thus] preventing the abuse of the process of law. Simultaneously, the courts are expected to adopt a cautious approach in matters of quashing specially in cases of matrimonial dispute whether the FIR in fact discloses commission of an offence by the relatives of the principal accused or the FIR prima facie discloses a case of over-implication by involving the entire family at the instance of the complainant, who is out to settle scores arising out of the teething problem or skirmish of domestic bickering while settling down in her new matrimonial surrounding.”

However, the court clarified, “We deem it appropriate to add by way of caution that we may not be misunderstood so as to infer that even if there are allegations of an overt act indicating the complicity of the members of the family named in the FIR in a given case, cognisance would be unjustified.”

In the instant case, Shipra Mehrotra of Allahabad was married to Shyamji Mehrotra of Faridabad in Haryana in 2003. After few months, Shipra filed a complaint under the Dowry Prohibition Act and the Indian Penal Code against her husband, parents-in-law, sister-in-law Geeta Mehrotra and brother-in-law Ramji Mehrotra. Even as these proceedings were pending in an Allahabad trial court, Shipra got an ex parte decree for divorce.

Appellants Geeta and Ramji moved the Allahabad High Court for quashing the case against them contending that the trial court had no jurisdiction to entertain the complaint as the alleged dowry harassment happened in Faridabad. The High Court refused to quash the complaint in so far as the present appellants were concerned.

High Court order quashed

Allowing the appeal against this order, the Supreme Court said there was only a general allegation that Geeta and Ramji were also involved in physical and mental torture of the complainant without mention of even a single incident against them. Also, how they could be motivated to demand dowry when they were only related as brother and sister of the complainant’s husband? The Bench set aside the criminal proceedings against the two appellants and “consequently the order passed by the High Court shall stand overruled.”

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