The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that a woman meting out cruelty on another woman becomes a more serious offence, as it upheld the conviction of the (now) 80-year-old mother-in-law of the deceased, under the IPC’s Section 498A, and sentenced her to three months imprisonment.
A bench, of Justices M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarathna, said: “Being a lady, the appellant, who was the mother-in-law, ought to have been more sensitive vis-a-vis her daughter-in-law. When an offence has been committed by a woman by meting out cruelty to another woman, i.e., the daughter-in-law, it becomes a more serious offence. If a lady, i.e., the mother-in-law herein does not protect another lady, the other lady, i.e., the daughter-in-law would become vulnerable.”
Finding the mother-in-law guilty of committing cruelty on daughter-in-law while her husband was abroad, the bench, emphasising that no leniency is required to be shown on mother-in-law, said: “The victim was staying all alone with her in-laws. Therefore, it was the duty of the appellant (mother-in-law), being the mother-in-law and her family to take care of her daughter-in-law, rather than harassing and/or torturing and/or meting out cruelty to her daughter-in-law regarding jewels or on other issues.”
Convicting the woman, the bench said instead of one-year imprisonment for the offence under Section 498A IPC, the appellant Meera is directed to undergo imprisonment of three months with a fine and the default sentence, as imposed by the trial court. The bench also cancelled the bail bonds of the 80-year-old woman and asked her to surrender before the appropriate court within a period of four weeks.
The bench, in its verdict, said: “At the time when the incident occurred, the appellant was approximately between 60-65 years. The incident is of the year 2006. Therefore, merely because a long time has passed in concluding the trial and/or deciding the appeal by the High Court, is no ground to impose the punishment and/or to impose the sentence already undergone.”
“However, instead of one year R.I. for the offence under Section 498A IPC, the appellant is directed to undergo imprisonment of three months R.I. with fine and the default sentence as imposed by the trial court.”
The victim’s mother had lodged a complaint alleging that her son-in-law, his mother, her daughter, and father-in-law were harassing her daughter and subjecting her to cruelty for want of jewels. It was alleged due to this pressure, the victim had immolated herself. All the accused were charged for the offences under Sections 498A and 306 of the IPC.
The mother-in-law had moved the high court challenging the trial court order which sentenced her to 1-year imprisonment. However, the high court dismissed her appeal and confirmed the judgment of the trial court. Later, she moved to the top court challenging the high court order.