This article is written by Janani Parvathy J. It provides a legal analysis of the case Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh. This article contains brief facts, issues raised, arguments by both parties, legal provisions involved in the case, the judgement by the court, and a brief analysis of the judgement. Alongside analysing the case, some sections of the IPC, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act have also been discussed in this article.

Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2019) is a landmark case that settled the conflict regarding the jurisdiction of the court from which a victim of domestic violence can file a case. It resolved all existing doubts regarding the jurisdiction of courts in the parental house. Prior to Rupali Devi, major precedents on this topic could be classified into two blocs. The first included precedents, which held that the offence under Section 498A is not a continuing offence, and therefore, the courts at the parental house lacked jurisdiction. These include Ramesh and Ors. v. State of Tamil Nadu (2005) and Amarendu Jyoti and Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh and Ors. (2006). Whereas, the second group of precedents laid down that when cruelty was inflicted on the victim even in the parental house, courts in that area would also become empowered to hear domestic violence cases. These cases include Sujata Mukherjee v. Prashant Kumar Mukherjee (1997) and Sunita Kumari Kashyap v. State of Bihar and Anr. (2001). The Rupali Devi case also represents the intersection between the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. This case historically emphasised focusing on the purpose of the Act rather than strictly interpreting the wording of the Act. This case in detail discussed the purpose of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), Sections 174 and 175 of the CrPC, and the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

  • Case name: Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh
  • Equivalent citations: MANU SC 0499 2019, AIR 2019 SC 1790, 2019 (2) ALD (Crl.) 325 (SC), 2019 (108)
  • Acts involved: Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter, IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter CrPC), Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (hereinafter Domestic Violence Act) and Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
  • Important provisions: Section 498A, 506, 313, and 494 of the IPC read with Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act and Sections 174 and 176 of the CrPC.
  • Court: Supreme Court of India
  • Bench: Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul, and Justice L. Nageswara Rao.
  • Petitioners: Rupali Devi
  • Respondents: State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors.
  • Judgement date: April 9th, 2019

In January 2014, Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh came to appeal before a two-judge Bench, which further referred the case to a three-judge Bench in 2019. The facts of the case before the two Bench judges are:

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Rupali Devi (appellant) was living with her husband (respondent 2) and their 4-year-old child in her matrimonial home, situated in Mau. Later, her husband started harassing her for dowry, due to which she was forced to leave her matrimonial house at Mau and shift to Deoria. Consequently, Rupali Devi lodged a complaint under Sections 489 A, 506, 313, 494, and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act against her husband and his relatives. The chief judicial magistrate, Deoria, issued summonses to the respondents.

The husband challenged the allegations raised by the wife before the chief judicial magistrate by stating a lack of jurisdiction. The husband contended that the alleged acts of cruelty were committed at Mau and not in Deoria, and therefore, courts at Deoria had no jurisdiction to hear this case.

The Chief Judicial Magistrate ruled in favour of the wife and observed that an offence under Section 498A was a continuing offence and thus could apply to Deoria as well, where she had gone to take shelter from harassment by her husband. The Sessions Judge, to the contrary, observed that an offence under Section 498A is not a continuing offence, and therefore the court at Deoria cannot have jurisdiction when the alleged offence was committed in Mau. An appeal to the High Court also resulted in a similar decision. The High Court upheld the Sessions Court’s judgement and declared Mau to possess proper jurisdiction.

In 2014, the two-judge Bench observed that the precedents cited by both counsels were not only decisions given by the two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court but also displayed differing opinions. Further, they observed that the question at hand, i.e., the jurisdiction of courts in the parental house, was of utmost public importance. Additionally, the Court noted that it was a question that needed to be considered because the law surrounding it was unclear. Therefore, the case was referred to a three-judge Bench, including the then CJI (Justice Ranjan Gogoi), for adjudication. 

The issues raised before the two-judge Bench and the three-judge Bench were the same. The issue raised was:

  • Whether a woman who was forced to leave her matrimonial house due to cruelty by her husband can file a case in court at the place she was forced to take shelter in?

Both parties, before the two-judge Bench, argued based on legal provisions and precedents. The arguments of both parties are as follows: 

Petitioners 

  • The counsel for the appellants pleaded that Sections 177 and 178 of the CrPC must be read liberally to ensure that a woman aggrieved by domestic violence or cruelty is not left without resorting to seeking justice. The counsel further argued that if Sections 177 and 178, which state that courts in the place where the offence occurred had the jurisdiction to hear the case, were interpreted strictly, it would vitiate the entire purpose of Section 498A. The counsel further emphasised that Section 498A was introduced to protect women from domestic violence inflicted by their husbands.
  • The counsel further argued that Sections 177 and 178 of the CrPC contain the term ‘ordinarily’, and this term ordinarily means that these Sections were to be used generally and cannot be strictly interpreted. 
  • The counsel emphasised before the court that the objective of Section 498A was to eliminate evils such as cruelty by the husband. The counsel pointed out that acts of cruelty by the husband by demanding dowry or cheating upon the wife are a continuing offence, i.e., the offence continues even after changing places. The counsel further argued that a continuing offence, as the one at hand, must be tried under Section 178(c) of the CrPC. 
  • The counsel also contended that the offence at hand could also fall under Section 178(b). Offences that have been partly committed at one place and partly at another, or committed at different places, are punishable under Section 178(b). Since, in the present case, the offence was a continuing offence, it can be concluded to have been performed in Mau and Deoria. 
  • The counsel relied on Gokak Patel Volkart Ltd. v. Dundayya Gurushiddaiah Hiremath and Ors. (1991), Arun Vyas and Anr. v. Anita Vyas (1999), Sanapareddy Mahesdhar Seshagiri and Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Anr. (2007), and State of M.P. v. Suresh Kaushal and Anr. (2003) to substantiate that an offence under Section 498A is a continuing offence and that the wife can even approach the court in her parents residence for obtaining relief. 

Respondent 

  • The counsel for the respondent, i.e., the husband, cited Abraham Ajith and Ors. v. Inspector of Police Chennai and Anr. (2004) and Manish Ratan and Ors. v. State of M.P. and Ors. (2006).
  • The counsel pointed out before the Court that it was observed in these cases that when there was a lack of an explicit act of cruelty performed by the husband or his relatives at the place where the wife had taken shelter, the same court cannot have jurisdiction to try this case because no offence was committed here. 
  • The counsel further pleaded that, based on the decisions in the above-cited cases, it could be concluded that only those courts where the offence was committed shall have jurisdiction to try and investigate the case.

Section 498A IPC

Section 498A talks about cruelty inflicted on the wife by her husband or his relatives. Cruelty is defined under this Section to include any act that causes grave harm to the life, limb, and mental or physical health of a woman. Cruelty under this Section also includes acts that incite a woman to commit suicide. Section 498A further punishes the harassment of a woman over the non-fulfilment of any unlawful demand for  property, goods, or money made by her husband or his relatives. The Supreme Court has held in Manju Ram Kalita v. the State of Assam (2009) that the meaning of cruelty under Section 498A must be seen based on the circumstances and that petty quarrels cannot amount to cruelty. A punishment of up to three years, along with a fine payable, can be given under this Section.

Section 506 IPC

Section 506 of the IPC specifies punishment for the offence of criminal intimidation. Section 503 of the IPC defines criminal intimidation as an act where one person threatens to cause harm to the person, property, or reputation of another person with the object of forcing the other person to act on his desire and perform an act he is not legally obligated to do. Punishment for criminal intimidation could be imprisonment for 2 years, a fine, or both. For threatening to commit murder, grievous hurt, or the unchastity of women, the punishment can be extended to 7 years, with or without a fine.

Section 313 IPC 

Section 313 of the IPC specifies the punishment for causing misscarriage without the consent of the women. Anyone who causes miscarriage of the women in bad faith and without the consent of the women can either be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for 10 years and a fine.

Section 494 IPC

Section 494 explains the act of bigamy. Bigamy is the offence committed when someone remarries while having an already existing wife or husband. Such a marriage is void. Any person who commits this offence shall be punishable with imprisonment for up to 7 years, along with a fine. Section 494 also includes some exceptions, which are:

  • When the marriage of either spouse has already been declared void by the court, then Section 494 will not be applicable.
  • When the spouse remarries, honestly believing that the first partner was dead, then an offence under Section 494 IPC is not committed. To attract this exception, it is necessary that a minimum of seven years have passed since the death of the first spouse.

Section 174 CrPC

Section 174 specifies the procedure to be followed by a police officer in the aftermath of the discovery of a suicide or unnatural death. It states that:

  • Following the discovery of a suicide or an unnatural murder, the police officer in charge is supposed to inform the local judge (district or subdivisional court).
  • The divisional judge shall then proceed to make an investigation and shall then prepare a report of the manner and cause of death and the bruises, wounds on the body.
  • If any doubt about the cause of death exists, if the case relates to the suicide of a woman within seven years of her death, or if it involves the death of the woman in suspicious circumstances, in all such cases, the officer-in-charge, if he deems fit, can send the body to the civil surgeon for further analysis.
  • This Section also specifies the magistrates who are allowed to conduct inquests.  

Section 176 CrPC 

Criminal litigation
  • Section 176 empowers the Magistrate to conduct an inquiry in cases of unnatural death to find out the cause of death. 
  • An inquiry can be conducted by the magistrate when a woman has gone missing or when an offence of rape has been committed. 
  • This Section also addresses the process to be followed if the body has already been cremated.
  • Sub-clause 5 also mandates the police officer to send the body to the nearest surgeon.

Section 177 CrPC 

Section 177 of the CrPC specifies the ordinary jurisdiction of courts to hear and try cases. It states that ordinarily, the courts at the place where the offence was committed shall have the jurisdiction to hear, try, and inquire into cases. 

Section 178 CrPC

The CrPC specifies some exceptions to the rule mentioned under Section 177. In some cases, a court other than the one where the offence occurred can be given jurisdiction, Section 178 lays down this exception. It specifies that

  • When the specific area of commission of the offence is unclear or when the offence is a continuing offence and the commission of the offence continues to another place;
  • When the offence was committed in parts in different areas;
  • In the above circumstances, a court other than the one in the local area can be given the jurisdiction to hear, inquire, and try cases. 

Section 179 CrPC

Section 179 provides another exception for the rule laid down in Section 177 of the CrPC. It states that if the consequences of an offence committed at one place continue to the other place, the courts in the other area can also be given jurisdiction to hear, try, and enquire cases.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence, 2005

To tackle the increasing number of domestic abuse cases, the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was formed. This Act has five chapters and thirty-seven sections. Section three of the Act defines domestic violence as an Act that harms, injures, or threatens to injure the life, limb, safety, and well-being of a woman in the domestic household. It also extends to include any act that causes mental, physical, or emotional distress or harm to the woman. The Domestic Violence Act is the redressal path for such aggrieved women. A woman is entitled to receive civil remedies within 60 days of the complaint. Section 17 of the Domestic Violence Act gives aggrieved women a right to reside in a violence-free environment and away from their matrimonial house. The Act is also broad in scope to recognise emotional and mental harassment of women, and it covers both marriages and live-in relationships under the purview of a domestic relationship. The act also lays down the procedure for the aggrieved to claim monetary compensation, custody of the child, and termination of the marriage.

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

This Act was introduced to abolish the practice of giving, taking, or demanding dowry. The Act contains ten sections, through which it punishes the spouse or their relatives for asking for dowry. Section 2 defines dowry as a property or valuable security given by one party to another during the time of marriage. Section 3 of the Act specifies the punishment for taking, giving, or abetting someone to take or give dowry. According to Section 3, a punishment of a minimum of five years imprisonment and at least a fifteen thousand rupees fine or the compensation amount, whichever is higher, can be awarded. Section 4 of the Act punishes the act of demanding dowry. Demanding dowry directly or indirectly from the spouse, parents, or relatives of the partner is punishable with imprisonment for six months to two years along with a fine of ten thousand rupees.

Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act

Section 113A specifies a presumption regarding the abetment of suicide of a wife. The ingredients of Section 113A are:

  • The wife must have committed suicide within seven years of the marriage.
  • The wife must have been subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives sometime before her suicide.

Section 113A states that if the above conditions are fulfilled, then it could be presumed that the husband or his relative abetted the suicide of the wife.

The issue before the court was whether a woman aggrieved by domestic violence can file a case against her husband under the court at her maternal home instead of the matrimonial home, where the offence occurred. The two judge Bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice C. Nagappan were divided on their opinions; therefore, the case was referred to a three judge Bench consisting of the then Chief Justice of India (CJI Ranjan Gogoi). The three Bench of the Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative and granted relief to the aggrieved women.

Rationale behind this judgement

The three judge Bench of the Supreme Court analysed in detail: Y. Abraham Ajith and Ors. v. Inspector of Police, Chennai and Anr. (2004), Ramesh and Ors. v. State of Tamil Nadu (2005), Manish Ratan and Ors. v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Anr (2006), and Amarendu Jyoti and Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh and Ors. (2006). The Court observed that in the above-mentioned cases, there were no allegations from the wife of domestic violence after shifting to her maternal home. The Court noted that only because of these special circumstances was it held in these judgments that the offence of harassment of a wife would not continue to the parental home and that the courts at the parental home lacked jurisdiction to hear cases under Section 498A. 

Whereas, the court observed that in Sujata Mukherjee v. Prashant Kumar Mukherjee (1997), Sunita Kumari Kashyap v. State of Bihar and Anr. (2011), and State of M.P. v. Suresh Kaushal and Anr. (2003), a differing view was taken by the Supreme Court. However, the court also acknowledged the differing facts and circumstances of each case. In the Sujata Mukherji case, it was observed that the husband had continued the offence of cruelty even at the parental home, and therefore, it was held here that domestic violence was a continuing act under Section 178(c) of CrPC. In the Sunita Kumari case, the husband ill-treated the wife, left her at the paternal house, and further, in no manner, inquired about her and even refused to answer her calls. It was only because of these special circumstances that the court held in the Sunita Kumari case that the offence also occurred at the parental home and that the court there would also possess adequate jurisdiction. In the Suresh Kaushal case, miscarriage was caused to the wife at her parental home as a consequence of being harassed by her husband at her matrimonial home. Therefore, the court observed that the court in the parental home shall have jurisdiction. 

After analysing these two different sets of cases referred by the two judge Bench, the three judge Bench concluded that the facts and circumstances of the present case were different and that the referred cases could be used only in the special circumstances under which they were granted. The Court noted that the present case is where the act of violence was committed in the matrimonial house without continuing to the parental home, but where the legal proceedings were initiated from the parental house. 

Further, the court noted that a reading of Chapter 3 of the CrPC, which deals with the jurisdiction of criminal courts in inquiry and trial, was needed. 

The Court, after analysing Section 177 of the CrPC, pointed out that in ordinary situations, the court in the area where the offence was committed will have the requisite jurisdiction to hear trials. Further, the Court interpreted Sections 178 and 179 of CrPC, i.e., the exceptions to the ordinary rule under Section 177, and observed that the ordinary rule can be relaxed to provide jurisdiction to a court other than the one where the offence was committed, when the offence was partly committed in one area and partly in another, when the offence is the continuing one, or when the consequences of an offence committed at one place result in the commission of an offence at another. 

For understanding a continuing offence, the court discussed State of Bihar v. Deokaran Nenshi (1972), where it was observed that a continuing offence needed to be distinguished from an offence committed once. It was observed that a continuing offence occurs when there is a failure to abide by a rule or its requirement. Here, the offence keeps continuing or recurring until this rule or requirement is complied with. 

The three-judge Bench further observed that the present case had nothing to do with Section 178, the first exception, but instead it was necessary to determine whether the second exception under Section 179 could be invoked in this case. To answer this, the Court analysed the Statement of Objects and Reasons of Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act of 1983, by which Section 498A was inserted. In simple terms, they wanted to understand the purpose of introducing Section 498A.

The Court pointed out that Section 498A of the IPC was introduced through the Criminal Law (Second Amendment Act, 1983). It also emphasised that, through the Second Amendment Act, Section 174, i.e., the inquiry of police into suicides, and Section 176 of the CrPC, i.e., the inquiry under the Second Amendment Act, 1983, were also amended. Additionally, Section 198A of the CrPC was also added through the Second Amendment Act. Further, the CrPC was amended to make the offence of domestic violence non-bailable and cognizable. Following this, Section 113A, which allows the inference that the wife was subjected to cruelty if she committed suicide within seven years of marriage, was added to the Indian Evidence Act.

The Court observed that the intention behind adding Section 113A was not only to deal with increasing suicides or grave injuries due to cruelty but also to deal with coercion of the wife or her relatives by demanding property or any other security. The Court observed that consideration of this purpose or objective was of great significance in the present situation, and the Court held that the purpose of the judiciary must be to make the Criminal Law (Second Amendment Act) more effective and efficient.

Further, the Court observed that ‘cruelty’ was the crux or the core matter of Section 498A. The Court referred to the Black’s Law dictionary’s definition of cruelty, which defines cruelty as the undignified and abusive treatment and infliction of mental or physical pain on any living creature. Cruelty includes both physical and mental trauma faced by women. The Court opined that the mental trauma inflicted on the women, forcing her to leave the matrimonial house and not returning back due to the fear of being ill-treated, formed an essential part of ‘cruelty’ under Section 498A. 

The Court correctly observed that the mental, emotional, or psychological trauma the wife would face from the violence inflicted on her by the husband would persist even after leaving the matrimonial house and shifting to the parental house. The Court further observed that even in the absence of an explicit act of cruelty in the parental home, the mental trauma from the physical and verbal exchanges with the husband shall continue to mentally affect the victim even after shifting to her parental house. The Court further analysed the purpose of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. The purpose of this Act was to provide a civil remedy for victims of domestic violence rather than a criminal law remedy, as already provided under Section 498A. The Court observed that the definition of domestic violence under Section 498A and the Domestic Violence Act both encompass mental, physical, and emotional harassment of the woman. It was further noted that even the silence of a woman could have an element of emotional distress. 

Finally, in conclusion, the Court observed that the mental suffering of the victim of domestic violence shall persist even at the parental home, and these sufferings are a consequence of cruelty inflicted upon her by her husband at the matrimonial house. The Court observed that the mental suffering of the victim at the parental house as a consequence of the acts performed at the matrimonial house constitutes a distinct offence, which amounts to cruelty under Section 498A. The Court also observed that the consequences of domestic violence committed at the matrimonial home result in the commission of an offence at the parental home, as under Section 179 of the CrPC. Therefore, the three-judge Bench historically held that courts at places where the wife takes shelter on account of domestic violence meted out to her at the matrimonial home shall, based on the circumstances, have the authority to hear cases under Section 498A. Thereby, clearing all existing doubts on this matter.

Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh is a case that made history by clarifying jurisdictional issues surrounding Section 498A. It answered the question of whether legal proceedings could be brought by the aggrieved women under Section 498A before the court at the parental house in the affirmative. The Court in this case interpreted the meaning of domestic violence under the Domestic Violence Act and Section 498A to include mental, physical, or emotional harm or distress caused to a woman in the domestic household. The courts, in this case, displayed the importance of performing a circumstantial and factual analysis before applying precedents. 

The Court here observed that none of the precedents referred to here by the two Bench judges would be applicable because they were all related to specific facts. The Court also, in detail, analysed and explained Sections 178 and 179 of the CrPC. This case not only analyses the correlation between Section 498A and the Domestic Violence Act but also explains the purpose of the Criminal Law (Second Amendment), 1983. The Court’s analysis in this case stands out because of the importance it provides to the purpose and objective of legal provisions. This case, in detail, analyses the purpose of the Domestic Violence Act and Section 498A to conclude that mental harassment is a part of cruelty, and the same persists as a consequence even after shifting to the parental house. This case laid down that the statement of objective and reason of every statute play a very important role in interpreting the statute. It displayed the role that Statements of Purpose of an Act play in guiding judicial interpretations. 

Domestic violence is one of the biggest menaces confronting Indian society. Section 498A and the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 enable the aggrieved to obtain criminal and civil remedies, respectively. However, it was Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh, which held that legal remedy could be sought from either the court at the matrimonial place or at the place of shelter, depending on circumstances. The Rupali Devi case explains in detail the purpose of domestic violence prevention statutes in addressing the concerns of the aggrieved. The Rupali Devi case not only analyses provisions of the IPC but also the CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act. It utilises a different approach, the reading of the Statement of Purpose and Reasons, to resolve the existing differing opinions of courts on the jurisdiction of courts at the parental home under Section 498A of the IPC.

Whether a case of domestic violence can be filed at the parental house?

Yes, legal proceedings can be brought even at the parental house, but the same depends on the circumstances. The same was held in Rupali Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh. 

Whether Section 498A includes mental harassment as well?

Yes, Section 498A of the IPC, which deals with domestic violence, includes acts of physical, mental, or psychological injury or harm inflicted on the wife. 

What is the significance of the purpose of a statute in judicial decision making?

Statutes play a key role in interpreting them. They help guide the judges to make a fair decision. The same could be observed in the Rupali Devi case.


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