Rajan Chauhan, M.A-1st ,3 May :The Supreme Court has held that a man can not escape criminal prosecution for harassing a woman over dowry or other issues merely on the plea that she was not his legally wedded wife.
A bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly ruled that IPC Sections 304 B (dowry death) and 498A (harassment of woman by husband/family members) would apply even if the husband claims that the woman alleging harassment was not his legally wedded wife.
"It would be appropriate to construe the expression ‘husband’ to cover a person who enters into marital relationship and under the colour of such proclaimed or feigned status of husband subjects the woman concerned to cruelty or coerce her in any manner or for any of the purposes enumerated in the relevant provisions -Sections 304B/498A, whatever be the legitimacy of the marriage itself for the limited purpose of Sections 498A and 304B IPC," the bench observed.
Under Section 494 IPC (bigamy), a Hindu woman/husband can not marry for the second time during the subsistence of the first marriage. Any such subsequent marriage is invalid in the eyes of the law.
The bench passed the ruling while dismissing the appeal filed by Koppisetti Subbharao of Andhra Pradesh who sought to challenge the complaint of harassment filed by a woman claiming to be his wife.
Subba Rao had claimed that complaint against him was not maintainable as the complainant was not his legally wedded wife as he was already married to another woman.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court rejected his plea following which he approached the apex court.
Concurring with the high court’s view, the apex court said a person cannot take shelter behind such arguments as otherwise, it would encourage harassment of women.
"Can a person who enters into a marital arrangement be allowed to take a shelter behind a smokescreen to contend that since there was no valid marriage the question of dowry does not arise? Such legalistic niceties would destroy the purpose of the provisions.
Such hairsplitting legalistic approach would encourage harassment to a woman over demand of money.
"The nomenclature ‘dowry’ does not have any magic charm written over it. It is just a label given to demand of money in relation to marital relationship," the bench said.
The apex court pointed out that when legislature has taken care of children born from invalid marriages, there can not be exception in the case of invalid marriages.
The Supreme Court said, "Section 16 of the Marriage Act deals with legitimacy of children of void and voidable marriages. Can it be said that legislature which was conscious of the social stigma attached to children of void and voidable marriages closed eyes to plight of a woman who unknowingly or unconscious of the legal consequences entered into the marital relationship.
"If such restricted meaning is given, it would not further the legislative intent. On the contrary, it would be against the concern shown by the legislature for avoiding harassment to a woman over demand of money in relation to marriages," the bench observed, while dismissing the appeal.