Kicking daughter-in-law amounts to cruelty, avers SC

Apex court recalls its 2009 verdict to take fresh look into provision

Mothers-in-law beware! Kicking a daughter-in-law or threatening her with divorce will amount to a criminal act of cruelty punishable under law.

The Supreme Court on Thursday decided to take a fresh look at its 2009 controversial judgment, which held that such actions would not be covered under 498A (cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code.

A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir allowed a curative petition by the National Commission for Women (NCW), setting aside the earlier two-judge verdict of July 27, 2009, and decided to hear the case afresh.

The 2009 judgment had quashed dowry harassment charges under Section 498A of the IPC instituted against Bhaskar Lal Sharma and his wife by their daughter-in-law, Monica, who accused them of physically assaulting her and threatening her with divorce.

The offence of cruelty carries maximum jail term of three years with or without fine.
The 2009 apex court verdict said, “Allegations that appellant No 2 (mother-in-law) kicked the respondent (daughter-in-law) with her leg and called her mother a liar may make out some other offences but not the one punishable under Section 498A.”

“Even threatening that her son may divorce... could not bring out the offence under Section 498A of the IPC,” it added.

In its curative petition, the NCW said that the ruling would defeat the very purpose of the law to protect women from cruelty and harassment in matrimonial homes.

The petition sought a clarification whether threatening a daughter-in-law that she (mother-in-law) would force her son to divorce does not amount to mental cruelty, clearly attracting Section 498A of the IPC.

Senior advocate Indu Malhotra, appearing for the NCW, submitted that quashing the complaint at the threshold that  kicking of a woman by her mother- in-law may make out some other offence but not one punishable under Section 498A, had wide ramification.
Senior advocate U U Lalit, appearing for the mother-in- law of the woman, had questioned the locus standi of NCW in filing the curative petition saying it was not a party in the case.

However, the bench, also comprising Justices P Sathasivam and G S Singhvi said, “We allow the curative petition filed by NCW and set aside the judgement passed by this court on July 27, 2009 and recall that judgement.”

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