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Women can file domestic violence case against their husband and in-laws under 498A from wherever they seek shelter after leaving their marital home – recent Supreme Court judgement.
In a landmark judgement affecting women who face domestic violence, the Supreme Court on Tuesday passed a ruling stating that a woman who is forced to leave her matrimonial home due to harassment, can file a case against her estranged husband and in-laws at the place where she resides thereafter, even if it is a temporary arrangement.
Earlier, criminal proceedings could only be initiated by the complainant (the victim of domestic violence) from the place where the offence had occurred. This is because Section 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure made it compulsory that a criminal case shall be filed, and trial should be conducted in only those courts which had jurisdiction over where a crime had occurred.
However, on April 9, 2019, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that, a woman, who is forced to leave her in-laws’ home due to domestic violence and cruelty on her, is allowed to initiate criminal proceedings under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code from any place she chooses to seek shelter in. It could even be a temporary arrangement or from the residence of her parents.
Today’s judgement has come on an appeal filed earlier by Rupali Devi in a dowry harassment case where she had fled from her matrimonial home to her parents’ home. The Allahabad High Court had earlier dismissed her plea saying that under Section 498A, cruelty is not a continuing offence (doing an unlawful act over and over again, an offence which takes more than one act to prove the charge). So, it cannot be investigated or punished in a jurisdiction other than the matrimonial house of the victim.
However, the apex court today identified cruelty as a continuing offence under Section 498A and, therefore, ruled that a woman can file a dowry harassment case from the place where she has sought shelter after leaving her matrimonial home.
Women who face domestic violence or abuse often find themselves in a helpless situation and experience conflicting emotions. Contrary to the popular belief, these women are not weak and submissive victims. It takes huge physical, mental and emotional strength to survive with an abusive partner. Women adopt all kinds of coping strategies to make some sense of what is going on in their lives and it has a detrimental effect on their health and well-being.
Today’s ruling of the Apex Court recognizes the enormous courage it takes for a woman to escape domestic violence. It gives such women a valid legal recourse and a hope that their abusers will not go scot-free by hiding behind the façade of legitimacy. It gives a sense of security to women who can first get away to a safe place and file a complaint from there, without having to face their perpetrators every time it needs for them to come to the marital home to file a complaint. It puts a strong check on the perpetrators of domestic abuse who engage in a systemic ‘womb to tomb’ violence against women. It is a step in the right direction, and we hope that it should act as a strong deterrent to those who resort to violence on women without an iota of guilt or fear.
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