Supreme Court
Supreme CourtIANS File Photo

An extra-marital affair or adultery was always seen as immoral and grounds for divorce. But was it a criminal offence where the husband could be prosecuted? In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday declared that an individual cannot be prosecuted for cruelty because he had an extra-marital affair.

The verdict came up in a case where a man was facing trial because he had an extra-marital affair and was being tried for being cruel to his wife and for abetment to suicide. Deepa, the wife, had reportedly committed suicide after seven years of marriage because her husband had an alleged extra-marital affair. Her mother and brother also committed suicide reportedly. The case had initially come up in Karnataka where the man was sentenced for two years under IPC Section 498 A and the Dowry Act. Convicting him for abetment of suicide, the Karnataka HC awarded him four years' rigorous imprisonment besides a fine of Rs 50,000. The SC has now set aside this verdict.

The SC bench, which is headed justice by Dipak Misra, stated, "Extramarital relationship, per se, or as such would not come within the ambit of Section 498-A IPC (cruelty to wife). It would be an illegal or immoral act, but other ingredients are to be brought home so that it would constitute a criminal offence."

The bench added, "To explicate, solely because the husband is involved in an extramarital relationship and there is some suspicion in the mind of wife, cannot be regarded as mental cruelty, which would attract mental cruelty for satisfying the ingredients of Section 306 IPC (abetment to suicide). It can surely be a ground for divorce."

"It needs to be noted that Deepa, being not able to digest the humiliation, committed suicide. The mother and the brother of Deepa also followed the same path. In such a situation, it is extremely difficult to hold that the prosecution has established the charge under Section 498A and the fact that the said cruelty induced the wife to commit suicide," stated the bench.