In the matter of “Jaga Sarabu vs State of Orissa” Orissa High Court recently held that proceedings under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on a husband subjecting his wife to cruelty, cannot be quashed by a High Court under Section 482 (inherent powers) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on the ground that there was no valid marriage.

Justice G Satapathy while refusing to quash a case against a man, said that it would be harsh to the woman if the accused man is allowed to take a plea of absence of valid marriage to escape liability under Section 498A.

“It is extremely unfair and harsh to a woman, who claims herself to be the wife of a person by entering into a marital relationship and later on become a victim of desertion by the said person taking the plea of absence of a valid marriage,” Justice Satapathy observed in the order passed on 29th November’2022.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by a man challenging an order passed in March 2014 by the Magistrate who had issued process under Section 498A against the appellant.

This order was premised on a First Information Report (FIR) lodged against the appellant by a woman, who claimed to be his wife. The woman said, she lived with the appellant in his village for over 80 days. She alleged that he harassed and tortured her both physically and mentally. She even accused his mother of not giving her food and forcing her to starve.

Further, the woman alleged that the appellant was forcing her to bring ₹50,000 from her father.

However, the appellant relied upon an order passed by a Family Court in 2016 on a plea filed by the woman under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

The Family Court had rejected her plea with a finding that since the marriage was an invalid one, she could not be termed to be the ‘wife’ of the appellant.

In his order, Justice Satapathy, noted that the allegations made in the FIR and also the statements of the woman, contained all the requisite ingredients for constituting an offence under Section 498A.

The judge emphasised on the objective of Section 498A, which is to secure the prevention of harassment to a woman from cruelty meted out to her by her husband or his relatives.

This being the sacred object of offence under Section 498A of IPC, whether a person who enters into a marital relationship be allowed to take the refuge behind a smokescreen to take the plea that since there was no valid marriage, the proceeding under Section 498A of IPC against him is not maintainable. Such plea will have a deleterious effect on the morality of the women entering into a kind of relationship of marriage with that person,” the bench opined.

While exercising jurisdiction under Section 482 (inherent powers to prevent abuse of law) of the CrPC, courts cannot undertake a “hair splitting scrutiny” of materials on record, the judge said.

Can a person who enters into a marital arrangement be allowed to take 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 of a woman over demand of money.

Hon’ble bench observed the above facts and refused to quash the FIR.

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