Setting aside the conviction of a man in the abetment of suicide of his wife, the Supreme Court has said to prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code, the ‘mens rea’ or state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible to determine the culpability.
A bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy on Thursday set aside the conviction of Gurcharan Singh, who was charged under sections of the IPC dealing with dowry death, harassment of woman by husband or relatives, and common intent, but convicted for driving his wife to suicide.
The verdict by a trial court was upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Singh’s counsel contended that the conviction cannot be justified unless evidence disclosed some positive act or conduct of the accused, which might have compelled the woman to commit suicide.
The bench said the ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous. “However, what transpires in the present matter is that both the trial court as well as the High Court never examined whether appellant had the mens rea for the crime he is held to have committed,” it said.
The bench noted in all crimes, mens rea has to be established and to prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Sec 107 of the IPC, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible. “In order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the appellant herein had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of the deceased,” said the bench.
The bench said the trial court itself was uncertain on the nature of the act to be attributed to the accused. “Moreover, even while noting that no direct evidence of cruelty against the husband and the in-laws is available, the court assumed that section 306 IPC can be applied against the appellant,” noted the top court.
The bench said with such conjecture, while acquitting all three accused (in-laws of the deceased) of the charged crime under sections 304B and 498A, the husband was convicted under section 306 (abetment of suicide).
“In the present case however, there is no direct evidence of cruelty against the husband or the in-laws. There is nothing on record to show which particular hope or expectation of the deceased was frustrated by the husband,” said the top court.
The top court noted that the conviction of appellant by the trial court and High Court on the theory that the woman with two young kids might have committed suicide, possibly because of the harassment faced by her in the matrimonial house, is not at all borne out by the evidence in the case.
Singh’s wife had committed suicide in 1997 in Punjab’s Barnala.