A married man's girlfriend cannot be prosecuted for being cruel to his wife, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Quashing criminal charges against a woman from Jharkhand under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, a bench headed by Justice Altamas Kabir said: "Sections 498A IPC is clear and unambiguous that only the husband or his relative could be proceeded against under the said section for subjecting the wife to cruelty…."
Under section 498A a husband or his relatives can be punished with three-year imprisonment for subjecting the wife to cruelty, which is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or cause injury to herself.
Granting relief to the petitioner, Shashi Jha (name changed), the SC said: "…by no stretch of imagination would a girlfriend be a 'relative' which status could be conferred either by blood connection or marriage or adoption."
The court added that if no marriage has taken place, the question of one being relative of another would not arise.
With its judgment the SC set aside Jharkhand HC verdict directing Jha to face criminal prosecution lodged by the woman with whose husband she was living. The HC had concluded that since Jha lived with the man, she had acquired the status of a wife.
Rejecting the HC's decision, the SC said if the "other woman" was not connected to the husband by blood or marriage, the same would not attract the provisions of 498A IPC.
It could, however, be an act of cruelty for the purpose of judicial separation or dissolution of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act.
Jha had challenged a April 29, 2009 Jharkhand HC judgment that affirmed a trial court order summoning the petitioner. She sought her discharge in the criminal case lodged by her live-in partner's wife in 2005 before the sub-divisional magistrate in Dumka.
The magistrate took cognisance of complaint in February 2006 and rejected Jha's plea for discharge in March 2007.