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Mukund Martand Chitnis vs Madhuri Mukund Chitnis

Facts:
The appellant and the respondent got married at Pune on 15th July 1983.
On the wedding night itself, the husband suspected the chastity of the wife. The bitterness that commenced culminated into their separation in less than a month's time. Allegations and counter-allegations were made. The husband resorted to mudslinging and character assassination.

A complaint of theft was also lodged against the wife. A search warrant was issued. The wife's residence was searched frantically for ornaments that were alleged to have been stolen by her and subsequently an inventory was prepared.

This was unfortunate and ill-advised. All this added up and amounted to the bitterness which led to the filing of two separate complaints of defamation under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code by the wife. In addition to this, a separate case was lodged under Section 498A of the Indian Penal code. The wife also filed a suit for damages that alleged that her house was illegally searched pursuant to the search warrant which was wrongly obtained by the husband. This suit was dismissed by the trial Court against which she preferred an appeal which she later withdrew.

In the two complaints lodged under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, the husband was acquitted by the trial Court but on further appeal to the High Court, he was convicted and was sentenced to simple imprisonment of two months and to also pay Rs. 3000/- as a fine, in default to suffer simple imprisonment for one month, in each case.

The substantive sentences were supposed to run concurrently. The High Court also convicted the husband under Section 498A and sentenced him to pay a fine of Rs. 30,000/- in default to suffer Rigorous Imprisonment for six months.

The husband appealed in the supreme court and filed two special leave petitions against the above-mentioned convictions and sentences.

Judgement:
The court thought that it was in the best interest of both the parties that the series of allegations and counter-allegations between the two and their family members should come to an end. They also felt that the need to ensure the wife's economic rehabilitation so that she may be able to live the rest of her life peacefully. In the divorce proceedings, she had been awarded maintenance at the rate of Rs. 500/-per month.

The court suggested the parties work out an amicable settlement which would permit the wife to live the rest of her life without being dependent on her husband without having to make her rounds to courts. The judges wanted to ensure that the wife was adequately compensated for the mental agony, strain and stress that she had undergone on account of the allegations made against her.

After considerable discussion, the parties arrived at a settlement where under the appellant agreed to acquiesce in the decision of the High Court convicting him under Section 498A, Indian Penal Code and to pay a fine of Rs. 30,000/ - within the time allowed by the High Court. He agreed not to appeal against the said order of the High Court in C.R. A. No. 98/90 convicting him under Section 498A, Indian Penal Code.

He agreed that he would deposit the fine within the time allowed by the High Court and it would be open to the wife to withdraw that amount as per the High Court's order. That would put an end to that proceeding, once and for all.

As for the defamation suit, it was agreed between the parties that on the appellant depositing a sum of Rs. 1 lakh in the trial Court at Pune on or before 31st August 1991 and on his complying with the other stipulations hereinafter provided the present appeals would stand compounded by and between the parties and the order of the High Court convicting the appellant under Section 500, Indian Penal Code would stand set aside with the stipulation that the fine already paid would not be refunded to the husband but instead the said amount would be paid to the wife.

Furthermore, the appellant was supposed to file an unqualified apology in the Court for the mental strain and stress caused to the wife on account of the various defamatory allegations made against her within one week of the said date of the judgement. In addition to this, the court decided that the appellant's brother would also have to file an undertaking in the Court within even time to the effect that he would take no proceedings, civil or criminal, against the respondent for any averments, allegations or statements that were made by her in any of the proceedings filed till the said date.

The court further added that if the appellant failed to file the unqualified apology or his brother failed to file the undertaking within the time permitted or the appellant failed to deposit the amount of Rs. 1 lakh within the time allowed by the Court, his appeals would stand dismissed and the convictions recorded and sentences awarded by the High Court in both the cases would stand confirmed and he would be liable for serving out the sentences.

In the case where the appellant-husband deposited the fine of Rs. 1 lakh and complied with the other stipulations, the order regarding the alimony passed in favour of the respondent in the divorce proceedings would stand terminated with no future liability.

Analysis:
The Supreme Court unambiguously held that the demands of Civil and moral behaviour are not dispensed with in accordance with marriage. Communication that
transcends the limits of decent speech is liable to judicial action. No matter how important the institution of marriage may be to society, it does not cover for criminal misconduct.

It is not meant to provide protection to a wrongdoer. The Supreme Court while reinstating the High Court decision made it absolutely clear that abuse and misconduct do not have to reach the dregs of physical abuse before the courts take action.

The fact that the court held that a series of malicious and vexatious legislation in which extremely hurtful and offensive accusations are levelled against a married woman and wherein she, with a sense of vindictiveness, is humiliated and tortured through the execution of search warrants and seizure of personal property, will amount to cruelty; is in itself a monumental judgement.

The sensitivity and responsiveness to the plight and the intransigent attitude towards the Vindication of the weaker status of the matrimonial spouse seen in the order is a most welcome development in marital jurisprudence which will in the coming years serve as a precedent to regulate marital wrongdoing.

Such a result is much expected and awaited by the court when it states:
This should prove to be an eye-opener to those who believe that they can get away by casting aspersions on a woman to serve their ends and to silence her.

To amplify the message, the decision needed to be widely publicized by being published to the court's legal correspondents. This should at least, have been published as a reportable court the judgement that would guarantee its inclusion in the law papers so that it would be accessible to a larger section of people.

The decision, however, is not even an unreportable judgment but merely an Order in the case that was then filed silently in the court registry where the light of the day may never reach but for some very in-depth and careful reporting. Justice pursuits need to be systematic exercises, and cannot rely on such fortuitous events.

I sincerely hope that the silent yet commendable precedent that the court set through this judgement reaches more and more people and especially to those who are stuck in abusive matrimonial relationships.

Mukund Martand Chitnis vs Madhuri Mukund Chitnis AIR 1992 SC 1804
Subject: Criminal - Court: Supreme Court of India - Decided On: Apr-23-1991 - Case Number: Criminal Appeals Nos. 320-21 of 1991 (arising out of S.L.P. (C) Nos. 1200-01 of 1990)
Judge: A.M. Ahmadi, V. Ramaswamy and; K. Ramaswamy, JJ. - Reported in : AIR1992SC1804; 1991Supp(2)SCC359; 1992(1) LC546 (SC) - Acts: Indian Penal Code (IPC) - Sections 498-A and 500 - Appellant: Mukund Martand Chitnis - Respondent: Madhuri Mukund Chitnis and Another

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