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Supreme Court Case Analysis: Pawan Kumar v/s Himachal Pradesh: Article 306-Abetment to suicide

Ratio Decidendi:

The Supreme Court ruled that eve teasing has become a pernicious, horrid and disgusting practice. In a civilized society, eve teasing is causing harassment to women in all public places. A woman has her own private space just like a man, and no one should even try to interfere or intervene in that.

The Article 21 of the constitution of India which guarantees right to life and liberty gets violated by this horrid act of eve teasing and also adversely affects the concept of gender sensitivity along with Article 14 and Article 15 of the constitution of India.

The court also said that in the instant case, the accused had by his acts and by his continuous course of conduct created such a situation as a consequence of which the deceased was left with no other option except to commit suicide. Therefore, the accused can be held guilty of abetment to suicide under Section 306 of IPC. It was due to the active acts of the accused that the deceased decided to put an end to her life.

The accused has played active role in tarnishing the self-esteem and self-respect of the victim which drove the victim girl to commit suicide. The cruelty meted out to her has, in fact, induced her to extinguish her life-spark.

Therefore, in this case the accused was held guilty of eve teasing as his acts forced the victim to commit suicide and therefore was also held guilty of abetment of suicide

Title Of The Case: Pawan Kumar Vs State Of Himachal Pradesh Citation: (2017)7 Scr 780
Bench Strength: 3-Judge Division Bench (Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M Khanwilkar, Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar)
Area Of Law: Criminal Law (Abetment To Suicide)
Author Of The Judgment: Justice Dipak Misra
Ratio: Unanimous Judgment

Pawan Kumar v State of Himachal Pradesh is a landmark case that illustrates the situation of women in India. It adequately presents how our society becomes blindfolded when the rights and freedom are undermined. Many times the girls and women are made to believe that they are unequal to the men in the society and they don't belong in this society.

This leads to the dominance of the men over the females. This can ultimately result in harassment of women by the males by eve teasing and threatening them and their loved ones physically. These ultimately contribute as factors leading to cruelty against women which can in various instances amount to abetment of suicide. This act of eve teasing also doesn't allow a woman to live a peaceful life and enjoy her fundamental rights that the constitution of India has given her.

Facts Of The Case
  • This case depicts the story of a girl named Shalu, in her teens, who fell in love with the appellant - the accused named Pawan Kumar. And blinded in love she eloped with the accused. Subsequently, Pawan Kumar is charged and acquitted under sections 363(2), 366(3), and 376(4) of the Indian Penal Code.
  • The accused blamed the girl for his prosecution and started harassing and threatening her. This became his routine and he continuously started eve teasing her.
  • This created a situation for the victim in which she felt that she just can't live her life in peace anymore. And she starts to believe that her life is not worth living and succumbs to her emotional injuries.
  • As a result, she committed suicide by pouring kerosene and setting herself ablaze. She was brought to the hospital where her dying declaration was recorded and then she succumbed to her injuries that she got due to her attempt to suicide.
  • Following her demise, the accused was charged with Abetment to Suicide under Section 36 of IPC.
  • The case was presented before the trial court, where the accused was acquitted and the testimonies of the witnesses and the parents of the deceased as well as the declaration given by the victim was held invalid and the reason given by the presiding judge was given that the deceased was in no place to speak and there was no medical certificate to prove the medical condition and fitness of the deceased.
  • But in contrast to what the trial court said, the High Court considered the testimony that was given by the witnesses and the parents. They also gave due credibility to the dying declaration that was given by the victim and did not give much emphasis on the medical condition of the deceased.
  • The Supreme Court agreed with the high court in reversing the trial court's decision and it also stated that the dying declaration was admissible in the court. The appellate court also stated that in the present case there are instances of abetment to suicide. The reason given by them was that there was cruelty imposed by the accused on the victim. The court also observed that threatening and harassment by the way of eve teasing amounts to abetment to suicide.
  • The Hon'ble court also discussed Article 14, Article 15 and Article 21 in relation to this case and said that the women also have the same room as the males in the society.
  • The Supreme Court also said that the high court has rightly exercised its jurisdiction rightly and the higher court abides by this decision. And consequently, the appeal got dismissed and the appellate-accused got convicted under the Section 306 of IPC.

Points Of Law/Issues Raised
The Principle Issues That Were Raised Before The Supreme Court Were:
  • Whether the High Court is in its jurisdiction when it is exercising its power as an appellate court and can it overturn an acquittal to a conviction?
  • Whether it is appropriate to treat a dying pronouncement as a reliable source of evidence?
  • What is the scope and application of Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code?

Arguments Advanced
Counsel For Appellant: Mr. Sanchar Anand
  • Mr.Anand argued that the decision given by the learned trial judge was flawless because he had thoroughly examined the evidence and placed it in proper perspective.
  • He further claimed that the trial court, after reviewing the medical evidence and the victims' burn injuries, had correctly dismissed the dying declaration.
  • It was further argued that, in such a fact circumstance, the High court would be well advised not to interfere with the acquittal verdict if the trial court had given compelling reasons for not relying on the deathbed declaration and the testimony of the prosecution witnesses.
  • He also argued that the High court should not have interfered with the trial court's decision since the trial court's evaluation of evidence was not perverse and the perspective conveyed by it was plausible.

Counsel For Respondent: Mr. D.K. Thakur
  • But the learned counsel appearing for the State, Mr. D.K. Thakur, claimed that the High Court had appreciated the evidence and found that the conclusion pertaining to the victim's medical condition was wholly incorrect.
  • Thus he opined that the trial judge's acquittal was unsupportable and therefore the court should give the stamp of approval.

Decision Of The Court
First Issue:
The first issue that the court had to decide was the nature of the jurisdiction of the high court while exercising its power as an appellate court on reversing the judgment of acquittal to that of conviction.

The Supreme Court while deciding the first issue rightly said that in appeal against acquittal, the High Court had full authority to review at large all evidence and to reach the conclusion that upon such evidence the order of acquittal to be reversed.

The Judicial precedents that the Supreme Court referred to while deciding this case were:

Jadunath Singh and others v. State of Uttar Pradesh:
In this case a three-Judge bench of Supreme court has opined:
"This court has consistently taken the view that in an appeal against acquittal the High Court has full power to review at large all the evidence and to reach he conclusion that upon that evidence the order of acquittal should be reversed. This power of the appellate court in an appeal against acquittal was formulated by the judicial committee of the privy Council in Sheo Swarup v. King Emperor and Nur Mohammad v. Emperor.

Girija Prasad (Lt.) by LRsv. State of MP:
It was observed in this case that in an appeal against acquittal the appellate court has every power to re-appriciate, review and reconsider the evidence as a whole before it. The court further stated that it is, no doubt, true that there is presumption of innocence in favor of the accused and that presumption is reinforced by an order of acquittal recorded by the trial court, but that is not the end of the matter, for it is for the appellate court to keep in view the relevant principles of law, to reappriciate and reweigh the evidence as a whole and to come to its own conclusion in accord with the principles of criminal jurisprudence.

Jaswant Singh v. State of Haryana:
In this case, the principle for the appellate court to interfere was given. The said principle is enumerated below -

"The principle to be followed by appellate courts considering an appeal against an order of acquittal is to interfere only when there are compelling and substantial reasons for doing so. If the order is clearly unreasonable it is a compelling reason for interference."

Keeping in view the principles laid down in the aforesaid authorities and some other authorities Hon'ble court shall scanned the approach of the High court and adjudge the ultimate reversal of the trial court.

Second Issue:
The second issue before the court was whether the dying declaration can be treated as the reliable source of evidence or not ?

The Supreme court found no reason to disregard the dying declaration and considered it to be reliable evidence. The court also discussed a legal maxim - "Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire" which meant that "a man will never meet his maker with a lie in his mouth", this is the principle on which the dying declarations are admitted in the evidence.

The court relied on the decision in Gulzari Lal v. State of Haryana in which the court held that a valid dying declaration may be made without obtaining a certificate fitness of the declarant by the medical officer.

In Laxman v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme court while stating the law relating to the dying declaration, has succinctly held:
"A dying declaration can be oral or in writing and any adequate method of communication whether by words or by signs or otherwise will suffice provided the indication is positive and definite. In most cases, however, such statements are made orally before death ensues and is reduced to writing by someone like a Magistrate or a doctor or a police officer.

When it is recorded, no oath is necessary nor is the presence of a Magistrate absolutely necessary, although to assure authenticity it is usual to call a Magistrate, if available for recording the statement of a man about to die.

There is no requirement of law that a dying declaration must necessarily be made to a Magistrate and when such statement is recorded by a Magistrate there is no specified statutory form for such recording. Consequently, what evidential value or weight has to be attached to such statement necessarily depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case.

What is essentially required is that the person who records a dying declaration must be satisfied that the deceased was in a fit state of mind. Where it is proved by the testimony of the Magistrate that the declarant was fit to make the statement even without examination by the doctor the declaration can be acted upon provided the court ultimately holds the same to be voluntary and truthful. A certification by the doctor is essentially a rule of caution and therefore the voluntary and truthful nature of the declaration can be established otherwise."

The learned counsel for he appellant contended that when the deceased 100% bodily burn, she was not in the position to make any statement to her brother. He also referred to the case of Mafabhai Nagarbhai Raval v. State of Gujarat where the victim who suffered 99% bodily burn was deemed to be capable enough of making a dying declaration.

And the hon'ble court also opined that unless there is no inherent and apparent defect, the trial court should not substitute it's opinion for that of the doctor. And keeping this in view the dying declaration was found to be worthy of reliance. In the present case the dying declaration was supported by the witnesses and thus the High courts decision to reverse the trial courts decision was rightly done.

Third Issue:
The last aspect that the court addressed was whether this case comes under the ambit of Section 306 of IPC. The accused provided that his case was beyond the ambit of this section. Because when we read the section the word "abetment" is not explained under the section. And in this context, the definition of abetment that is provided under Section 107 of Indian Penal Court is applicable.

According to one of the two explanations of his section, a person who by willful misinterpretation or by willful concealment of a material fact which he is bound to disclose, voluntarily causes or procures, or attempts to cause or procure, a thing to be done, is said to mitigate the doing of that thing. The second explanation is that, whoever either prior to or at the time of commission of an act, does anything in order to facilitate the commission of that act, and thereby felicitate the commission thereof is said to aid the doing of that act.

When we look further into it, we find the case of Randhir Singh and another v. State of Punjab, where the stare had observed that abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding that person in doing a thing. More active role in this can be described as instigating or aiding the doing of a thing is required bore a person can be said to be abetting the commission of an offence under Section 36 IPC.

Another instance that we can find is in Praveen Pradhan v. State of Uttaranchal & another where it was ruled that no straitjacket formula can be laid down to find out as to whether in a particular there has been instigation which led the person to commit suicide. In some cases there may be direct evidence us in most there is no direct evidence which may have direct nexus to the suicide. Thus, in such cases the inference has to be drawn from the circumstances that would lead to the person committing suicide.

Keeping the above mentioned legal principles, the court was required to determine whether or not there was abetment in committing suicide. The court observed that a casual remark that is likely to cause harassment will not come under the purview of instigation. A mere word in fit of anger will also not be said to be abetment. There needs to be a serious action that can cause the victim to end their life.

In the current case when the principle was applied, it was found that the continuous course of conduct by the accused created a situation as a consequence of which the deceased was left with no other option except to commit suicide. The accused played an active role in this. The court also did not find any instance which suggests that it was the personal life of the victim that led up to this and not the actions done by the accused. The accused also played a role in tarnishing the self esteem and self respect of the girl which eventually led to her committing suicide.

The final decision of the court was that the High Court was absolutely right in reversing the judgment of acquittal and imposing a sentence. It also held that the High court has rightly exercised its jurisdiction. Consequently, the appeal, being devoid of any merit was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

This judgment can be regarded as flawless, especially in light of the country's women's rights. Years of patriarchy, gender indifferences, and other causes have all contributed to women being subjugated and regarded as second-class citizens to males. In simple terms, violence against women refers to any act of gender-based violence.

This causes physical, mental, and psychological suffering or harm to women, and it encompasses a wide spectrum of behaviors that deprive a woman of her liberty, dignity, and right to live in peace. Gender-based violence is a reflection of gender imbalance and inequality, as well as a societal assignment of women to a subordinate social rank. The consequences of these crimes are terrible and horrifying, and they can have both short- and long-term implications on a woman's physical and emotional health.

As a result, this type of decision provides a glimpse of hope to women who have been suffering since the dawn of humanity. It is a positive step toward preserving women's dignity. The judgment emphasizes a woman's right to her personal space, which she has the same as a male under Article 14, which guarantees equality, and Article 15, which forbids discrimination on the basis of gender.

This also pertains to the underlying concepts of gender sensitivity and equal rights, as well as the idea that men and women should have equal access to justice. The Supreme Court of India also observed that eve teasing deprives a woman of equal rights to her male counterpart because he does not have the same freedom, dignity. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees us the right to a dignified existence. This right also encompasses the right to a decent and pleasant way of life.

When a woman is teased or coerced into a love or relationship she doesn't desire, it can deprive her of both physical and emotional health in a variety of ways. It deprives her of the chance to live a trouble-free and serene life. It also focuses primarily on her freedom to choose, which should be considered and honored legally and socially.

Her decision to reject love or overtures from a guy is an undeniable right since it affects her right to life, and no one, even her relatives or friends, can compel or force her to do anything she does not want to do, which is something the court is also attempting to pressurize her to do. As a result, the court has declared "male chauvinism," "egoism," and "masculinity" to be threats to women's rights and dignity.

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