State of mind to commit a particular crime "must be visible" to determine the culpability for offence of abetment, the Supreme Court has said while setting aside the conviction of a man who was accused of abetting his wife's suicide in 1997. The apex court said that ingredient of "mens rea" (intention) cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be "visible and conspicuous".
A bench headed by Justice N V Ramana said this while setting aside the March 2010 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which had upheld the trial court's verdict convicting the man for the offence under section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. "As in all crimes, mens rea has to be established. 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, to determine the culpability," said the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy.
The top court said that in order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the man had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of his wife. The bench delivered its verdict on a plea filed by the man against the order of high court which had dismissed his appeal and upheld the four-year jail term awarded to him by the trial court in the case.
An FIR was lodged in the matter in August 1997 at Barnala on the basis of statement of the deceased's father and the prosecution had alleged that the woman was harassed after marriage for insufficient dowry. The apex court noted that there is no direct evidence of cruelty against the husband or the in-laws in the case.
"Insofar as the possible reason for a young married lady with two minor children committing suicide, in the absence of evidence, conjectures cannot be drawn that she was pushed to take her life by the circumstances and atmosphere in the matrimonial home," the bench said. "In view of the foregoing, we are persuaded to conclude that the decisions under challenge cannot be legally sustained. Consequently, interfering with the impugned judgment of the high court and the trial court, the appellant's conviction under section 306 IPC is set aside and quashed," it said.