Asking wife to do household work is not cruelty: Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court’s reasoning for quashing the wife’s FIR against husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, supports the patriarchal view that Indian women have no remedy if they trusted their husbands and their families at the time of marriage, and feel betrayed later.


ON October 21, the division bench of Bombay High Court, comprising Justices Vibha Kankanwadi and Rajesh S. Patil, quashed a First Information Report (‘FIR’) for the offence of ‘cruelty’ under Sections 498-A, read with Sections 323, 504, 506 read with Section 34 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). The FIR was filed by the wife against her husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. The bench held that when the wife is asked to do household work, it cannot amount to her treatment like a ‘maid servant’, as alleged in the FIR. 

The wife was allegedly physically and mentally harassed and assaulted when she expressed the inability of her father to meet the demand of her husband’s family for an amount of ₹4 lakhs for purchasing a vehicle. 

The husband claimed that she was in the habit of making such allegations and that the alleged acts of cruelty against her were ‘hard to believe’. 

The court pointed out that the details of the wife’s treatment like a maid were vaguely provided by her. The court added that if she had no wish to do her household activities, then she ought to have told it either prior to the marriage so that the bridegroom could rethink about the marriage itself or if it was after marriage, then such problems ought to have been sorted out earlier.

Further, the division bench pointed out the missing details in the FIR in relation to the dates when the wife left the matrimonial house or was driven out of the house on account of the alleged acts of harassment. 

The court highlighted that the acts that amount to cruelty or harassment were not described in the FIR. The court emphasised that description of the acts is necessary to conclude whether those acts amount to harassment or subjecting a person to cruelty.  It observed that the mere use of the word harassment “mentally and physically” are not sufficient to attract ingredients of Section 498-A of IPC.

The court referred to the medical documents of the wife, which diagnosed a cyst in her ovaries,  and observed that she had not revealed whether she was pregnant. The court remarked that it appeared that things were ‘intentionally’ kept vague. Terming the allegations ‘omnibus’, the court held that they do not attract the ingredients of Section 498-A of IPC, the court said.

The high court questioned the delay of two and a half months from the date of occurrence of the alleged incident of cruelty till the date of filing of the FIR. 

Allowing the present application in the court and quashing the FIR, the court remarked that the allegations that have been made and the collection of evidence is not sufficient at the prima facie stage to attract the ingredients of offence punishable under Section 498-A of IPC.

Read the full order here.