Refusing to make tea for husband is not grave and sudden provocation: High Court upholds conviction of man, laments skewed patriarchy

By | March 1, 2021

The Bombay High Court recently comprising of a single-judge bench of Justice Revati Mohite Dere while upholding the conviction of a man for culpable homicide not amounting to murder ruled Wife’s refusal to make tea for her husband will not amount to grave and sudden provocation. (Santosh Mahadev Atkar v. The State of Maharashtra).

The man had inflicted an injury on his wife’s head with a hammer after she refused to make tea for him. She had eventually passed away due to the injury.

The Court said, “Submission of the learned counsel for the appellant that the deceased by refusing to make tea for the appellant offered grave and sudden provocation, is ludicrous, clearly untenable and unsustainable and as such deserves to be rejected.”

The Court while upholding the conviction, made some strong observations on the skewed patriarchy and imbalance in husband-wife relations in our society.

It was the case of the prosecution that 35-year-old Santosh Mahadev Atkar, a resident of Vitthal Hospital Servant Quarter, in Solapur district of Maharashtra would have frequent quarrels with his wife as he suspected she was cheating on him.

On December 19, 2013 at about 6:00 a.m the victim Manisha was leaving her house, without preparing tea, due to which the couple had a fight and Atkar assaulted his wife on her head with a hammer from the back.

The accused then gave his wife a bath and wiped the blood-stains from the spot, He took her to the hospital only thereafter. Manisha’s condition was critical and she was unable to speak. She finally succumbed to her injurie on December 25, 2013.

On July 1, 2016 Additional Sessions Judge, Pandharpur convicted Atkar under sections 304 (II) of the IPC and sentenced him to 10 years in prison along with a fine of Rs 5000.

The court was hearing his appeal against conviction

On July 1, 2016 Additional Sessions Judge, Pandharpur convicted Atkar under sections 304 (II) of the IPC and sentenced him to 10 years in prison along with a fine of Rs 5000.

The court was hearing his appeal against conviction.

The contention of the parties

Learned counsel for the appellant assailed the judgment on several counts. He submitted that the prosecution case essentially rests on extra-judicial confession made by the appellant to PW 4-Macchindra Waghmare; PW 6-Nandabai Waghmare and PW 7-Dr. Bajrang Dhotre.

He submitted that the said evidence is a weak piece of evidence and that the appellant cannot be convicted only on the basis of the extra judicial confession made to the said witnesses. He further submitted that as far as the child witness i.e. PW 5-Rohini is concerned, the trial Court has discarded her evidence, for the reasons set-out in the judgment.

He submits that the incident was a result of grave and sudden provocation offered by deceased-Manisha, when she refused to make tea for the appellant, and as such, the sentence of the appellant be reduced to the period already undergone by the appellant.

The Learned A.P.P supported the judgment and order of conviction and sentence and prayed for dismissal of the appeal. He submitted that the reasons given by the learned Judge for discarding the evidence of the child witness i.e. PW 5-Rohini, are flimsy and cannot be sustained. He submitted that the evidence of PW 5-Rohini inspires confidence and that she has not buckled in her cross-examination.

He submitted that Rohini’s evidence ought to be considered, more particularly, when she was a natural witness, who was present at the spot and had seen the appellant assaulting her mother- Manisha (deceased).

He further submitted that there is recovery of a blood stained hammer at the instance of the accused, apart from the extra judicial confessions made by the appellant to PW 4-Macchindra, PW 6-Nandabai and PW 7-Dr. Bajrang Dhotre. He further submitted that the appellant after assaulting the deceased on a flimsy ground of refusing to make tea for him, bathed the deceased, cleaned the blood from the spot and as such wasted valuable time in taking Manisha to the hospital, resulting in her death.

Court’s Observation and judgment

Court took a dim view of the appellant’s argument that the incident was a result of grave and sudden provocation, and noted that it was ludicrous and unsustainable.

“…submission of the learned counsel for the appellant that the deceased by refusing to make tea for the appellant offered grave and sudden provocation, is ludicrous, clearly untenable and unsustainable and as such deserves to be rejected.”

Though the trial court convicted the appellant, it discarded the testimony of the daughter as there was a delay of twelve days in recording her evidence.

After perusing the daughter’s cross-examination, the bench noted that her evidence inspires confidence and cannot be disbelieved.

Disagreeing with the finding on the delay in recording of evidence, Justice Dere sympathised with the trauma of the daughter who had to watch the events unfold before her.

The bench remarked, “The trauma of a child losing a loved one in such a brutal way, will have to be borne in mind. Having regard to the facts, in these circumstances, delay in recording her statement cannot be said to be fatal.”

Justice Dere after perusing the trial court’s order and the evidence on record, concluded that no interference was warranted.

She also proceeded to make observations on how such cases of treating the wife like “chattel” showed the “skewed patriarchy” in a marital relationship.

It would not be out of place to observe that a wife is not a chattel or an object. Marriage ideally is a partnership based on equality. More often than not, it is far from that. Cases such as these, are not uncommon. Such cases, reflect the imbalance of gender – skewed patriarchy, the socio-cultural milieu one has grown up in, which often seeps into a marital relationship. There is imbalance of gender roles, where wife as a homemaker is expected to do all the household chores. Emotional labour in a marriage is also expected to be done by the wife. Coupled with these imbalances in the equation, is the imbalance of expectation and subjugation. Social conditions of women also make them handover themselves to their spouses,” the judgment said.

The Court proceeded to term it a medieval notion which is nothing but patriarchal.

This medieval notion of the wife being the property of the husband to do as he wishes, unfortunately, still persists in the majority mindset. Nothing but notions of patriarchy,” the Court said.