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Section 498 A I.P.C. Whether a shield or a weapon

"She is both.
Hellfire and holy water,
And the flavor you taste
Depends on how you treat her"

During the 1980s, dowry deaths were steadily rising in India. Women are ill-treated, harassed, killed, divorced for the simple reason that they didn’t brought dowry. For safeguarding the interest of woman against the cruelty they face behind the four walls of their matrimonial home, the Indian Penal Code,1860 (herein after referred to as I.P.C.) was amended in 1983 and inserted S.498A which deals with ‘Matrimonial Cruelty’ to a woman. The main objective of section 498-A of I.P.C is to protect a woman who is being harassed by her husband or relatives of husband.

Section 498A of IPC
498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be pun­ished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
a) any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

Characteristics of 498-a, Indian Penal Code, IPC-498a is

· Cognizable – The accused can be arrested and jailed without warrant or investigation
· Non-Compoundable – The complaint cannot be withdrawn by the petitioner (chances of living together again are lost)
· Non-Bailable – The accused must appear in the court to request bail
In the present scenario, the abuse of this section is rapidly increasing and the women often well- educated know that this section is both cognizable and non-bailable and impromptu works on the complaint of the woman and placing the man behind bars. Misuse of dowry laws is not a recent phenomenon and the judiciary of India is totally responsible for the growing misuse of dowry law and the result is abuse of innocent men in the process. In many cases, men have even committed suicide, when their wives have harassed them to approach police or court, to send them behind jail, for no reason.

Hon’ble Supreme Court and various High Courts have time & again showed concern over this growing menace by observing that “By misuse of the provision (IPC 498a - Dowry and Cruelty Law) a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used a shield and not an assassin’s weapon… says the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Merely because the provision is declared constitutional, it does not give licence to unscrupulous persons to wreak personal vendetta or unleash harassment.

Directives issued by the Supreme Court of India

In a landmark move, the Supreme Court of India has issued a set of directives related to the application of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), with a view to prevent the misuse of this provision in cases filed under it. The order was delivered as part of a judgment in one such case from Uttar Pradesh. No coercive action would be taken against the accused, or arrests would be made, till the veracity of the allegations made by the victim are confirmed. These exceptions would apply to only such cases where there's no visible sign of injury suffered by the complainant. The court has defined specific guidelines for the police and other law-enforcing authorities to follow while dealing with cases filed under IPC 498A.

The SC's latest directives are not only meant to curb such flippant misuse of the law but also to prevent, as the bench says emphatically, the "violation of human rights". It should also be noted that the judges admit to being "conscious of the reason" behind this law's existence, even as they acknowledge the flaws inherent in it.

Among a slew of orders issued by it, the bench has asked for one or more family welfare committees to be set up in each district in every state. From paralegal volunteers to social workers to retired citizens to the wives of government officials, almost anyone can apply to be part of such panels. Whoever is selected to it will be given training for at least a week, sometimes periodically, before they can commence their work.

Such committees will have one month to file their reports and based on their findings suitable actions may be taken, including arrests. However, if "a bail application is filed with at least one clear day's notice to the public prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day".

Excess of power leads to its misuse same is happening in case of Sec.498A. Though Section 498-A of IPC was brought in forth for the protection of women from the cruelty of her husband and his relatives, it is being abused by some thoughtless women’s. I fear that some of these orders may weaken the grounds for genuine victims, who may be suffering from mental torture not involving physical assault. The gap of one month, for instance, between filing a complaint and the committee submitting its report is long enough for a major turnaround in a legitimate case of emotional assault. The extent that a harassed woman would now have to go through, just to register a case is beyond comprehension.

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