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Use And Misuse of Section 498A

It is an evident fact that dowry-related violence in India, is not limited to a particular religion, it is that social evil, whose greedy roots are rooted in each and every part of the country. According to a BBC report in 2013, around 309,546 crimes were reported against women, of which 118,866 were for domestic violence alone.

Section 498 A, of Indian Penal Code, is one of the greatest rescues for Violence against woman (VAW), which is a reflection of the pathetic reality of the domestic violence occurring within the four walls of a house.

Indian National Crime Record Bureau, as per 2012, reports the presence of 8,233 dowry death cases across India. When a man and woman join hands together under the voluntary union for life in the form of marriage, it becomes mandatory for the husband to take care of and maintain his wife and bear up his  responsibility. But this sacred union is often dented by the stigma, called dowry, because of which women from time immemorial have been ill-treated, harassed, killed, divorced for the simple reason that they didn't bring dowry or the commodities brought by them is lesser than the next door.

Today section 498 A, is among the most debatable sections regarding women, as it is claimed that it is more often misused than used. Even when the former Union minister for Women and Child Development[1], stated about 70 % of women in India to be victims of domestic violence, there was a huge commotion in media, several foundations like that of Save India Family Foundation came forward and reported that while giving the stats she deliberately avoided the actual convictions in dowry death trials after false cases were dismissed in the courts. But the question still remains, that can some handful misused cases, make us neglect and shut our eyes towards the real scenario of the society where a large section of the women are the oppressed section and have been subject to cruelty by the husband or his family?

The Indian Penal Code, 1860, was amended in 1983 and resulted in the insertion of Section.498A which deals with Matrimonial Cruelty to a woman. By the same Amendment Act, Indian Evidence Act was also modified by the addition of section 113-A to increase presumption regarding abetment of suicide by a married woman.

The introduction of Section 498-A of I.P.C was with the main objective to protect a woman who is being harassed by her husband or relatives of husband, therefore as per Chapter XXA of Indian Penal Code, under Section 498 A, Matrimonial Cruelty in India is a cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable offense.

The Section states:
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 her to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to a fine. 

Explanation – for the purpose of this section, cruelty means:
  1. any wilful 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

  2. harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demands for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”[2]

Section 113A of Indian Evidence Act

Presumption as to dowry death-

When the question is whether a person has committed the dowry death of a woman and it is shown that soon before her death such woman has been subjected by such person to cruelty or harassment for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, The court shall presume that such person had caused the dowry death.

Explanation- For the purpose of this section dowry death shall have the same meaning as in section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).”[3]

It was considered that only a small fraction of the women involve such cruelty where the cruelty of the husband and the relatives of the husband culminates in suicide by or murder of the helpless woman concerned, therefore, it was proposed to amend Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 suitably to deal effectively not only with cases of dowry deaths but also cases of cruelty to married women by the husband and the relatives of the husband. The main object of the legislature was to combat the menace of dowry death and cruelty[4]

Understanding the meaning of Cruelty as per the concerned section, it was held in a famous case[5], that common essential in offenses under both the sections 304B and 498A of Indian Penal Code is cruelty. It was also stated that though the concerned two sections are not mutually inclusive to each other but both are distinct offenses and persons acquitted under one section, i.e Section 304B for the offense of dowry death can also be convicted for an offense under the other Section that is, Sec.498A of Indian Penal Code.

In another case court described that what exactly amount to cruelty, according to the court the act of harassment would amount to cruelty as well. The court stated that drinking and late coming habits of the husband coupled with physical abuse that is beating and demanding dowry also amounts to cruelty as per the meaning of the concerned section[6]. In a case before the Supreme Court, it was observed that the concerned section has given a new dimension to the concept of cruelty for the purposes of matrimonial remedies.

In a precise way, we can say that under the Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code, cruelty by itself amounts to an offense whereas under the other section, that is section 304-B the offense is of dowry death and the occurrence of death must be during the time period of seven years of marriage, but there is no such period mentioned in section 498-A.

The court in another celebrated case[7] held that the word cruelty is defined in the explanation provided with the section, which inter alia declares that harassment of a woman with the object to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand by the husband or his family members or relatives for any property or any valuable security amounts to cruelty.

We can thus summarize the kinds of cruelty which the section in actual covers, Cruelty by:

  1. Deprivation and wasteful habits,
  2. Vexatious litigation,
  3. Persistent demand,
  4. Extra-marital relations,
  5. Taking away children,
  6. False attacks on chastity,
  7. Non-acceptance of an infant girl,
  8. Harassment for non-dowry demand.
In several judgments the court has also brought the husband guilty of abetment of suicide and the husband having an illicit relationship with another woman where and used to beat his wife making it persistent cruelty, under the presumption of cruelty within the meaning of section 113-A, Evidence Act, 1872 and also within the meaning of section 306 within the meaning of Explanation (a) of section 498-A.

In another celebrated case[8] involving the death of a newly wedded woman by burning wherein, the circumstances did not establish either murder nor an abatement to suicide and ultimately resulted in the escape of the in-laws from the jaws of section 300 and 306, but ultimately they were caught into the web of this newly enacted section 481A, for prevention of harassment for dowry.

As it was brought to the notice of the court that they were persistently demanding valuable items from the girls side, and also the fact that already a large number of articles were taken by the deceased father after her death from her matrimonial home depicted that there was an evident pressure being exerted on the in-laws and continued to be exerted till death of the girl for more money and valuables.

Sec 498A and the Allegation of Misuse:

With the rise in the rate of education, financial security, and modernization the more independent and the radical feminists have also made Section 498A of IPC, as a weapon in her hands than a shield. Because of which many helpless husbands and their relatives have become the victims of the vengeful daughters-in-law of their house.

These days in many cases where Sec 498A is invoked, they turn out to be false cases (and this is time and time repeatedly accepted by the High Courts and Supreme Court of India), as they turn out to be mere blackmail attempts by the wife (or her close relatives) when troubled with a stressed marriage. Because of which in most cases the Section 498A complaint is generally followed by the demand of huge amount of money to settle the case outside the court.

In one of the cases [9], the court held specifically that there are misuse and exploitation of the provisions to such an extent that it was hitting on the basis that is the foundation of marriage itself and which ultimately proved to be not a good sign for the health of society for the public at large.

The same statement of the misuse of laws vehemently is even ascertained by the responsible authorities of the society, such as the police, politicians and even judges of the distinguished Courts. Particularly the allegation of misuse is made against Sec 498A of the IPC and against Sec 304B.

Similar views were also expressed by the former Justice K T Thomas[10] in his article, even the 2003 Malimath Committee report on reforms in the criminal justice system also depicted, significantly, about the "general complaint" of Sec 498A of the IPC to be a subject to gross misuse; and therefore the same report suggested an amendment to the impugned provision, however, it failed to provide any data regarding how frequently the section is subject to misuse.

Approach required
Since the provision has brought into force the Indian Courts have been using the impugned provision to safeguard the women against the members of her own matrimonial family from facing cruelty. It is a fact that about 9 out of 10 of the cases brought regarding women are mostly related to dowry, wherein a woman is continuously threatened and coerced by the in-laws or the husband for the want of more money and property, whose un-fulfillment, leads to the torturing, harassment, threatening and abuse of the women, which can be both physically and verbally.

Likewise in a celebrated case[11] due to insufficiency of dowry demands the woman was given calmpose tablets and she was even made to cut the arteries of both her hands. It is also seen that sometimes, only asking for dowry may not be the cause but for several other reasons like that of her complexion or family status the woman is tortured to death.

Therefore by showing any mercy to abusers or giving them a chance of the benefit of the doubt is completely wrong. As in a celebrated case[12] the accused were not punished because they had the leverage of benefit doubt, even though the letters of the deceased woman, clearly stating that harassment had taken place with her, which generally is strong evidence.

It is important to note that the domestic violence and abuse by the spouses and family members are very complex behaviors and the social organization of courts, legal cultures, and the police systematically tend to devalue several domestic violence cases.

Therefore the perspective of the state and the people needs to change from potential "misuse" of the concerned laws of domestic violence to that of implementing it for their real purpose and thus to recognize that any such type of violence is a crime and to protect women who have shown the courage and stood up to file complaints against their abusers.

  1. Mrs. Renuka Chowdhry in 2006
  2. Section 498 A Indian Penal Code, 1860
  3. Section 113-A of Indian Evidence Act, 1872
  4. Sushil Kumar Sharma vs. Union of India; JT 2005(6) SC266
  5. Kaliyaperumal vs. State of Tamil Nadu 2004 (9) SCC 157;
  6. Jagdish Chander vs. State of Haryana,1988 Cr. LJ 1048 (P&H)
  7. Inder Raj Malik vs. Sunita Malik, 1986 (2) Crimes 435
  8. Wazir Chand vs. State of Haryana 1989 SCC(Cr) 105
  9. Savitri Devi v Ramesh Chand & Ors II (2003) DMC 328
  10. Women and the Law, The Hindu
  11. of Ram Kishan Jain &Ors v State of Madhya Pradesh II (2000) DMC 628
  12. Ashok Batra & Ors v State I (2003) DMC 287

Section 498A Articles:

  1. Section 498A of IPC
  2. Conditions of bail in 498a
  3. Sec. 498A I.P.C.- Its Use And Misuse
  4. Chances of getting Anticipatory Bail in cases of 498a/406
  5. Understanding 498A Cruelty
  6. How to quash 498A
  7. Sec. 498A IPC: Only HC Can Quash Cases on Settlement; A Third Agency Created By Courts Can't Exercise Statutory Functions: SC
  8. What before 498A
  9. IPC 498A: A Critical Analysis
  10. Quashing of False FIR registered under 498A and 406 of the Indian Penal Code
  11. Section 498A: Alleged Misuse or Factual Under Use
  12. Quash 498A -Vague Allegations in FIR
  13. Section 498 A I.P.C. Whether a shield or a weapon
  14. Section 498 IPC
  15. Courts At Place Where Wife Resides After Leaving Matrimonial Home Can Entertain Complaints U/s 498A IPC

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