Sec-498 A I.P.C. – Its Use And Misuse
SOURCE - http://www.legallyindia.com/1839-section-498a-of-ipc-its-use-misuse
To start with first we have to look that what this word marriage means. ‘Marriage is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.’ It is a social institution where husband has the responsibility to take care and maintain his wife. He cannot neglect his duties. But on this great institution a stigma called ‘dowry’ still exists. 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 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.
Matrimonial Cruelty in India is a cognizable, non bailable and non compoundable offence. It is defined in Chapter XXA of I.P.C. under Sec. 498A as:
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:
(a) 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
(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 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.
The section was enacted to combat the menace of dowry deaths. It was introduced in the code by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983 (Act 46 of 1983). By the same Act section 113-A has been added to the Indian Evidence Act to raise presumption regarding abetment of suicide by married 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 113-A of Indian Evidence Act, reads as follows:
Sec. 113-A, 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).
The object for which section 498A IPC was introduced is amply reflected in the Statement of Objects and Reasons while enacting Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act No. 46 of 1983. As clearly stated therein the increase in number of dowry deaths is a matter of serious concern. The extent of the evil has been commented upon by the Joint Committee of the Houses to examine the work of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. In some of cases, cruelty of the husband and the relatives of the husband which culminate in suicide by or murder of the helpless woman concerned, which constitute only a small fraction involving such cruelty. Therefore, it was proposed to amend IPC, the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 (in short ‘the Cr.P.C’) and the Evidence Act suitably to deal effectively not only with cases of dowry deaths but also cases of cruelty to married women by the husband, in- law’s and relatives. The avowed object is to combat the menace of dowry death and cruelty.
The act of harassment would amount to cruelty for the purpose of this section. Drinking and late coming habits of the husband coupled with beating and demanding dowry have been taken to amount to cruelty within the meaning of this section, but this section has been held not to include a husband who merely drinks as a matter of routine and comes home late. In a case before Supreme Court it was observed that this section has given a new dimension to the concept of cruelty for the purposes of matrimonial remedies and that the type of conduct described here would be relevant for proving cruelty.
Meaning of Cruelty:
It was held in ‘Kaliyaperumal vs. State of Tamil Nadu’, that cruelty is a common essential in offences under both the sections 304B and 498A of IPC. The two sections are not mutually inclusive but both are distinct offences and persons acquitted under section 304B for the offence of dowry death can be convicted for an offence under sec.498A of IPC. The meaning of cruelty is given in explanation to section 498A. Section 304B does not contain its meaning but the meaning of cruelty or harassment as given in section 498-A applies in section 304-B as well. Under section 498-A of IPC cruelty by itself amounts to an offence whereas under section 304-B the offence is of dowry death and the death must have occurred during the course of seven years of marriage. But no such period is mentioned in section 498-A.
In the case of ‘Inder Raj Malik vs. Sunita Malik’ , it was held that the word ‘cruelty’ is defined in the explanation which inter alia says that harassment of a woman with a view to coerce her or any related persons to meet any unlawful demand for any property or any valuable security is cruelty.
Kinds of cruelty covered under this section includes following:
(a) Cruelty by vexatious litigation
(b) Cruelty by deprivation and wasteful habits
(c) Cruelty by persistent demand
(d) Cruelty by extra-marital relations
(e) Harassment for non-dowry demand
(f) Cruelty by non-acceptance of baby girl
(g) Cruelty by false attacks on chastity
(h) Taking away children
The presumption of cruelty within the meaning of section 113-A, Evidence Act,1872 also arose making the husband guilty of abetment of suicide within the meaning of section 306 where the husband had illicit relationship with another woman and used to beat his wife making it a persistent cruelty within the meaning of Explanation (a) of section 498-A.
Constitution Validity of Section 498-A
In ‘Inder Raj Malik and others vs. Mrs. Sumita Malik’, it was contended that this section is ultra vires Article 14 and Article 20 (2) of the Constitution. There is the Dowry Prohibition Act which also deals with similar types of cases; therefore, both statutes together create a situation commonly known as double jeopardy. But Delhi High Court negatives this contention and held that this section does not create situation for double jeopardy. Section 498-A is distinguishable from section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act because in the latter mere demand of dowry is punishable and existence of element of cruelty is not necessary, whereas section 498-A deals with aggravated form of the offence. It punishes such demands of property or valuable security from the wife or her relatives as are coupled with cruelty to her. Hence a person can be prosecuted in respect of both the offences punishable under section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act and this section.
This section gives wide discretion to the courts in the matters of interpretation of the words occurring in the laws and also in matters of awarding punishment. This provision is not ultra vires. It does not confer arbitrary powers on courts.
In the leading case of ‘Wazir Chand vs. State of Haryana ’, involving the death by burning of a newly married woman, the circumstances did not establish either murder or an abetted suicide and thus in-laws escaped the jaws of section 300 and 306, but they were caught in the web of this newly enacted section for prevention of harassment for dowry. Not to speak of the things they are persistently demanding from the girl’s side, the fact that a large number of articles were taken by her father after her death from her matrimonial abode showed that there was pressure being exerted on-in laws and continued to be exerted till death for more money and articles.
With the rise in modernisation, education, financial security and the new found independence the radical feminist has made 498A a weapon in her hands. Many a hapless husbands and in laws have become victims of their vengeful daughter-in-laws. Most cases where Sec 498A is invoked turn out to be false (as repeatedly accepted by High Courts and Supreme Court in India) as they are mere blackmail attempts by the wife (or her close relatives) when faced with a strained marriage. In most cases 498A complaint is followed by the demand of huge amount of money (extortion) to settle the case out of the court.
Sec 498A and the Allegation of Misuse:
In the last 20 years of criminal law reform a common argument made against laws relating to violence against women in India has been that women misuse these laws. The police, civil society, politicians and even judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court have offered these arguments of the "misuse' of laws vehemently. The allegation of misuse is made particularly against Sec 498A of the IPC and against the offence of dowry death in Sec 304B. One such view was expressed by former Justice K T Thomas in his article titled 'Women and the Law', which appeared in The Hindu.21 The 2003 Malimath Committee report on reforms in the criminal justice system also notes, significantly, that there is a "general complaint" that Sec 498A of the IPC is subject to gross misuse; it uses this as justification to suggest an amendment to the provision, but provides no data to indicate how frequently the section is being misused. It is important therefore that such "arguments" are responded to, so as to put forth a clearer picture of the present factual status of the effect of several criminal laws enacted to protect women.
Domestic violence and abuse by spouses and family members are complex behaviours and the social organisation of courts, the police and legal cultures systematically tend to devalue domestic violence cases. Sec 498A was introduced in the IPC in 1983 and the reforms of the past 20 years have not been adequately evaluated at all by the government with respect to their deterrence goals, despite the institutionalization of law and policy to criminalise domestic violence. A program of research and development is urgently required to advance the current state of knowledge on the effects of legal sanctions on domestic violence. The narrow or perhaps almost negligible study done by law enforcement agencies about the deterrent effects of legal sanctions for domestic violence stands in high contrast with the extensive efforts of activists, victim advocates and criminal justice practitioners in mobilising law and shaping policy to stop domestic violence. It is important to do these studies to correct the general misconceptions that women are misusing the law by filing false cases against their husbands and in-laws in order to harass them and get them convicted. The perspective of the state and its agencies needs to change from that of protecting the husbands and in-laws against potential "misuse" of the laws of domestic violence to that of implementing their real purpose – to recognise that such violence is a crime and protect women who have the courage to file complaints against their abusers.
Article 15 of Indian Constitution
Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, s*x or place of birth. However, it allows special provisions for women and children. Article 21A provides for free and compulsory education to all children from the ages of six to 14 years. Article 24 prohibits employment of children below 14 years in mines, factories or any other hazardous employment. The court also took note of Article 14 guaranteeing equality, and Article 21 providing that a person cannot be deprived of life and liberty except according to procedure established by the law. Similarly, Article 23 prohibiting human trafficking and forced labour was also referred to in the court’s judgment.
Moving away from fundamental rights to the directive principles, the court pressed into service provisions relating to the health of women and children. Article 39(f) directs the State to ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment. Article 42 directs the State to make provisions for just and humane conditions of work, and maternity beliefs. Article 45 stipulates that the State shall provide early childhood care and education for all children until the age of six. Article 47 lays down the raising of level of nutrition and standard of living of people, and improvement of public health as a primary duty of the State.
This section tries to maintain that every married woman needs to be given due respect and treated with care. It reinforces the fact that a woman is not a toy to be played with, to be thrown away at one’s whims and fancies and treated as inferior to any other. It inherently asks for husbands to treat their wives well and not misbehave or demand unjustly which in a way sends forth a message that a woman is a commodity for sale.
What section 498A IPC tries to do is prevent and punish the above act and re-assert a woman’s
right to live a peaceful and happy life.
Use of Section 498 A by Indian Courts:
Indian Courts had been using this provision to safeguard the women from facing the cruelty faced by them at their matrimonial home.
9 out of 10 of the cases are always related to dowry, wherein the woman is continuously threatened for want of more money and property which if remains unfulfilled , the married woman is tortured, threatened, abused- both physically and verbally and harassed. Like in the case of Ram Kishan Jain&Ors v State of Madhya Pradeshdue to insufficiency of dowry demands the woman was administered calmpose tablets and thereafter she even cut the arteries of both her hands. Sometimes, dowry may not be the cause but the woman for several reasons like her complexion or family status is tortured to death.
In the case of Surajmal Banthia & Anr. v. State of West Bengal, the deceased was ill-treated and tortured for several days and even not given food several times. Her father- in-law also misbehaved with her quite often. This is the treatment that several young brides face when they move out of their parents’ home and into the house of her in-laws’. It is the duty of the court to prevent any of these abusers from escaping. The increasing rate of bride burning for want of more dowry and brutal torture of young wives, together with a clear escape of the abuser is a clear indication that the court has not taken any strong measures for the implementation of S. 498A IPC properly.
As stated earlier many a times this victim turns into the abuser and is clearly not wronged but
instead wrongs the husband and his family for no fault of theirs. Several cases show that the married woman takes advantage of the section and sends the respondents to jail under the ambit of this section.
Many women rights’ groups justify the abuse of this section as being a common feature with all
other laws and that also the ratio of false cases to that of true ones as being very low. But this still does not change the truth that there is slowly a rise in the abuse of S.498A IPC.
In many judgments, the court has not considered mental cruelty caused to the woman but has
concentrated only on any sign of physical cruelty. If evidence does not show that the woman was
physically harassed, then the court does not look into the case. What the court does is call the
woman hyper- sensitive or of low tolerance level and having an unstable mind.
Also S.498A IPC does not only deal with dowry deaths but also any willful conduct on part of the husband which causes harm to the wife’s ‘ life, limb or health (whether mental or physical).’To prove that cruelty was caused under Explanation a) of S.498A IPC it is not important to show or put forth that the woman was beaten up- abusing her verbally, denying her conjugal rights or even not speaking to her properly would fall into the ambit of mental cruelty.
Showing any mercy to abusers or giving them the ‘benefit of doubt’ when some proof to torture at their hands is present is completely wrong. Like in the case of Ashok Batra & Ors v Stateeven though letters of the deceased stating that harassment had taken place was present, not treating them as strong evidence and giving the appellants a benefit of doubt without ordering for a further investigation into the matter is wrong.
The judges have in several instances made a very narrow interpretation of this section, considering it to be only cruelty in relation to unlawful demands or dowry demands. In a particular case, the court went to the extent of stating that ‘merely because her in-laws or husband were to chastise the woman for improper or immoral conduct, it does not necessarily amount to cruelty.’ This act of chastising the woman clearly amounts to mental cruelty, something that the court apparently failed to notice. Here, considering the woman to be a hyper- sensitive woman not used to usual wear and tear of social life is completely erroneous.
In the case of Bomma Ilaiah v State of APthe husband of the complainant tortured the woman
physically by forcing his wife to have s*xual intercourse with him. He inserted his fingers and a stick in her v**gina, causing severe pains and bleeding but the court found the husband of this
Woman guilty only under S. 325 IPC and not S, 498A IPC. Why? Her life both physically and
Mentally was at risk. Didn’t the court notice this?
The court has in another case not punished the guilty under S.498A IPC even though medical
Reports clearly showed that the death was homicidal by throttling. This was simply because
According to the court, even though there were dowry demands in the past, the court felt that
Proximity of the death to be caused due to such a demand was unlikely. Who decides this
Proximity? The cause and its effect on the woman’s health or life may be profound and even cause her mental unrest at a later stage.
While on the on hand, women’s emancipation is the need of the hour and prevention of ever
increasing dowry deaths and harassment needs to be stopped, it is also clearly noticed that women today are still tortured and often the court, being the ultimate savior also does not come to the rescue to protect these women.
Misuse of Section 498 A in Modern World:
A violation of this section, its goals and its aims is on the rise with the woman
frivolously making false allegations against their husbands with the purpose of getting rid of them or simply hurting the family.
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.
Like in the case of Savitri Devi v Ramesh Chand & Ors, the court held clearly that there was a
misuse and exploitation of the provisions to such an extent that it was hitting at the foundation of
marriage itself and proved to be not so good for health of society at large. The court believed that
authorities and lawmakers had to review the situation and legal provisions to prevent such from
This section was made keeping in mind protection of the married woman from unscrupulous
husbands but is clearly misused by few women and again this is strictly condemned in Saritha v R. Ramachandranwhere the court did notice that the reverse trend and asked the law Commissionand Parliament to make the offence a non-cognizable and bailable one. It is been a duty of the courtto condemn wrongdoings and protect the victim but what happens when the victim turns into theabuser? What remedy does the husband have here?
On this ground, the woman gets to divorce her husband and re-marry or even gain money in the
form of compensation.
Many women rights’ groups go against the idea of making the offence a non-cognizable and
bailable one thinking that this gives the accused a chance to escape conviction. But what this would do is that it would give a fair chance to the man and above all help meet the ends of justice. Justice must protect the weaker and ensure that the wronged is given a chance to claim back his/her due.
When women accuse their husbands under S.498A IPC by making the offence non-bailable and
cognizable , if the man is innocent he does not get a chance quickly to get justice and ‘justice
delayed is justice denied’. Therefore, the lawmakers must suggest some way of making this section non-biased to any individual such that the guilty is punished and the person wronged is given justice.
The position of the women in India is still bad. They still need rights to alleviate themselves in
society but many a times fail to notice others’ rights as long as their rights are ensured. The
educated woman of today must agree with the mantra of equality and demand the same but the
trend is slowly getting reversed. Women are taking due advantage of the fact that they are referred to as the ‘weaker s*x’ and on the foundation of rights ensured to them are violating others’ rights.
Indian Courts in their recent judgements have looked into the matter of misuse of Sec.-498A I.P.C. As this Section provides that when an F.I.R. is lodged all the family members of the husband can be roped in.In their judicial observations and remarks, the courts have expressed deep anguish over this law. Here are some recent judicial observations.
1990 Punjab and Haryana High court observed in Jasbir Kaur vs. State of Haryana, case as:
“It is known that an estranged wife will go to any extent to rope in as many relatives of the husband as possible in a desperate effort to salvage whatever remains of an estranged marriage.”
In Kanaraj vs. State of Punjab, the apex court observed as:
“for the fault of the husband the in-laws or other relatives cannot in all cases be held to be involved. The acts attributed to such persons have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and they cannot be held responsible by mere conjectures and implications. The tendency to rope in relatives of the husband as accused has to be curbed”
Karnataka High Court, in the case of State Vs. Srikanth, observed as:
“Roping in of the whole of the family including brothers and sisters-in-law has to be depreciated unless there is a specific material against these persons, it is down right on the part of the police to include the whole of the family as accused”
Supreme Court, InMohd. Hoshan vs. State of A.P. case, observed as:
“Whether one spouse has been guilt of cruelty to the other is essentially a question of fact. The impact of complaints, accusation or taunts on a person amounting to cruelty depends on various factors like the sensitivity of the victim concerned, the social background, the environment, education etc. Further, mental cruelty varies from person to person depending on the intensity of the sensitivity, degree of courage and endurance to withstand such cruelty. Each case has to be decided on its own facts whether mental cruelty is made out”
Supreme Court, in a relatively recent case, Sushil Kumar Sharma vs. Union of India and others, observed as:
“The object of the provision is prevention of the dowry menace. But as has been rightly contented by the petitioner that many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bonafide and have been filed with oblique motive. In such cases acquittal of the accused does not in all cases wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery. The question, therefore, is what remedial measures can be taken to prevent abuse of the well-intentioned provision. Merely because the provision is constitutional and intra vires, does not give a licence to unscrupulous persons to wreck personal vendetta or unleash harassment. It may, therefore, become necessary for the legislature to find out ways how the makers of frivolous complaints or allegations can be appropriately dealt with. Till then the Courts have to take care of the situation within the existing frame work.
But by misuse of the provision a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used a shield and not an assassin’s weapon. If cry of “wolf” is made too often as a prank assistance and protection may not be available when the actual “wolf” appears. There is no question of investigating agency and Courts casually dealing with the allegations. They cannot follow any straitjacket formula in the matters relating to dowry tortures, deaths and cruelty. It cannot be lost sight of that ultimate objective of every legal system is to arrive at truth, punish the guilty and protect the innocent. There is no scope for any pre-conceived notion or view. It is strenuously argued by the petitioner that the investigating agencies and the courts start with the presumptions that the accused persons are guilty and that the complainant is speaking the truth. This is too wide available and generalized statement. Certain statutory presumptions are drawn which again are rebuttable. It is to be noted that the role of the investigating agencies and the courts is that of watch dog and not of a bloodhound. It should be their effort to see that an innocent person is not made to suffer on account of unfounded, baseless and malicious allegations. It is equally undisputable that in many cases no direct evidence is available and the courts have to act on circumstantial evidence. While dealing with such cases, the law laid down relating to circumstantial evidence has to be kept in view.”
The Court and Legislature have to make changes if the laws of matrimonial cruelty are to be of any deterrence. Looking into the recent observations and the increase in the misuse of this Section, there should be certain amendments which should be brought up in this law:
1. Role of Women NGOs: These organizations should investigate complaint properly without any bias towards the woman keeping in mind that the law is being misused largely to harass more women in husband’s family. They should not encourage any woman to file a criminal case against her in-laws for trivial matters. Foreign Women Organizations should also take responsibility of not allowing false complaint to be registered against NRI’s just to harass and extort huge amount of money from them. These organizations should also conduct survey/research on the misuse of the act and should educate people about its consequences. If these organizations are found to be assisting in filing false complaints, then they should be made liable for prosecution in the country where they are functioning.
2. Family Counselling Centres: Numerous cases of men being harassed by wife or/and in-laws have come to light from different parts of the country. As of now there is no organization, which can really help these harassed men and his family members, to listen their side of the story and put their point of view in front of the government. Need of the hour is to create family counseling centers across the country to help those aggrieved families.
3. Time bound Investigation and Trial: A speedy trial of 498(a) cases will not only ensure justice for the innocents that have been implicated in false charges, it will also lead to prompt redressal of the grievances of real dowry victims .The reduction in false cases will also reduce the burden on judiciary and expedite the processing of real cases.
4. Definition of Mental Cruelty: Mental cruelty has been vaguely defined in the act, which leaves scope of misuse. This should be clearly elaborated to remove loopholes in the law. There should be provision for men also to file a case for mental cruelty by his wife.
5. Investigation by Civil authorities: The investigation into these offences be carried out by civil authorities and only after his/her finding as to the commission of the offence, cognizance should be taken. The government should create awareness among officers about its misuse.
6. Bailable: The main reason of 498a being misused to harass innocent is its non-bailable nature. This section should be made bailable to prevent innocent old parents, pregnant sisters, and school going children from languishing in custody for weeks without any fault of them.
7. Compoundable: Once FIR has been registered it becomes impossible to withdraw the case even if wife realizes that she has done a blunder and wants to come back to her matrimonial home. To save institution of marriage this should be made compoundable. Moreover, in the scenario where the couple decides to end the marriage by mutual divorce, continuation of criminal proceedings hamper their life.
8. Arrest Warrants: Arrest warrant should be issued only against the main accused and only after cognizance has been taken. Husband family members should not be arrested.
9. Penalty for making false accusation: Whenever any court comes to the conclusion that the allegations made regarding commission of offence under section 498a IPC are unfound, stringent action should be taken against persons making the allegations. This would discourage persons from coming to courts with unclean hands and ulterior motives. Criminal charges should be brought against all authorities that are collaborating with falsely accusing women and their parental families.
10. Court Proceedings: Physical appearance of the accused on hearing should be waved or kept low to avoid hassles in appearing to the court, especially for NRIs. The court should not ask to surrender passport of the husband and his family which could cost job of the husband and his family members.
11. Registration of Marriage and Gifts Exchanged: The registration of marriages should be made compulsory along with the requirement that the couple make a joint declaration regarding the gifts exchanged during marriage.
12. Punish Dowry Givers: If the complainant admits giving dowry in the complaint, the courts should take cognizance of the same and initiate proceedings against them under the relevant sections of the Dowry Prohibition Act
13. Penalize corrupt Investigation Officers: If it is apparent to the court that a fair investigation has not been conducted by the investigation officer, and that the husbandand his family have been charge-sheeted without proper verification of the complaint, the investigation officer should be penalized for gross negligence of duty.
14. NRI Issues : Unless they are proven to be guilty after the due judicial process, NRIs should be a given a fair chance to justice by assuring them of the following -a) Permission to return to country of employment b) No impoundment/revocation of passport and no Interpol Red Corner Notices. c) No unnecessary arrests d) Expeditious investigation and trial
15. Gender Neutral: Everyone should have equal rights and responsibilities, irrespective of gender. In the current social context, there should be similar laws to protect harassed husband and his family members from an unscrupulous wife.
This Section only provides for the remedy to woman only and these days it is being used as a ‘brahamastra’ by the woman. It is a highly debatable issue these days, if this problem is not solved by legislation it may become a bane for the society. People’s trust over the judiciary will come to an end. So it’s high time that this Section be amended and some changes like mentioned above should be brought up in this law.