Analysis of Section 498A of IPC in the Light of Judgments of the Apex Court and High Court
1Assistant Professor, S.O.S. In Law, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur.
This law was mainly aimed to protect married women from being harassed or subjected to cruelty by husbands and/or their relatives and curbing dowry harassment. Unfortunately, this law has been misused to harass men and their families rather than protect genuine female victims of harassment. The paper shows the analytical study of the Section 498A their application, scope and extent in today perspective. The paper also gives suggestion to government for the proper implementation of the law. The relevant case laws of the Apex Court and various High Courts related to 498A are also laid down.
After India gained independence, the constitution makers and the national leaders not only recognized the unequal social position of the women but saw it to that woman would get equal rights with the men. Keeping this in mind, the concept of equality has been enshrined in the constitution which gives honour to the women who once the most neglected and subjugated section of the society. With the spread of women’s education in India and due to impact of the Western country, the Indian women rose against the cruelties of the male. They opposed the system of polygamy, sought right to divorce, claimed equality and demanded restriction on dowry. On the account of this demand several legislation has been enacted by the legislature to improve the condition of the women in the country.
Some of the legislation are Hindu marriage Act,1956, The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act,1956, the Dowry Prohibition Act,1984, the Immoral Traffic prevention Act, 1956, the Protection of women from Domestic Violence Act,2005, The Child Marriage Restraint Act,1989 etc.
In the Political field also women enjoy equal status in post Independence India. The committee on the status of women 1974 provided the first comprehensive study on the right and status of Indian women. Recently the department of women and child development has drawn up a national perspective plan for women 1988. Also ‘women studies’ as a discipline is being encouraged in many universities, as well as by the UGC several pre women laws have been passed, to protect their rights. However, these do not seem to be enough. In the 198o’s the incidence of the dowry deaths were steadily rising in India. A dowry death is murder of young women committed by the in laws when she was unable to fulfill their coercive demand for money articles or property categorized as dowry. Organization across the country pressurized and urged the government to provide the legislative protection to women against the domestic violence and dowry. The objective was to allow the state to intervene rapidly and prevent the murders of young girls who were unable to meet the dowry demand of their in laws. As a result of intense campaigning and lobbying significant amendment were made in the Indian penal code, the Indian Evidence Act and the Dowry Prohibition Act, with the intention of protecting women from marital violence, abuse and dowry demands.
The most important amendment came in the form of introduction of section 498A in the Indian penal code. The text of law is given below:
“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.”1
The 498A in the Indian Penal code is an offence which is Cognizable, Non bailable and Non Compoundable. Analysis of section shows that this law deals with four type of Cruelty:
· Any conduct is likely to drive a women to suicide,
· Any conduct which is likely to cause grave injury to the life, limb or health of the women
· Harassment with the purpose of forcing the women or her relative to give some property,
· Harassment because the women or her relative are either unable to yield to the demand for more money or do not give some share of the property.
Meaning and scope of Cruelty Under IPC:
With the bare perusal of the “Explanation” given in the section 498-A of the IPC which describe the word “Cruelty” has very wide scope. The following kinds of Cruelty also cover under this section are given below:
· Cruelty by vexatious litigation
· Cruelty by persistent demand
· Cruelty by extra marital relation
· Cruelty by non acceptance of baby girls
· Cruelty by false attack on chastity
· Cruelty by deprivation and wasteful habits
· Taking away children
In case of “Inder Raj Malik Vs. Sunita Malik2, It was held that “the word cruelty is defined in the explanation which inter alia says that harassment of women with a view to coerce her or any related persons to meet any unlawful demand for any property or any valuable security is cruelty.”
Constitutional Validity of the Section 498-A:
In “Inder Raj Malik Vs. Sunita Malik2, 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 the similar type of cases; therefore, both statute together create a situation commonly Known as double jeopardy. But the Delhi High Court negative this contention and held that this section does not create double jeopardy situation. Section 498-A is distinghshable with the Section 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act because in the later section only demand of dowry is punishable and existence of element of cruelty is not necessary, where section 498-A IPC deals with aggravated form of the offence. Hence a person can be prosecuted in respect of both the offence punishable under section 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act and this section 498-A.
Some of the Provision enshrined under Indian constitution related to protection of Rights of women are:
Article 15, Article 24, Article 21, Article 23, Article 39(f), Article 42, Article 47 etc. This section tries to maintain that every married women needs to be given due respect and treated with care. It reinforced the fact that women is not a toy to be played with to be thrown away at one’s whims and fancies and treated as inferior to lay other. It inherently asks for husband to treat their wives well and not misbehave or demand unjustly which in a way sends forth a messages that a women is commodity for sale. What section 498-A IPC tries to do is prevent and punish the above act and re-assert a women’s right to live a peaceful and happy life.
In Recent Judgement of Sushil Kumar Sharma vs union of India and others3, constitutionality of the section 498-A has been upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and said “that the mere possibility of the abuse of a provision of law does not invalidate the law.”
Misuse of Section 498-A in Modern period:
The abuse of this section is rapidly increasing and the women often well educated know that this section is both cognizable and non bail able and impromptu works on the complaint of the women and placing the man behind bars.
In case of Savitri Devi vs Ramesh Chand And Ors4., the court held clearly that “the misuse of the provisions of Section 498A/406 IPC to such an extent that it is hitting at the foundation of marriage itself and has proved to be not so good for the health of the society at large. The court believed that authorities and law makers had to review the situation and legal provisions to prevent such from taking place.”
In Kanaraj vs. State of Punjab5, the apex court held that:
“For the fault of the husband, the in-laws or the other relations cannot, in all cases, be held to be involved in the demand of dowry. In cases where such accusations are made, the overt acts attributed to persons other than husband are required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. By mere conjectures and implications such relations cannot be held guilty for the offence relating to dowry deaths. A tendency has, however, developed for roping in all relations of the in-laws of the deceased wives in the matters of dowry deaths which, if not discouraged, is likely to affect the case of the prosecution even against the real culprits.”
In case of State vs Srikanth6, Karnataka High Court observed as:
“the cases where serious matrimonial offences are alleged that the police have been indiscriminately roping-in the whole of the family including the brothers, sisters, in-laws; we had come across one incident where apart from the parents, the grandfather and great-grandfather were also shown as accused. Unless there is specific material against these persons it is downright wrong on the part of the Investigating Authorities to indiscriminately include the whole of the family as accused persons.”
In case of Savitri Devi vs Ramesh Chand And Ors4., Delhi high court observed that:
“These provisions were though made with good intentions but the implementation has left a very bad taste and the move has been counter productive. There is a growing tendency amongst the women which is further perpetuated by their parents and relatives to rope in each and every relative-including minors and even school going kids nearer or distant relatives and in some cases against every person of the family of the husband whether living away or in other town or abroad and married, unmarried sisters, 'sister-in-laws, unmarried brothers, married uncles and in some cases grand-parents or as many as 10 to 15 or even more relatives of the husband.”
In Bhupinder Kaur and others Vs. State of Punjab and others7 the High Court observed that:
“From the reading of the FIR, it is evident that there is no specific allegation of any act against petitioners Nos. 2 and 3, which constitute offence under s. 498-A I.P.C. I am satisfied that these two persons have been falsely implicated in the present case, who were minors at the time of marriage and even at the time of lodging the present FIR. Neither of these two persons was alleged to have been entrusted with any dowry article nor they alleged to have ever demanded any dowry article. No specific allegation of demand of dowry, harassment and beating given to the complainant by the two accused has been made. The allegations made are vague and general. Moreover, it cannot be ignored that every member of the family of the husband has been implicated in the case. The initiation of criminal proceedings against them in the present case is clearly an abuse of the process of law”
Jharkhand High Court in Arjun Ram vs. State of Jharkhand and another8, case observed as:
“In the instant case, it appears that that the criminal case has been filed, which is manifestly intended with mala fide and ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on the accused and with a view to spite him due to private and personal grudge. In this connection reliance may be placed upon AIR 1992 SC 604: (1992CriLJ 527)”.
Steps and Suggestions to Government:
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.
2. Family Counseling Centers:
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.
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.
6. 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.
7. 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
8. 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.
9. 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 unscrupulous wife.9
IPC section 498A was originally designed to protect married women from being harassed or subjected to cruelty by husbands and/or their relatives. This law was mainly aimed at curbing dowry harassment. Unfortunately, this law has been misused to harass men and their families rather than protect genuine female victims of harassment. The Supreme Court of India itself has labeled the misuse of section 498A as “legal terrorism” and stated that many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have been filed with an oblique motive. In such cases, acquittal of the accused does not wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to the trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery.
It has been argued by Government officials favoring the law that despite the establishment of legal measures to counter harassment of married women, there is an increase in the number of cases of harassment. The first part of the statement suggests that women who are harassed should be utilizing this law as a means of protection. If harassed women indeed used the law then we should see a decrease in the number of cases of harassment over time. Considering the stringent consequences imposed by the law and the inordinate delays inherent in the legal system, no ordinary citizen, male or female, would be impudent enough to risk being implicated under this law for the sake of satisfying their monetary or even sadistic desires for that matter.
The number of cases that are filed in police stations or courts are the basis for the official statistics of dowry harassment. So, given that the law allows women unlimited scope to fabricate lies (with no penalty of perjury) and given that women are encouraged to keep filing false cases the statistics of “dowry harassment” are bound to rise while the problem of genuine harassment is left unchecked. So, the government has, in the name of protection of women, done grave injustice to two groups of women. The first group constitutes the genuine victims of dowry harassment whose misery remains unmitigated but is constantly alluded to in order to justify the law. The second group consists of innocent mothers and sisters of husbands who are criminalized and harassed by the police and the legal system without any regard to their age, health or marital status. Pregnant women, unmarried sisters, ailing mothers and even aged grandmothers have been sent behind the bars under false allegations but their pain and suffering has not even been acknowledged leave alone addressed by the Government. Through IPC section 498-A, the Government is actually protecting those women that indulge in perjury, blackmail, extortion and harassment of their husbands and in-laws.
1. Section 498-A, Indian penal code, 1860
2. 1986 CriLJ 1510, 1986 (2) Crimes 435, 1986 RLR 220
3. JT 2005(6) 66
4. 2003 CriLJ 2759
5. 2000 CriLJ 2993
6. 2002 CriLJ 3605
7. 2003 CriLJ 3394
8. 2004 CriLJ 2989
Received on 11.10.2019 Modified on 08.01.2020
Accepted on 03.03.2020 ©AandV Publications All right reserved