Chapter XXA, Section 498-A was inserted in the Indian Penal Code(IPC) by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983 to punish the husband and his relatives who torture and harass the wife thereby forcing her or the people closely related to her to meet illegal coercive insistence of dowry or to bring her to the urge of committing suicide. The object behind this amendment was to stop dowry deaths. To raise presumption regarding cases of abetting a married woman to commit suicide, Section 113-A was introduced to the Indian Evidence Act by the same Amendment Act.
SECTION 498-A of IPC. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty:
In cases where the Court finds the husband or any of his relatives inflicting cruelty on the wife of the husband shall be imprisoned for a term that may increase up to three years and shall also pay the fine for committing the offence.
Here cruelty means any act voluntarily done against a woman to drive her to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to her life, limb, or health. In the case of Inder Raj Malik vs. Sunita Malik, the Court held that cruelty includes harassment of the woman to force her or of her relative to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security as dowry.
INGREDIENTS OF SECTION 498-A:
In, U. Suvetha v. State, (2009) 6 SCC 757, for an offence to fall under Section 498-A the following has to be proved-
Firstly, the woman must be married,
Secondly, an act of cruelty or harassment must be done to the woman;
Thirdly, the husband of the woman or the relative of the husband must commit acts of cruelty or harassment on the woman.
- CRUELTY BY HUSBAND OR HIS RELATIVES:
Section 498-A restricts the act of cruelty to the commission of cruelty on a woman only by her husband or his relatives. Although, the definition of the term ‘relative’ is not mentioned in IPC, through various cases of such cruelty on a woman it can be construed that the word ‘relatives’ include parents, brothers, and sisters, or any other relative of the husband.
- CRUELTY AND HARASSMENT:
In the case of State of Andhra Pradesh v. M. Madhusudhan Rao, (2008) 15 SCC 582, the Court held that any and every type of harassment does not amount to “cruelty” under Section 498-A. To prove cruelty under this Section, harassment needs to be committed for coercing a woman or any of her relatives to meet any unlawful demand for property, etc.
In Gurcharan Singh v. the State of Punjab, (2017) 1 SCC 433, the Court held that the proof of any voluntary act driving the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb, or health, whether mental or physical, is the sine qua non for proving a case of cruelty against the accused person.
Examples of cruelty covered under Section 498-A includes the following:
- Husband having extra-marital affairs,
- Husband or his relatives non-accepting a baby girl,
- Making false attacks on chastity,
- Taking away children from the woman,
- The persistent refusal of eatables to the woman,
- Insisting on continuous sexual conduct by the husband,
- Continuous locking the woman out of the house,
- Physiological violence against the woman,
- Make fun of the woman, lowering her moral thereby purposely causing her mental harm,
- Not allowing the woman to go out of the house or interact with any outsider,
- Illtreating her children to torture the woman mentally,
- Threatening a woman with divorce for dowry.
WHO MAY FILE A COMPLAINT UNDER SECTION 498-A?
The complaint may be filed under Section 498-A either by the woman subjected to cruelty or by any person closely related to her either by blood, marriage, or adoption. A public servant belonging to a specific category that is notified by the State Government on this behalf may file a complaint under Section 498-A.
PERIOD OF LIMITATION FOR FILING COMPLAINT UNDER SECTION 498-A:
According to Section 468 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. P.C), a complaint that alleges the commission of an offence under Section 498-Aof IPC can be filed within 3 years of the alleged incident of cruelty. However, Section 473 of Cr. P.C authorizes the Court to take cognizance of an offence even after the period of limitation is over if it is contended that it needs to do so in the interest of justice.
In, Arun Vyas v. Anita Vyas, (1999) 4 SCC 690, the Court held that the core of the offence under Section 498-A is cruelty. If a woman is continuously subject to cruelty then on each occasion on which the woman was subjected to such torture and harassment, she would have a new starting point of limitation.
CLASSIFICATION OF OFFENCE:
Punishment for committing an offence under section 498-A is imprisonment for a term of 3 years and a fine. This offence is Cognizable if information regarding the commission of the offence is given to an officer in charge of a police station by the woman aggrieved by the offence or by any of the relative. The offence under section 498-A is non-bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class.
SECTION 113-A of Indian Evidence Act, 1872.PRESUMPTION AS TO ABETMENT OF SUICIDE BY A MARRIED WOMAN:
This Section provides that in case of a question whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any of his relative and it is proved that that woman had committed suicide within seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or any of his relative subjected her to cruelty from the time of marriage, in such situation the court may presume that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by any of his relative.
In, Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal v. the State of Gujarat, (2013) 10 SCC 48, the Court held that Section 113-A of the Evidence Act mandates that when a woman commits suicide within seven years of her marriage and it is proved by evidence that her husband or any of his relative subjected her to cruelty as defined in Section 498-A IPC, the Court may presume that such suicide of the woman has been abetted by the husband or the relative.
SECTION 498-A OF IPC AND PROTECTION OF WOMAN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, 2005:
Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides for a remedy aiming not only to protect the women from being easy victims of domestic violence incidents within the family but also to prevent the occurrence of acts of domestic violence in the society. This Act makes provision for a protection order for the woman under Section 18, residence order under Section 19, monetary relief for her under Section 20, custody order under Section 21, compensation for her under Section 22, and interim relief to be given to her under Section 23.
In, Juveria Abdul Majid Patni v. Atif Iqbal Mansoori, (2014) 10 SCC 736 the Court held that when a case under Section 498-A is pending before a Criminal Court if the allegation is found genuine, the appellant can ask for reliefs under Sections 18 to 22 of the Domestic Violence Act and interim relief under Section 23 of the said Act.
MISUSE OF SECTION 498-A:
The lawmakers introduced section 498A into the legal framework for the protection of women against cruelty, harassment, and other offense. However, when the cross investigations are done in such cases to confirm the allegations, the number of acquittals was more in comparison to the convictions. Therefore, the Supreme Court has stated it as legal terrorism. False accusations and immoral use of section 498-A by women has made the innocent husband and his family suffer extensively. During the time of suffering insult, stigma, and shame, some of the men give up and end up committing suicide. Thus this law is also known as an anti-male law.
In, Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India, (2005) 6 SCC 281, the Court held that in many cases it has been proved that the complaints made by a woman are not genuine and have been filed with slopping intention. In such cases, even if the accused is acquitted by the Court it does not end the humiliation, stigma, shame suffered during and before trial. Further, in such cases media does negative coverage that also adds to the misery. The women misusing Section 498-A against their husbands and in-laws have given rise to a new form of legal terrorism. This provision has been provided as a shield and not as a weapon to be used by the women. However, it must be noted that a meager chance of misuse of this Section does not make it baseless or invalid it and therefore Section 498-A is not un-constitutional.
In Kanaraj vs. the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that for the wrongs committed by the husband, the in-laws or other relatives of the husband cannot be considered to be involved in all such cases. The acts alleged to the relatives of the husband need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The relatives cannot be regarded to be responsible for mere conjectures and implications. The Court observed that the tendency of the women to rope in relatives of the husband as accused in such cases has to be curbed.
In Sushil Kumar Sharma vs. Union of India and others, the Supreme Court held that in such cases of cruelty, direct evidence is not available and the Courts have to rely on circumstantial evidence. Thus, the investigating agencies and the Courts have to see that an innocent person is not made to suffer because of unfounded, baseless, and malicious allegations.
DIRECTIONS OF SUPREME COURT GIVEN IN FALSE 498-A CASES:
Arnesh Kumar v. the State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273-
To ensure that the police officers do not arrest the accused unnecessarily and Magistrate does not authorize detention casually under Section 498-A IPC, the Court gave the following directions:
(a) Police officers should not make an immediate arrest of the accused when a case under 498-A IPC is registered. They should first analyze the need for arrest under parameters flowing from Section 41 CrPC.
(b) Police officers shall tick the checklist containing specified sub-clauses under Section 41(1)(b)(ii) CrPC and shall also provide the reasons and material requiring the arrest.
(c) The Magistrate shall allow detention of the accused only after recording its satisfaction on the report furnished by the arresting police officers.
(d) In case of police officers failing to comply with the directions, they will be not only be held liable for departmental action but also punishment for contempt of Court.
(e) If the Judicial Magistrate fails to comply with the directions he will also be liable for departmental action by the appropriate High Court.
Rajesh Sharma v. State of U.P., 2017 SCC OnLine SC 821
In the instant case also, the Supreme Court gave directions to prevent misuse of Section 498-A IPC. These directions were further modified in Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1501. These directions are as following:
(a) Investigation of complaints under Section 498-A needs to be done only by a designated Investigating Officer of that area.
(b) Where a settlement has been made between the parties, they can approach the High Court under Section 482 asking to quash such proceedings or any other order.
(c) When a bail application has been filed by the husband and the in-laws giving the Public Prosecutor or the complainant one day’s notice it has to be decided on that day itself. Where the rights of the wife or the minor including the right to maintenance can be otherwise protected the recovery of the questioned dowry items cannot be justified for not giving bail.
(d) Where the accused person resides out of India, impounding of their passports or issuance of Red Corner Notice should not become a routine.
(e) These directions not to be applied in cases of tangible physical injuries or death.
From the above discussion, we can conclude that Section 498-A was inserted in IPC to protect women from acts of cruelty by her husband and his relatives. However, in many cases, women have misused this section by filing false complaints against the husband and his relatives. Some cases are filed because of the instigation of parents of women or due to the ego problems in marital life or for taking revenge. Therefore, the Courts need to examine each case carefully so that no culprit is left free and at the same time no innocent gets punishment for offence which he has not committed.