Section 498 A of Indian Panel Code [IPC]

Chapter XX-A dealing with cruelty by husband or relatives of husband was inserted into the Indian Penal Code vide S.2 of Criminal Law (2nd Amendment) Act of 1983 which introduced Sec. 498-A in the Indian Penal Code.     

Section. 498A lays down that-

“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 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 demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her meet such demand.]”

The offence under Sec. 498-A of the Indian Penal Code is cognizable if information relating to the commission of the offence is given to an officer in charge of a police station by aggrieved person or by any person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption or if there is no such relative, or by any public servant belonging to such class or category as may be notified by State Government in this behalf.

The offence is non-bailable, non-compoundable and triable by Magistrate of the First Class. The legislative intent behind the enactment of Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code was beautifully laid down in (AIR 2003 SC 1386) B. S. Joshi v. State of Haryana (AIR 2003 SC 1386). The Supreme Court observed that-  

“There is no doubt that the object of introducing Chapter XX-A containing Section 498A in the Indian Penal Code was to prevent the torture to a woman by her husband or by relatives of her husband. Section 498A was added with a view to punishing a husband and his relatives who harass or torture the wife to coerce her or her relatives to satisfy unlawful demands of dowry.”       

The aggrieved woman herself or any person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption file a complaint under this section. An Indian wife or her relatives can file a case under 498-A on her husband, his parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, wives of brothers, and other relatives. The Supreme Court in Gananath Pattnaik v. State of Orissa 2002 SCC (Cri) 461 has laid down that mental torture or abnormal behaviour may amount to cruelty and harassment.

Feminists are of the opinion that Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code as a law against domestic violence has indeed served women well and proved extremely useful as a deterrent. They argue that without it women may not be in a position to see their complaint through to its logical end. It is indeed useful in bringing the husband to the negotiating table. Since the offence is non-bailable, the initial imprisonment for a day or two helps to convey to the husbands the message that their wives are not going to take the violence lying down. No doubt, some women feel compelled to use this method, to arrive at a speedy divorce and settlement of alimony because they feel that they won’t get justice through the civil courts, given their tardy and unpredictable functioning.

The Supreme Court of India says, “But 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”. The apex court in India and feminists by their own acquiescence have admitted to the fact that Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code is being used as a tool of harassment, torture and coercion quite contrary to the legislative intent. Even the conviction rate is only 2% or even less.    

Very recently a letter to State Chief Secretaries, the Ministry of Home Affairs has asked the state governments to issue directives to the police not to arrest the husband and his relatives without checking the genuineness of the anti-dowry complaint. The Ministry of Home Affairs wants the arrests to be the last resort and has asked the State police to ensure that the law doesn’t become a tool in the hands of disgruntled women to settle scores with their husbands and in-laws.      

For steps that a husband may take in case he is falsely accused under section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, kindly visit the following link: