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Changed position of section 498A IPC




This blog is written by Pranit Yogesh Parmar, he is a first year law student, pursuing Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of Law from ILS Law College, Pune.


  1. Introduction

Introduced in the Indian Penal Code by Second Amendment of Criminal Law Act of 1983

Section 498-A IPC was introduced to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives in the year 1983.


The law calls for a sentence of up to three years and a fine. “Cruelty” is defined broadly, including physical harm or mental (psychological) harm to the body or health of the woman as well as harassment acts intended to coerce the woman or her family into meeting any illegal demand for property and/or valuable security. Demanding dowry also falls under this section. Making a woman commit suicide can also be considered part of being cruel. It is regarded as a strong weapon for empowering women, discouraging criminals and ensuring gender equality.


[Section 498-A: 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]


This article will look at what constitutes section 498A, give some instances, talk about its changed position and finish up with a detailed analysis.


2. History

The historical context of the installation mainly focuses on women and their status in olden days. Child marriage marked the beginning of the exploitation of women. A girl, who does not even know what life or marriage means, is thrown into a strange path filled with stones. Her husband and his family members torture her. 


She is supposed to abide by absurd laws of matrimony like purdah system, not speaking to elders, keeping quiet throughout all the sufferings.The condition of females was becoming worse because they were not only being abused at homes but also committing suicide after being demanded for dowry. In the 1980s such cases increased rapidly and many women were pushed to the brink of dowry death. Various organisations around the country protested against this and forced the government to create laws that would shield women and penalise offenders. The protests had a positive outcome as they resulted in several changes in Dowry Prohibition Act, Indian Evidence Act and Indian Penal Code, which were then bundled together as Section 498A.


To understand/evaluate any section its important to understand criminal law reformation in our country. Initially only one change which was brought about for saving wives from being tortured at their matrimonial homes which led them committing suicides. That’s why primary demand was just to fight against dowry death cases and domestic violence against women. In 1983 section 489A was introduced into Indian Penal Code which later followed by section 304B4 in 1986 where it clearly explained about the offences related with death of woman caused by dowry demand along with there were also some amendments done in Indian Evidence Act. The 304B and 498A sections are said to be two sides of the same coin because the first deals with dowry death offences while the second addresses violence against women in their marriages on a broader scale.


This section was introduced by the IPC (Indian Penal Code) in 1983 so as to fight matrimonial offences. A woman can file a complaint or any of her relatives who may be authorised by law for that purpose. Accused may be fined and imprisoned for up to three years, among other penalties. In order to protect married females from abuse within their homes, feminists mainly aimed at amending this act vis-à-vis only those problems arising out of marital relations affecting such persons alone.


3. Contemporary Position


Position of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):

  • Section 498A is an essential legal provision that is meant for the protection of married women from being tormented by their husbands or husband’s relatives.

  • In 1983, section 498A was inserted into IPC as a new amendment to tackle with the increasing issue of domestic violence and harassment against married Indian females.

  • For cruelty on wife, a husband or his kin can be imprisoned under Section 498-A IPC for three years.

  • This section is applicable only on married women.

  • According to this section, cruelty includes any deliberate act which could cause woman to commit suicide or inflict grave hurt to her life, health(whether physical/mental) or limb.

  • The conduct may involve harassment or torture aimed at forcing woman or her family members into giving property/money illegally.

  • The term ‘husband’ in this section includes a person who has any legally recognized relationship with the woman, for example a live-in partner or someone who claims to be married to the woman but is not legally married.

  • No time limit is set out within which years the complaint should be filed and at any point of time under this section wife can file a complaint.

  • Any offence under Section 498A is cognizable and also non-compoundable as well as non-bailable.

  • After an FIR has been registered by the police on the basis of a complaint made by aggrieved party, bail under Section 498A can be granted only by Magistrate.


4. Judgements


Case Title: ACHIN GUPTA v STATE OF HARYANA & ANR.


Facts of case- A First Information Report was lodged by an Assistant Professor against her spouse under sections for dowry demand, mental and physical torture and harassment. She alleged that he abused her physically being an alcoholic and had illicit relationships outside their marriage. The Judicial Magistrate, First Class received the matter in Hisar. This appeal arose after the High Court refused to terminate the case. 

In every complaint filed by married women against their husbands and in-laws, the Supreme Court has warned against mechanically using IPC Section 498A .

The bench of Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra cautioned that the police machinery should not be used as a tool for "keeping the husband at ransom so that he could be squeezed by the wife at the instigation of her parents or relatives or friends."

According to the judgment, many times couples' disputes become complicated because their parents and relatives interfere.Additionally, in marriage relationship adjustment , mutual respect , and tolerance between husband and wife are paramount, according to this court order.

Moreover, reaching police stations at very first stage adopted by wife and family members were deprecated as it may ruin necessary opportunity for reconciliation between spouses.

There might still be true cases where a husband ill-treats or harasses his wife but these have not been denied by any means. In any case, it is said that the usage of the Police apparatus should be the final option only, that too in an extreme case of cruelty and harassment.


Case Title- Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar


For ensuring unnecessary arrests by the police officers in cases under Section 498-A IPC and casual, mechanical authorisation of detention by the Magistrate, this Court laid down certain directions (although, these directives will also apply to other offences punishable with imprisonment for a term to the extent of seven years):

 (a) Automatically arresting the accused when a complaint is lodged under Section 498-A of the IPC is wrong. They have to be convinced that arrest is necessary under Section 41 of CrPC according to certain principles which are provided by this judgment.

 (b) The police have to fill up a checklist with specific sub-clauses under Section 41(1)(b)(ii) CrPC and give reasons plus material justifying why they need to make an arrest.

(c) Detention should be authorised by Magistrate only after recording its contentment on report prepared by police officer(s). 

(d) If any of these directions are not followed then such non-compliance shall invite departmental action against erring authority besides contempt proceedings. 

(e) Failure on part of Judicial Magistrate to comply with these instructions would attract disciplinary action by concerned High Court


Supreme Court latest statement on Cruelty


The government was ordered by the Supreme Court of India to make revisions to Sections 85 and 86 of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) with a view to preventing them from being misused by lodging false or exaggerated complaints under the gender based violence laws . Section 85 stipulates that an accused person shall get a fine plus imprisonment after subjecting women to any form of cruelty . The word “cruelty” as used in section 86 of the same Act is defined to mean both mental and physical harm on human females . 


The court therefore asked the relevant legislative arm to consider them before the commencement of these new provisions The court quashed the case on dowry harassment filed by a woman against her husband while making these observations. Also, the apex court directed the registry to deliver a copy of the judgement to the union secretaries for law and home affairs.


Case Title- Rajesh Sharma versus. State of UP


The Supreme Court has set guidelines to prevent the misuse of Section 498-A IPC, which were later modified in the Social Action Forum for Manav Adhikar v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1501. These guidelines include:

1. Only a designated Investigating Officer should probe complaints under section 498-A and related offences.

2. If settlement occurs, parties can approach the High Court for quashing proceedings or other orders.


5.  Other recent judgements


The Supreme Court of India has recently delivered a number of judgments on section 498A. These decisions have focused on the specific allegations against the husband’s relatives; cruelty by mother-in-law upon daughter-in-law; and the relationship between offences under Section 498A and Section 306 of IPC.


In Kahkashan Kausar v. State of Bihar, it was held that without specific allegations of dowry demand trial cannot be imposed on the relatives of the husband. The court also said that criminal trial resulting in acquittal leaves indelible marks on an innocent person’s life and should therefore be discouraged as such exercise.


In Meera v. State, it was held that when a woman commits any offence by subjecting another woman to cruelty then it becomes graver offence. It added that no lady deserves mercy who inflicts cruelties upon her fellow sisters.

The court reiterated the principle that "the evidence tendered by the related or interested witness cannot be discarded on that ground alone. However, as a rule of prudence, the Court may scrutinise the evidence of such related or interested witnesses more carefully."


In Rajaram v. State of M.P., the court quashed the conviction and sentence for cruelty under Section 498A, observing that courts must carefully analyse all facts and circumstances of each case as well as evaluate all evidence tendered in order to ascertain whether it can be said that such cruelties or harassments have been meted out to the victim which would leave no other option to her except putting an end to life.


6. Illustrations and Simplified Version

Think about this: In a small Indian town, two people named Arun and Kamna fell in love and got married recently. They lived through all the traditional ceremonies of an Indian wedding, but Arun acted far from loving towards Kamna. Often times he would come home drunk, shouting at her with accusations on petty issues. As a dutiful wife, Kamna tried to keep him happy by ignoring his behaviour. 


With passing months verbal abuse of Arun turned into physical violence against Kamna. One night he beat her so badly that she ended up with bruises all over her body and trauma for life. After such unbearable pain and humiliation Kamna approached for help filing complaint under section 498A of IPC which became the turning point in her life as well as interpretation/application of Section 498A. There have been instances where this particular provision was abused earlier leading to debates regarding its efficiency and fairness too during different years but not in case of Kamna because the moment police received her complaint they immediately arrested Arun followed by starting legal process.

This particular instance caught huge attention thereby bringing forth sufferings faced by many women trapped within abusive marriages who never speak out. The same led to discussions around better laws safeguarding rights for victims going through domestic violence while also calling for stronger support systems to be put in place over time .

Section 498A was modified to make it more balanced, so that true victims are protected and the misuse of law is prevented. Changes in the law, increase of awareness and supporting structures have made it possible for women such as Kamna to break free from abuse while getting fair treatment. Formerly was 498A that if a wife complained against her husband’s relatives they would be taken into custody due to dowry harassment while this may not be true or done in order to settle scores between people. 

The decision was made for modifications of the law to ensure there was more balance therefore the police should not arrest anybody just by being told about it and rather courts should be very careful when giving bail. In case of allegations involving dowry, this change serves to safeguard them against possible exploitation or vengeance by others in society. This however means that at times it can not be easily abused for purposes of getting back at another person. Reporting these acts committed in the name of dowry would require going to the authorities including collecting data so that there is enough proof on one’s side. For people confused about what is right under this legislation or their own circumstances, they should seek assistance from attorneys.


7. Conclusion


The incorporation of Section 498A into the Indian Penal Code in 1983 marked a significant change in social circumstances and norms. The term cruelty, which was already broad under Section 498A, began to take on new meanings such as “infliction of physical or mental harm” to the “body or health of the woman.” Section 498A, from being a potent weapon against dowry harassment when it was first introduced until now when many people discuss its misuse and procedural safeguards among other things, has had many faces.

The amendments done on Section 498A indicate better understanding of different aspects involved in cases related to domestic abuse as well as court decisions concerning them. While it is important that the laws protect those who are most vulnerable such as women but there should also be some measures taken so that these laws are not used wrongly leading into unfairness. There have been adjustments made in section 498A based on previous legal cases, guidelines set by courts or even parliament through legislative processes which goes to show how society’s values change over time with regards to this matter. In future what will count more than anything else would be striking balance between protecting victims’ interests while at same time preventing abuse against accused persons from happening during trial stages because such acts may end up causing great injustices within families and communities themselves .


Sources:-

  1. IPC Section 498A Cruelty by husband or relatives of husband.

  2. Tejaswi Pandit, ‘Cruelty to Women (S. 498-A IPC and allied sections,3 December 2018)’< https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2018/12/03/law-for-laymen-section-498-a-ipc-and-allied-sections-cruelty-to-women/> accessed 3 May 2024.

  3. The Dowery Prohibition Act, 1961, (Act No. 28 of 1961).

  4. IPC Section 304B Dowry Death.

  5. Kriti MM, ‘AN ANALYSIS OF SECTION 498A OF IPC’ (Manupatra, Mar 30, 2017) < https://articles.manupatra.com/article-details/An-Analysis-of-Section-498A-of-IPC>.

  6. Vajiram and Ravi, Polity & Governance (What is Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?, 04-05-2024)’< https://vajiramandravi.com/upsc-daily-current-affairs/prelims-pointers/what-is-section-498a-of-ipc/>accessed 5 May 2024.

  7. 2024 LiveLaw (SC) 343

  8. Yash Mittal, ‘S. 498A IPC Can't Be Applied Mechanically In All Cases Where Wife Complains Of Harassment Or Ill-Treatment By Husband : Supreme Court’ (Live Law, 4 May 2024) < https://www.livelaw.in/supreme-court/s-498a-ipc-cant-be-applied-mechanically-against-husband-day-to-day-quarrels-between-spouses-may-not-amount-to-cruelty-supreme-court-256965>.

  9. (2014) 8 SCC 273

  10. Justice V Ramkumar, ‘The Concept Of 'Detention' Under Section 167 (2) Cr.P.C’ (Live Law, 17 Oct 2021) < https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/concept-of-detention167-2-crpc-scope-legality-revisional-jurisdiction-house-arrest-bail-183815>.

  11. The Arunachal Times, ‘Cruelty against woman: SC asks Centre to consider making changes in BNS’ (The Arunachal Times, 4 May 2024) https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2024/05/04/cruelty-against-woman-sc-asks-centre-to-consider-making-changes-in-bns/#:~:text=Section%2085%20of%20the%20BNS,also%20be%20liable%20to%20fine.%E2%80%9D.

  12. 2017 SCC OnLine SC 821

  13.  Kahkashan Kausar Sonam & Ors. Versus The State of Bihar & Ors.2022 SCC OnLine SC 162.

  14. Meera v State By the Inspector of Police Thiruvotriyur Police Station Chennai 2022 SCC OnLine SC 31.

  15. Rajaram vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1733.

  16. Ridhi, Law Made Easy (Latest Supreme Court Judgments on 498A in 2022’< https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2023/04/12/cruelty-against-married-woman-latest-supreme-court-judgments-on-498a-in-2022/> accessed 5 May 2024.

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