A brief overview of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Family is considered to be the creation stone of society. And this very family at the same time has been considered a sphere of closeness and devoid conflicts of interest among the members that pose the ideal cultural and focus of identity. Marriage is one of the important tools used in growth of family but having said that the establishment of civil marriage has undergone epic changes in the last few decades.
Keeping in view the depictions got from different quarters perceptions made by the Supreme Court and the high court, the Home Secretary, Government of India through his D.O. letter dated 01st September, 2009 the law commission of India to deliberate suggesting amendment, if any to Sec 498A of IPC 1872 or other measure to check the supposed misuse of the said provision. Subsequently, in the case of Preeti Gupta vs. State of Jharkhand, (2010) the Supreme court observed that severe relook of the whole provision is defendable by the legislature, it is the substance of common knowledge that inflated forms of the occurrence are reflected in a large number of complaints. The tendency of over inferences is also reflected in a very large number of complaints.
Sec 498A was introduced in the year 1983 to protect married women from being subjected to cruelty by her husband or her relatives. A punishment increased to 3 years and fine has been prescribed. The expression ‘cruelty’ has been defined in wide terms so as to inclusion imposing physical or mental harm to the body or health of the woman and indulging in acts of harassment with a view to coerce her or her relations to meet any lawful demand for any property or valuable security. Harassment for dowry falls within the arch of the final limb of the Sec. Creating a situation pushing the woman to commit suicide is also one of the ingredients of cruelty. The offense under Sec 498A is cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.
Meaning of section 498A of IPC
Cruelty means “it includes both physical and mental torture. Wilful conduct in explanation(a) to Sec 498A, IPC can be inferred from direct and indirect evidence. The word cruelty in the explanation clause attached to the Sec has been given a wider meaning to include: -
a. Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the women to commit suicide, or to cause a grave injury or danger to life, limb or mental or physical health of the women, or
b. Harassment of a woman with a view to coercing her or any person related to her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”
Meaning of cruelty
Under Sec 498A of IPC cruelty by itself amounts to an offense and no such period is mentioned in this Sec whereas under Sec 304B the offense is of dowry death and the death must have within the course of seven years of marriage.
In Inder Raj Malik v. Sunita Malik case, it was observed that word cruelty is defined in the explanation which says harassment of a woman with a view to force her or any related persons to meet any illegal demand for movable or immovable property or any valuable security is cruelty.
There are some kinds of cruelty is covered in this Sec are listed below: -
Cruelty by harassment
Cruelty by loss
Cruelty by continuing demand
Cruelty by unlawful demands
Cruelty by marrying another woman
Taking away children from the custody of the wife.
The assumption of cruelty within the meaning of Sec 113A of Evidence act 1872 also arose creating the husband guilty of abetment of recklessness in the meaning of Sec 306 where the husband had an unlawful relationship with another woman.
The constitutional validity of section 498A
In Inder Raj Malik and others v. Mrs. Sumita Malik case it was held that this Sec is acting beyond one’s legal power 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 statues together create a situation commonly known as double jeopardy. But Delhi high court navigates this contention and held that this Sec does not create situation for double jeopardy.
Sec 498A of IPC is different from Sec 4 of Dowry prohibition act because in the latter mere demand of dowry is punishable whereas Sec 498A of IPC deals with aggravated formed the offense. It punishes such demands of property or valuable security from the wife or her relatives which are joined with cruelty.
Who may file a complaint under section 498A of IPC?
The complaint under Sec 498 A may be filed by the women victim aggrieved by the offense or by any person related to her by blood, marriage or adoption. And if there is no such relative, then by any public servant as may be informed by the state government in this behalf.
Misuse of section 498A in the modern world
The abuse of this Sec is quickly increasing and the women often well-educated know that this Sec is both cognizable and non-bailable on the grievance of the woman and placing the man behind the bars. This Sec was made keeping in mind protection of wife or harass his wife but it is clearly misused by few women and again this is strictly condemned where the court did notice that the reverse trend and asked the law commission and assembly to make the offense a non-cognizable and bailable one.
In the case of Savitri Devi v. Ramesh Chand & Ors, the court held that there were mistreatment and misuse of the provisions to such a degree 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 establishments and lawmakers had to analyze the situation and legal provisions to prevent such form taking place.
Punishment for misuse- no specific provision necessary- the suggestions of some defendants that there must be an explicit provision to penalize women who file a complaint about superfluous reason is rather misconceived. In any case, the prevailing provision, Sec. 182, 211 of IPC and Sec. 250 of Cr. PC can take care of malicious allegation, etc, apart from section 358 Cr. PC.
Use of section 498A by Indian courts
In the case of Surajmal Banthia v. State of West Bengal, the deceased was ill and tortured for many days and even not giving food several times. Her father-in-law also misbehaved with her quite often. This is the conduct that several new brides face when they move out of their parents’ home and into the house of her in-laws. It is the responsibility of the court to avoid any of these addicts from escaping. The increasing rate of bride burning for want of more dowry and cruel torture of young wives, together with a clear escape of the abuser is a clear indication that the court has not taken any strong actions for the implementation of S. 498A IPC properly.
The establishment of marriage is no longer considered a sacred union of two emotions but has rather become more of a civil contract between two individuals in the verbatim sense of the term where one is indebted to another to perform marital rights.
Section 498A which has otherwise incurred the notoriety of being a ‘legal terrorism’ was primarily incorporated to combat the evil practices of dowry and dowry deaths. But a recent study shows that over the years it has changed its color and has become a weapon of disrepute. With the help of books of distinguished legal personalities and eminent lawyers, articles written or published by social activists the researcher has formulated some hypotheses in regard to the curbing of this social cancer.
The inclusion of Section 498A IPC, 1860 though seemed productive and effective in the early years of its proclamation, unfortunately, a new era of cruelty emerged with the arrival of 21st century. Although judiciary has failed unhappily in restriction the gross abuse of Section 498A nevertheless the very provision calls for an immediate redressed to the sufferings of the real victims of dowry harassment. The protection should also be extended to male members of the society as recent study shows uncountable innocent husbands and their families have been affected by this severe provision since the section provides protection only to women rendering the provision to be prejudiced, discriminatory and unconstitutional.
 K.D. GAUR, TEXTBOOK ON INDIAN PENAL CODE 1060 (Lexis Nexis 2018).
 1986 (2) Crimes 435.
 II (2003) DMC 328.
 II (2003) DMC 546 (DB).
Year II, B.A.LL.B.,
Gujarat National Law University.
(Image used for representational purpose only. Image Courtesy: https://www.congresschronicles.in/dowry-prohibition-act-1961/ )